As the pandemic settles and we begin to come back together, ‘tis the season where just about every day after work we find ourselves with some event to attend. Whether it’s a small gathering of co-workers, friends for happy hour or the larger corporate holiday party, the season of constant socializing has arrived. Attending these gatherings, especially as we continue emerging from the pandemic, can come with a myriad of challenges for our voices and bodies.
Holiday parties mean festive music, lots of people gathered in an event space, restaurant or around a loud bar. While we all enjoy the high ceilings and fun music while networking and gathering with one another, these events can get loud! One chief complaint we hear during this time is that people struggle with being heard in these settings (no pun intended!) or that their throats get sore, their voices hoarse, or even gone altogether after attending a bustling holiday gathering.
Before your evenings turn into a flurry of appetizers, drink tickets and conversations you can’t hear, we at Peacock Voices wanted to provide you with some tools to help save your ears and voice this season.
To begin, we wanted to talk a little bit about volume, and how you can address being heard when speaking at a cocktail party. For us at Peacock Voices, we want to encourage you to use more forward resonance in your speech pattern when in a loud setting. What’s fascinating about our voices is that this sort of forward resonance can be achieved without changing how loud you’re actually speaking.
What is resonance? It’s “the process by which the basic product of phonation is enhanced in timbre and/or intensity by the air-filled cavities through which it passes on its way to the outside air."(McKinney, James (1994) The Diagnosis and Correction of Vocal Faults, Nashville, TN: Genovex Music Group.)
What do we mean by forward resonance? The forward resonance we are looking for involves utilizing your nasal tract and the front or your mouth.
Why do we want this? Because this forward resonance is able to cut through the noise in a crowded restaurant or bar. The type of resonant sound we’re aiming to find comes when we focus on a forward and bright sound. Think of a slightly less extreme vocal quality of actress Fran Drescher, or Dan Levy's character David from Schitts Creek - you can immediately hear those distinct, bright and forward voices. To achieve this level of brightness in your voice, imagine your sound living in front of your teeth, right at the front of your mouth. As you begin to explore speaking with this frontal focus, you may find that you’re opening your mouth less, with this newly found front focal point. If you find yourself saying “ It doesn’t feel like I can make as much sound if I do this” - fear not, you’re doing this properly!
What’s fascinating about the voice is that this forward, bright sound produces a perceived louder sound with less physical effort! A louder, but deeper or richer sound may feel like it’s projecting into the noisy bar, but it’s actually this brighter sound that will cut through the background noise with greater success. The best part about this is, when you’ve utilized this resonance, you’ll be able to put in less physical work to achieve this more maximal result.
Now, let's move on to how we can help that sore, hoarse feeling that you may notice on your ride home or when you wake up the next morning. There are some simple ways we can begin to train our vocal folds to get in ‘better shape’ for events like parties. Our vocal folds are a group of tissues and muscles and ligaments and cartilage. Your whole mechanism of voice can be exercised just like any other part of your body.
The exercises we suggest, known as Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract exercises (SOVT), will work out all the muscles and tissues that make up our larger vocal fold system. We like to think of SOVTs like a light set of weights that you’d add into your weight-lifting routine to build up muscle over time. You should know that these exercises are used by actors, professional singers, voiceover artists, Speech Language Pathologists, and anyone who has to use command of their voice on a stage or screen.
SOVT Exercises allow several different things to happen in your airway including the spreading out of the upper portion of the vocal fold, a parallel lining up of your two vocal folds, and a nice easy stretching of the vocal cords themselves. In the spirit of maximal results for minimal efforts, SOVT exercises often achieve many if not all of these alignments/results simultaneously!
One very easy way to complete your SOVTs is by speaking and humming with a straw in your mouth! Easy, right? By placing one end of a straw in your mouth and doing some easy vocal sighing or humming, your vocal fold muscles will open, align and even themselves. By doing this through a straw, you won’t be able to overdo anything (opening of the mouth, over articulating, etc.) because everything will focus at the front of the mouth, that bright resonant spot we were talking about earlier!
Here are some of our favorite SOVT exercises:
If you are interested in learning more about vocal health in general, check out one of the many books and/or articles by Dr. Ingo Titze who is one of the leading experts on the benefits of SOVT exercises.
Spending a few moments each day humming or speaking with one end of a straw in your mouth will help strengthen the vocal fold mechanism the right way, and allow you to feel less tired when you’re connecting with colleagues at this year’s Holiday party!
* See Major Benefits of SOVTs for more information