How to Rest Your Voice

sleeping-statue-1-1418274The voice “works” when we make sounds. Speaking, singing, laughing and crying all use the vocal folds.

During phonation, the edges of the vocal folds draw together and vibrate against each other. Overuse, illness and/or irritation (i.e. from allergies, overheated and over-dry air or acid reflux) can cause the tissues in the larynx, including the vocal folds, to become swollen. Too much swelling can result in hoarseness or voice loss.

“Professional” Voice Users
Pro voice users are people who use their voices in their occupations. Singers are obviously pro voice users, but actors, instructors, lecturers, call center workers can all be included in this category.

Professional voice users may suffer frequently from vocal fatigue. Even though the voice is remarkably resilient, at times it will become tired. When the voice is fatigued, it needs rest just like any other part of the body.

Resting the Voice
Vocal rest is the process of resting the vocal folds by not using the voice. Total vocal rest means you do not use the voice AT ALL! No talking, no whispering, no singing, no laughing — no voice.

For obvious reasons, total vocal rest is challenging. If you have lost your voice* or part of your range, however, total vocal rest can be the fastest way to get your voice back.

Tips for Total Vocal Rest
If you feel you need a period of total vocal rest, it can help to clear the decks as much as possible; the fewer people with whom you have to interact, the less you will be tempted to use your voice.

For the people with whom you do need to communicate, write notes, use your smart phone/ipad/laptop to speak for you, use simple hand signs or silently mouth what you want to say (use this method with caution, it can be easy to use your voice without meaning to).

Relative Vocal Rest
The alternative to total vocal rest is relative vocal rest.

During relative vocal rest, voice use is severely limited and fatiguing vocal activities are avoided (see list below). For example, a performer might sing in a concert, but not speak for the rest of the day.

I rely on relative vocal rest to keep my voice happy during high use times. If I am doing a lot of performing and teaching, I schedule as little as possible on my “off” days so I can rest my voice. Using emails and texts to communicate allows me to reduce phone calls and voice use.

How Long?
I typically aim for 24 hours of total vocal rest if I can make it happen, but even eight hours can make a difference. I shoot for one day of relative rest per week during busy singing/teaching times.

While vocal rest is good (sometimes even miraculous *smile*), keep in mind that not using the voice for a number of days can create its own problems. (Think of how you feel if you are in bed with the flu for a few days.) Your ENT or speech pathologist can tell you which kind and how much vocal rest is right for you.

Everyone should use care with the following activities:

(Surprisingly) Fatiguing Vocal Activities

  • Whispering. The vocal folds vibrate unevenly when we whisper which tires the voice more. (The same is true of speaking in the vocal fry – the raspy, lowe end of the speaking range.) Rather than whispering, try using a “confidential voice.” (65 – 68dB)
  • Talking in a loud, crowded room/bar/party etc.. It is easy in loud environments to talk louder than is comfortable and not notice in your effort to be heard.(82 – 88dB)
  • Skyping/Facetime/Speakerphones. Because the sound source is further away from the ear, we typically raise our speaking volume in response (74 – 80dB). Try using headphones or a handset; hearing well will help you better modulate your speaking volume.
  • Clearing your throat. The vocal folds meet abruptly (and somewhat violently) when we clear our throats. Try swallowing a number of times instead.

I kindly remind you that I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice; if you are having persistent voice issues, please consult a doctor (ENT) or speech therapist.

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