Podcasts Vox Talk Vocal Health Do’s and Don’ts and Vocal Fry with Susan Eichhorn Young
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Vocal Health Do’s and Don’ts and Vocal Fry with Susan Eichhorn Young

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Stephanie Ciccarelli
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Looking for ways to better care for your voice? NYC Soprano and singing teacher Susan Eichhorn Young shares insight on vocal folds, hydration, breathing, resting your voice, and general good habits to keep. She also explores the mechanics of vocal fry and the fatigue that can go along with it. Learn how singing can give you more elasticity with your speaking voice and why every actor should study with a singing teacher, even if you don’t sing publicly.

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Susan Eichhorn Young

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Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Hi there and welcome to Vox Talk, your weekly review from the world of voiceover. I'm your host Stephanie Ciccarelli from Voices. Do you know how to take care of your voice? Soprano, voiceover artist and voice teacher. Extraordinaire, Susan Eichhorn Young joins us from her Manhattan studio to discuss the top do's and don'ts for vocal professionals when it comes to taking care of your voice. Susan, welcome to the show.

Susan Eichhorn Young:

Thank you, Stephanie.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

All right, so I want to get this one out there because this is like the one thing that really bothers me like nothing else. Let's settle it right here and now. Susan, so are they called vocal folds or vocal cords?

Susan Eichhorn Young:

Well, they can be called either, but as the science becomes more adept and the way of looking at them has changed, we have changed it from chord to fold because of how they actually function. So as we learn more, the stuff changes is what we're going to call them, but you can call them either. Just make sure you don't spell chord with an H.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Yes. Oh my goodness. For anyone who's listening, like vocal folds is how I was trained. I know that's how I learned from you. And I said it would be remiss if I didn't say that. I studied with Susan when I was 16 years old and it is such a treat to have her here on the show with us and just fantastic. You helped me get into university and you trained me to do all the things I'm doing now and I don't want to cry on our show, but anyway, this is just a really wonderful moment.

Susan Eichhorn Young:

So yeah, I just wanted to thrill to be here. I know. Talk about a full circle.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

It is, absolutely. So Susan, as you were talking about the vocal folds and knowing how sensitive that our instruments can be, what are some of the most harmful things a singer or an actor can do to their voice?

Susan Eichhorn Young:

Good question. I don't even know where to begin. I think it's just being when you're not aware of how your voice works, that's when you can accidentally create damage or fatigue. The more you can learn about how everything functions and what your body needs. I think that's the crucial part because the irony is there are no nerve endings in the vocal folds. So when people say my folds are tired, that's not really they might be, but what you're feeling more is musculature around the nerve endings in them. Sometimes damage can happen from just overuse, over time. Lack of hydration, lack of rest. Sometimes it can happen just really stupidly, like you're at a ballgame or something, screaming in the stands and just that split second can cause damage. So sometimes it's not even a conscious thing that you're doing for work.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

And that happens to so many people. I can't tell you the number of people I've heard from in professional voice user world who will actually mouth cheering in the stance. Like, they don't actually cheer, they'll just be like yeah, exactly. Little sacrifices, little things that you do to keep your voice where it needs to be. So thanks for highlighting that because no one really wants to intentionally ruin their voice. No, that's not what you wake up every day thinking, I'm going to totally butcher my voice today.

Susan Eichhorn Young:

Exactly.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

And of course, there are ways that we do unintentionally as vocalists, sabotage our instruments. So what are some of those ways that we might hurt ourselves unintentionally? And what can we do to change those behaviors?

Susan Eichhorn Young:

I think finding the vocal health possibilities for your voice because everybody is different. So if you're thinking of what you're doing as athletic, just as if you were at the gym working out, or you shouldn't work the same body part two days in a row, because the muscles need time to recover. So if we're thinking vocal instrument and those muscles are more intrinsic, smaller, they need less time before they start to fatigue. So really making sure that if you're on the mic as a voiceover artist, that you take regular breaks to hydrate, you take regular breaks to just rest and not speak, that's an important factor so that the mechanism has permission to relax. And also then that you're also working for changing pitch in your speaking voice so that you're not getting into a monotone and then those muscles aren't getting tighter and tighter and tighter.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

So exploring those aspects as well will help so much to think about with your voice. Because as you said, it really is everything that you're doing, you have to be conscious of, oh, well, did I eat this spicy food? Did it affect me? Or am I having acid reflux? Or what might be happening? Your whole body is your instrument. So I think that it's important that as we go about thinking about how to protect our voice and how to let it rest, it does actually involve more than just not talking.

Susan Eichhorn Young:

Yes. And I think recognizing that it's not just the voice itself that's the instrument. So getting the body and the breath awake in the morning is really crucial, especially if it's allergy season, which tends to be all year round now, where you might have additional slim moving that's me today. Giving time to stretch that all through before you start actually using the instrument, not just feeling like you can roll out of bed and just start recording.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Yeah, absolutely. Unless you're doing the Sam Elliott voice, in which case you might want to either just like let that voice be the way it is the first thing in the morning, or have that coffee. So for anyone who is unaware of who Sam Elliott is, he's an actor and he's very much well known for his delivery and the gravitas and his voice. Just go look on YouTube for any clips that you might find of him speaking and you'll get exactly what I mean. It's a voice that when you first wake up in the morning, if you're a man and you do Sam Elliot's voice, that's probably when you're doing your auditions for Sam Elliott.

Susan Eichhorn Young:

Exactly.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Wonderful. So as we talk about just the voice and how we use it, but also how we misuse it, I don't want to miss out on this very controversial, I would say vocal topic. And that would be vocal fry. You hear it on TV, you hear all kinds of people do it. People in regular life might have it in their speech patterns, but you also hear it overly exaggerated. On television programs when people walk on the red carpet, you hear it, but vocal fry is I don't know, I've heard that some people argue it can be used on a limited basis, that it won't hurt you if you do it only stylistically. But from your point of view, Susan, as someone who is classically trained, belcanto, understanding everything that you do about the voice and how it works, what is vocal fry doing to someone's voice? And is it actually a good idea?

Susan Eichhorn Young:
As a tool, it's okay. But if you're speaking and fry, the breath flow is impeded and the mechanism is imbalanced, so it can cause a great deal of tension and also a great deal of fatigue. And so you're vibrating mucosal lining as opposed to really getting any true vocal fold closure. And so that can cause fatigue more than anything else. It really limits your range, so it really tightens up the musculature so that it eliminates resonance. So if it's simply for like a tool of trying to imitate a certain type of voice, that's great. But then you've got to really stretch through those muscles again because they can really get tight after using that because it really is just on the cord on the fold in that I'm doing it now so that there's really no pitch, it's just gravel. So trying to get out of that and stretching it again to make sure that the breast flow is free is crucial. And frankly, just pet peeve it annoys the heck out of me.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Yeah, I think a lot of us can relate to that.

Susan Eichhorn Young:

I think too, because if you are an empath of any kind, you will start to feel tired just listening to it. And it's frustrating because what I see sometimes is some of my singers will speak in fry, but of course they're not singing and fry and then they wonder why going back and forth is so tiring and that's part of it is because they're not maintaining a supported breath energy while they speak and then expecting that they can just flip it back and forth and it's exhausting.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Oh, wow. So for those singers, I'm sure it's absolutely exhausting just even thinking about having to mentally do the shift, let alone just the body and the anatomical side of shifting. So what is the voice doing?

Susan Eichhorn Young:

Like we've mentioned that it has something to do with not a lot of air support, but what is actually happening to the mechanical aspect of the vocal apparatus. During vocal fry, it tends to be less sub-glottal movement. So there's pressure that builds up. It's kind of like a pot on the stove and you pull it, it's boiling too fast, too hard, and then it'll just blow the top off. So what happens is we're keeping all of that combustion underneath the folds for too long. There's not a follow through, so the vibration has nowhere to resonate.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Oh, it's trapped.

Susan Eichhorn Young:
Exactly. So your voice literally will feel trapped.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Oh my goodness. So what about people who make a career of this? I'm thinking about people who sing in heavy metal bands, for instance. And that's kind of the go to. Is this direct? Like I'm going to do fry? And I'm guessing there are even people who teach people how to do fry.

Susan Eichhorn Young:

Yeah, there are. And again, this is not something that I do, but within certain styles, it also has to do with the physicality of the singer. Some people just can do that and it never bothers them. So I mean, every physicality is different. And we know that of the physicality we see, but the physicality of the larynx itself, because we can't see it, that is very unique as well. So some people can really grind into that. Rock singers that can stabilize. That my hats off to them. But a lot of people can't or they're not using. Again, it's about breath pressure and support. If everything's happening from the larynx itself, that's just going to get tighter and tighter and tighter until there's no range left.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

No range left. That sounds like a vocal disorder coming up right from the oh my goodness. That would be a little bit scary, I would think. And so I think it would be fair to say, based on what you said, pardon me, that the overuse of vocal fry, especially if your physiology is not conducive to it, actually spells a shorter career, possibly for you.

Susan Eichhorn Young:

Yeah, just because the fatigue is going to start to set in and then it becomes chronic.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

I don't want to hear chronic.

Susan Eichhorn Young:

No. So it's really about always trying to say, okay, how do I create range of motion to get the elasticity in the mechanism and in the range of my voice speaking or singing? All the actors that I work with who are not singers, they sing with me. They don't want anybody to know that because that would not necessarily be public singing. But they learn how to stretch their range so that when they go back into their singing voice or speaking voices from the singing voice, they have more accessibility to their speaking range.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Okay, actors, if you are not seeing a singing coach for your voice this is one way that you can actually increase your range and how you can fluctuate people in animation if you were not singing. You're not taking lessons in this, at least in how to access different parts of your voice and to increase your range than you should be like, okay, my little PSA is over. But I think that there is so much to be said for being able to sing. And I've got to put this water down. I've lost range of motion, Susan. I don't have both my hands. I can't talk.

Susan Eichhorn Young:

That's exactly it. When you said range of motion, it made me think, okay, well, when someone goes to the gym and they work a muscle or let's say you've sprained something or oh my gosh, I don't know if I broke whatever and you go get it checked out, it's like the first thing they'll check for is range of motion. Can you actually move this muscle? Does it hurt? Are you able to do the full rotation? And the same thing is true for your voice. You need to be able to access every part of it that you can where it makes sense to of course, to do a good job in your work.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Yes. Wonderful. So as we're talking about all of this, and we did just talk a bit about vocal disorders, which I think we're going to touch a little bit on later, I just wanted to ask you more about when our voices get tired and there are people who are always looking for the quick fix.

Susan Eichhorn Young:

I think that's something that we in our culture do suffer from. It's just the immediate gratification. I want to resolve this now. What can I do immediately?

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

But with the voice, as you've mentioned, there's some time involved in helping it to heal and rest for your next session. So what is it that we can do to recover from an overused voice? And are there, if any, quick fixes?

Susan Eichhorn Young:

I think because voice is intangible, we have to try to create a sense of tangibility because we can't see it or feel it necessarily. It's really about the voice itself being fine, but where it resides is not always optimal. So it's really about treating the body as if you were athletic, always. So what would you do with any kind of physical injury or overuse? And that is how you still stabilize for the voice. So if you've overused the instrument, then you need to rest it. It's not rocket science in that regard. It really is much more simple than we realize in rest. Vocal rest does not necessarily mean total not speaking or doing anything. It can, depending on what you're dealing with. But it also could mean just very gentle breath work or just to get that elasticity rebuilt or some very low registration massage as you are continuing to heal from whatever it is you're dealing with. I mean, if it's full on laryngitis and you have no sound, don't try to make sound. You need literal rest to let that swelling release properly. And this is when it's really important, and I really do believe this. You need to have any voice user professionally needs a laryngologist. It's crucial to have an ENT laryngologist who specializes in the voice. Now you'd think, yeah, but that's what they do. Not all of them specialize in the actual instrument. And the crucial part of that is going in to have a baseline scope so you know what your instrument looks like when you're healthy, so that when you're not healthy, there's something to compare it to and then they're able to give you the necessary rest requirements or whatever you're going to need if for whatever reason you've overdone it.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Right. And I know in America where you are, it's a lot easier to find someone like that. It is. But in Canada, where you've also resided, yeah, it's not easy to get a referral to one of these places. I know there's a vocal function clinic that sometimes runs, sometimes doesn't. I'm not sure out of one of the hospitals here. But to find an otolaryngologist or laryngologist is not an easy thing for Canadians. Health care system like we do in Canada, you're going to run into having to navigate a maze of referrals and waiting and so on. So I think it's very important that you find a way to communicate to your doctor that this is your livelihood. Like this is something that you need to be monitoring and knowing and they need to get that referral in for you because you don't want to have an issue that's been developing or may just start developing and not even know about it until it's too late. Like you could get nodes, you could have all kinds of issues.

Susan Eichhorn Young:

Yeah. And that's why if you can get a referral when you're healthy and establish that relationship when you don't need it, that will be crucial because then, heaven forbid, if you suddenly have issues and then you have to wait weeks or months and then you're not working. So it's preventative more than anything else.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Well, I think that is a big takeaway for anyone who is listening in a country with a medical system where you can't just go and find the doctor you need right away. You need to get on that list to have a referral and certainly talk to your GP. But in the States there are a number of great people I know that I've spoken to a number of otolaryngologists in the US. And they're great people, they do good work and they'll definitely help you to understand, as Susan said, what your baseline is for your health, but also address any concerns that might come along. Like you don't want to have Bogart-Bacal syndrome, for instance, or if you've been speaking lower than your natural register ought to be, then you will sound like a movie star. As the disease, or the disorder, I should say is named for like where they just spoke too low for too long and their voices got really tired. You just have to be very careful about that. So when you've come across people who are struggling with their voices getting tired maybe more quickly than they would like, or they're just not able to maintain the stamina throughout a session, what can they do?

Susan Eichhorn Young:

I think it's really recognizing when you're on mic that's the back of the house that's as far as you need to project. But the problem is sometimes is that the breath flow, because it's not that far from your mouth, the breath flow can slow down, the exhale can slow down. It's not the inhale so much, but it's the exhale. And I always think of exhale like moisturizer. You want to slather it on so everything keeps stretching. So if all of a sudden that exhale starts to get slow, your muscles are going to start to fatigue because everything is starting to get dry and tight. So doing exercises that will just move air. Some people use the straw as an exercise to stretch those muscles where you're just going to blow bubbles without tone. Or just use the straw and move the air because it just continues the vocal track space. But you can also just do what I call horse trails, which is just a lip drill with no sound just to start to get some movement in that exhale. Or using unvoiced onsets like SH's THS, just to start to move the breath flow a little bit so that you're taking regular breaks. Because sometimes we're under the wire, always with you need to get something done and you feel like, ‘okay, I can't take a break because this needs to be in by this time.’ But that's not necessarily the best thing. Even just taking 30 seconds to release your air and go back then into it is going to make sure that longevity stays equalized so much more comfortably.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Breathing is very important, obviously to stay alive, but also to keeping your voice in good shape. And I don't think people understand a lot about their body and how it functions to support the breath and what their diaphragm is and why it's important that you're singing from there or speaking from there and not from your throat because that's where tightness can develop. And tension can live anywhere. And so for a vocalist, where do you find that tension lives most often? And again, how can they work to resolve that?

Susan Eichhorn Young:

Tension can be anywhere. Sometimes we see it, sometimes we don't. Again, everybody is different. Everybody's muscle switches different speeds. And so working with someone that can help you isolate and integrate where some of those tensions might live in the body because we need tension. It's not like we have to be Raggedy Ann kind of thing. We need that usable tenacity to engage the support of the breath and the body. It's when that tenacity and that tension overexerts in a certain area of the body that causes issues. So it's really trying to find out, how do I align? I always think of it like a marionette. We need to align the points of tension in the body to make sure there's some give and take and it doesn't lock. And so everybody is different. Everybody holds those tensions in different spots. So it's starting to just recognize in your own body, where is my tension? Where is my usable tension and where is my locked tension?

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

I think a lot of singers might hold that locked tension in their knees. And I'm just thinking about this because when you're in choirs and you're singing, you're all up on a riser, it is so easy for your legs, your knees to just lock and then someone faints or passes. Yeah, what happened here is because there was just two, maybe you weren't grounded properly or just not loose enough. So always be aware of what your own body is doing and where tension uniquely resides in you because you say it's different for everybody. And I feel so awful for those people who have TMJ where that resides and everything is a click and it hurts so much in there. But obviously, if you've got that, you're hopefully finding ways to relieve it, either through massage or chiropractic or however else it is. But yeah, like singers have pain, actors have pain. And you need to be able to find ways to relieve that pain naturally so that at any given time you can release attention and give your best performance that you can.

Susan Eichhorn Young:

Exactly. And I think if you're talking about voice actors, especially on mic, whether you're sitting while you do your work or standing, the key is to always go back to your feet. So if you've been sitting on mic for a while, sometimes you start to just kind of sit into your sit bones and then the whole upper body starts to SAG, which then puts pressure on the exhale. So if you can just maneuver yourself and energize back into your feet and the legs begin to activate, then the support energy starts to build from the floor back up. And that can be a great reset just to remind you how to reactivate the body energy.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Great tips. So before we go, Susan, I wanted to ask you what's one thing you wish you had known about your voice earlier in your career?

Susan Eichhorn Young:

That it takes a long time to find it fully, that it's not just going to be there because voice is hormonal in its development and physical in its development. It takes time for that to completely come into maturity. So that it's really, again, like you said, we're in this instant culture and younger is better. And honestly, I believe that as a voice person, our voices are like fine wine. They get better with age. So it's not about trying to find it all right away, but let yourself, you know, take the time it needs to and nurture it so it develops and can last as long as you want to be bothered.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Take that home and write it down, everybody. It gets better with age. Don't lose hope if you're like, oh, I want my voice to sound this way or that way. It's like, you know what, it's a process. And as you grow and mature and the way that you were made to be, it will happen. You will get there, you'll have that peak performance that you're looking for, but also just to be aware of just how that voice is uniquely you and you don't need to sound like anyone else the voice you were born with, it's all you need.

Susan Eichhorn Young:

Agreed.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Perfect. So Susan, I've had the great privilege of studying with you before and I would love to be able to point people your way. So how can people find you and what's the best way for them to learn about what you do?

Susan Eichhorn Young:

They can simply go to my website and I have a short form for it since my name is long. So it's just go to Sey.fyi and that will take you to all things voice, which you can contact me through the contact page on that and I'd love to hear from you.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Wonderful. And are you teaching remotely too, or just in Manhattan?

Susan Eichhorn Young:

No, I am remote, a silver lining of our pandemic. So yes, I'm teaching online and in the city.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Wonderful. So thank you again for joining us, Susan. I know I learned a lot. I hope everyone was listening, especially to what you said about vocal fry. I know that men and women both can go and do vocal fry and it's still equally annoying, but at any rate, that's another conversation perhaps for another day.

Susan Eichhorn Young:

Exactly, yes.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

But thank you so much for joining us.

Susan Eichhorn Young:

My pleasure.

Stephanie Ciccarelli:

Wonderful, thank you. And that's the way we saw the world through the lens of Voiceover this week. Thank you for listening to Vox Talk and for being part of our community. I also want to thank the amazing Susan Eichhorn Young for sharing her tips and knowledge with us. It's so good to have answers to many of Vocal Health perennial questions answered here today on Vox Talk. So if you enjoyed this episode, be sure to share it with your friends for Voices, I'm your host, Stephanie Ciccarelli. Vox Talk is produced by Geoff Bremner. Thank you for listening and we'll see you next week.

Stephanie Ciccarelli
Stephanie Ciccarelli is a Co-Founder of Voices. Classically trained in voice as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. For over 25 years, Stephanie has used her voice to communicate what is most important to her through the spoken and written word. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, Stephanie has been a contributor to The Huffington Post, Backstage magazine, Stage 32 and the Voices.com blog. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.
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