Stop Clearing Your Throat! Here's The Safe
Way For Voice Actors To Stop & Purge Phlegm
By Carl Bishop
If you can stop phlegm build-up on your vocal cords, you're on your way to good vocal health.
One of the main ways phlegm develops is by mucus drainage from your sinuses and nasal cavity. I know this is gross, but we all have to deal with this, and the less often the better, right?
Now, there will always be some phlegm you have to clear in the morning, but that's natural. I'm talking about persistent gunk on your vocal cords. That's the phlegm you need to stop.
You may be wondering, "I'm not feeling sick, so why is my voice all gummed up with junk?"
While a bronchial infection can certainly be the culprit, most of the time, it tends to be post-nasal drip, brought on by common allergies to pollen, dust and mold that's EVERYWHERE!
Even if you keep your environment clean, it's pretty much unavoidable; and for those among us who are more sensitive than most to those irritants, the condition can be pretty much chronic. (I'm raising my hand here.)
FIRST DEFENSE: STOP IT
If you want to stop phlegm before it starts, you need to act fast with the right remedies
Because I'm a singer as well as a voice actor, I know a thing or three about the larynx and how to manage it healthfully, even under tough conditions.
Once I feel - or hear - a little phlegm, I jump for a non-drowsy antihistamine medication.
I also gargle with warm water with sea salt, and use the same concoction in a Netty Pot. Sea salt has natural anti-bacterial qualities to help reduce the chance of infection, and it's very soothing. So remember to stop the post nasal drip and minimize the conditions that lead to it, and you should have minimal trouble.
BUT IF YOU MUST CLEAR IT ...
But suppose you develop gobs of phlegm anyway. What to do?
Well, number one: stop clearing your throat! That's rarely effective, and it damages your vocal cords by causing them to swell over time.
Here's a better way to get rid of that junk quickly and safely. But first, a little background on my knowledge of the subject.
I got the idea for this article by looking over an old college text book called The New Voice – How to Sing and Speak Properly. I first read it about a decade ago, but I still find it useful. You will learn the structure and proper use of your larynx.
As a young man, I wanted to have a career as a professional singer. I was already a singer in a pretty good rock band in high school, but I figured I should back up that desire with some serious training, so I went to SUNY Fredonia's school of music, where I gained invaluable knowledge and experience.
While I didn't end up pursuing professional singing full time, I still use my training every day as a voice actor.
Every voice actor at some point is going to battle with phlegm. As mentioned above, phlegm is mucus build-up on the vocal cords themselves, which prevents the vocal cords (which are very delicate muscles), from vibrating properly and making a clear sound.
HERE'S THE TECHNIQUE
If you have a session soon and your voice is gummed up by phlegm, this technique is quick and relatively safe. I got this technique from a post-college voice teacher who uses what's called The Somatic Voice Method, which has helped me immensely.
I've stolen this vocal warm up - which is intended to smooth out your voice's natural passing tone between falsetto and chest voice, but it happens to great at shaking the phlegm off the vocal cords the way an electric toothbrush vibrates the plaque off your teeth.
Don't worry, you don't have to be a singer to have this exercise be effective for you. And it is kinda fun, I think.
Here's how to do it - and so you can see and hear what I'm describing, please also check out this accompanying video demonstration.
1. Start by sitting up straight or standing. Make sure your shoulders are back and head and neck relaxed. This creates an unrestricted airway for breathing in and out.
Breath support is super important for healthy vocal production. You can work for hours at a time without getting tired or having vocal fatigue with good breath control.
2. Next, breathe from your diaphragm. Then relax your jaw is if you were going to yawn, and feel that space in your throat and mouth open up.
You may also feel how relaxed your tongue is. It's ok if you yawn here. Remember how that feels, because that open and relaxed state is how we're going to protect our voices.
3. Take a new breath and say "eee," starting high in your range and lowering the pitch to the bottom of your range.
Then take a new breath and start a little higher in your falsetto if you can.
I'll explain: When you're talking to a little baby or a puppy or kitty, you tend to use your falsetto, which is Italiano for "false" voice.
It would be weird to use that voice while ordering a burger at the drive-through: "I'll take a burger and large fries. Hold the mayo." But as voice actors, we use it a lot more than we know.
4. Now while keeping that open yawn-like feeling, breathe in and start your "eee" vowel. Then drop it down into your modal voice without stopping the sound.
You may start to feel an involuntary skip or break in the sound. Not to worry. That's a natural occurrence called passaggio – another fancy Italiano word meaning "transition" or "passage."
Once the transition point is located, stay around that pitch and keep saying (or singing) the "eee" vowel.
If phlegm is present, you will hear and feel it at - or around - the passaggio.
So by concentrating on lightly saying the "eee" vowel you will clear the phlegm off the vocal cords within a few minutes.
5. Lastly, once the phlegm is vibrated off the cords it has to go somewhere. You have two choices: spit or swallow.
But best of all, stop that phlegm before it becomes a problem!
Carl Bishop is an actor and voice over talent who spends an almost unhealthy amount of time in front of a microphone from his studio in Manhattan's East Village. The world's top brands have hired him for their national campaigns, including Gillette, Comcast XFinity, Advair, Bayer, Head and Shoulders, and others. Carl is the voice of "Bandit" (a German Munitions expert) in the "Rainbow 6: Siege" video game. He has narrated TV shows and promos for The Weather Channel, Travel Channel, Discovery and PBS. He's voiced those funny commercials you see on SNL. Carl also does corporate narration and e-learning for Pepsi, HP, Cigna and the U.S. Army. And Carl was live announcer for the NBC Upfronts specials where he brought to the stage Joan Rivers, Andy Cohen, Nick Cannon, and a Kardashian or two. When the red light is off, Carl enjoys gardening and caring for his wise old cat, and his wise-acre husband.
Email: email@example.comWeb: www.thecarlbishop.com
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