Archive for Sunday, March 16, 2008

Hoarse play

Tips head off voice strain during spring fever

March 16, 2008


Your voice is created by air moving past the vocal cords in your throat.

Your voice is created by air moving past the vocal cords in your throat.

Your vocal cords aren't big fans of March Madness. This is the scenario: You're at a bar, or else a house party with a bunch of guests.

And you're pumped for the Jayhawks in the NCAA Tournament.

There's a buzz of sound around you. Every time Sasha Kaun misses a jumper or Sherron Collins makes a fast-break layup, you scream - or cheer, respectively - at your TV.

Maybe you're drinking a beer. Maybe there's smoke in the air. Maybe you're eating hot wings. Maybe hay fever is waging an attack.

"It's all the whammies," says Dr. J. David Garnett, a Kansas University voice expert. "There's heavy voice use, maybe a smoky environment. Maybe you have allergies. Maybe you're eating and drinking all the bad stuff."

And, probably - not maybe - you'll end up with a scratchy voice the next morning.

So here are some tips for your voice, in hopes of a long postseason for the Jayhawks - and plenty of reasons to yell at your TV in the good way, not the bad way.

Tip 1: Don't overuse

One of the biggest stresses of vocal cords is simply talking too much.

(Note to couples: Don't tell your significant other this just to shut them up.)

Hilary Morton, choir director at Free State High School, is familiar with this problem. She talks, and sings, eight hours a day with her students.

Morton has had vocal troubles in the past, enough to be part of a KU study on vocal use among teachers. She records her voice on a regular basis for researchers and goes to a doctor for regular vocal cord examinations.

Perhaps the best tip is to think about what you have to do the next day, says Garnett, associate professor and director of the KU Center for Voice and Swallowing Disorders. If you have to give a business presentation, sing a solo or teach a class the next day, rest your voice.

Tip 2: Don't yell

Using your vocal cords improperly, such as yelling, inflames them.

Morton knows this from her students the day following Free State basketball games.

"It's awful," she says, "especially when we play Lawrence High School. They have no voices the next day."

So don't yell. It's bad. Which brings us to ...

Tip 3: Don't whisper, either

Yeah, that's bad, too.

Paul Meier, a KU professor of theater and film who has an impressive list of voice-over gigs himself, describes it this way: "You should speak quietly and easily, and don't push. You push through a whisper."

Like yelling, it can make you hoarse.

Tip 4: Hydrate

As far as prevention goes, drinking plenty of water is key.

Garnett suggests drinking six to eight glasses of water a day.

Morton, who speaks more practically, repeats a choral-singing mantra - your urine should be clear.

And you should drink more water if you partake in caffeine or alcohol. Speaking of that ...

Tip 5: Avoid booze, smokes and caffeine

Meier's top suggestion for his voice students: "Don't smoke. Don't smoke. Don't smoke. And stay away from smoke-filled environments."

Garnett says some bands that play in bars have this figured out, choosing to install fans that point away from the stage to preserve their singing voices.

Tip 6: Stay healthy

There's only so much you can do about this one. But allergies, colds and other illnesses do hurt your voice.

Respiratory illnesses cause trouble because they don't allow you to have the lung support for proper vocal technique, Garnett says.

Also, allergies and colds make your throat swell, leading to reduced resonance.

And that, in turn, makes your voice sound funny - and people often compensate for that, trying to talk differently.

"You try to change how you're sounding to get back to your voice," Garnett says. "Don't fight it - accept your voice is going to sound differently for a while."

Tip 7: If you do get sick ...

If you do fall ill, here are two tips from Morton.

First off, beware medication.

"It's awful, and it's really drying," she says. "Allergy medication is a killer. It really dries you out. Nose sprays are really bad, too - it's shooting straight alcohol to your vocal cords."

Which, in turn, dries them out.

Also, she says, be careful of clearing your throat - that "ahem" noise is tough on the cords, too.

Tip 9: Avoid bad food

Garnett, the KU professor, says eating foods that upset your stomach can hurt your voice, too.

"If you're prone to acid reflux, and you're at a party, and you're eating late at night and going to bed on a full stomach, it can hurt your voice," he says.

Tip 10: Train your voice

"A runner doesn't get up off the couch and run a marathon," Garnett says. "It's the same way with the voice - the more you use, it the more you have to be in shape for it."

There are voice doctors and other professionals who train those with strained voices to use their vocal cords properly.

Age does play a factor, too. As you age, your vocal cords - like the rest of your body - becomes less resilient.

Ultimately, though, Garnett says preserving your voice comes down to knowing your own vocal limits.

"It has more to do with what you have to do with your voice," he says. "That determines more how much you have to watch what you do over the weekend."

Or, perhaps, it's just a matter of rationing your voice for the next round of the NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks need you.


Fred Whitehead Jr. 10 years, 3 months ago

Wow! If you yell and holler and cuss at the TV your voice might suffer!! This is news??

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