Step into a shopping mall or anywhere else where there are massive numbers of
people and pay attention to their voices. If Nira Gal – a singer and longtime
speech-development teacher – is correct, seven out of 10 suffer from hoarseness.
But unless surgery or another invasive medical procedure is needed to remove a
polyp or callus from the vocal cords, a series of exercises can be learned “to
heal your voice and maintain a healthy, clear voice.”
That is the
subtitle of her new Hebrew-language, softcover book called Tzridut (Hoarseness).
The 221- page, NIS 75 volume, published by Diyunon and Probook
(www.probook.co.il), is illustrated by dozens of photographs of Gal in black
leotards as she demonstrates the facial and body exercises.
an authorized voice teacher at the Beit Zvi acting school, previously taught
would-be TV and radio announcers at the Tel Aviv Communications College, studied
voice under Lola Shanzer and over the past 20 years developed her own techniques
to preserve and treat strained voices. Among her private students have been
cantors and other singers, lawyers, school and kindergarten teachers, voice-over
narrators and managers. The book was endorsed by ear-noseand- throat specialist
Dr. Benjamin Negris of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Medical Faculty.
SUGGESTS that hoarseness begins in kindergarten. “If the kindergarten teacher is
hoarse, the whole class is. Then in school, the teacher is [likely to be]
hoarse, and her speech accompanied by much tension. As a result, the whole class
is hoarse, tense and unable to concentrate properly. And at home, if the parents
yell, the children will as well.”
Another major factor is the ignorance
of most people on how to carry their bodies. “Eighty percent of my students came
to me without any knowledge of how to organize their body properly. They
suffered from posture problems, holding their head in a way that led to back
pains, shallow breathing and then voice problems,” she notes.
voices also result from difficulty with phonetics. When a musical instrument is
(hopelessly) broken, she adds. “we buy a new one, but when our voices break
down, we can’t replace them. The instrument is built into our bodies, connected
to the brain and nervous system and influenced by mood, tension and hormonal
When we are tense, our brain immediately radiates tension to the
Thus, the many exercises Gal suggests for repairing hoarse
voices involve not only the mouth, throat, lungs and neck but the whole body,
and photographs show her “pushing” walls, standing up and reaching for her toes
and raising herself with her arms from a sitting position on a bench. She
recommends exercising about an hour a day, but at different times and not all at
once. Breathing exercises should get five to 10 minutes daily, while the same
amount of time is usually needed for talking or singing while holding the tongue
with a clean towel.
Relaxation exercises require 20 minutes a day, and if
you follow Gal’s recommendations, you’ll be mooing like a cow for five to 10
minutes daily. There are also special exercises for “lazy tongue,” vocal
tiredness, shallow breathing and the failure of the vocal cords to open and
close properly. The author contends that if one stops exercising the voice,
there is a high likelihood that hoarseness will return because the person
returns to his old bad habits.
NUMEROUS ANATOMICAL drawings are devoted
to the “true” vocal cords (or vocal folds) – two sections of mucous membrane
stretched horizontally across the larynx to create the voicebox. When a person
breathes, the cords open to let in air, but when one speaks or sings, they move
towards each other and vibrate, controlling the flow of air released by the
lungs. The pitch of one’s voice is largely set by the frequency of their
oscillation. The average man has a lower voice because of low-frequency
oscillation, followed by a woman’s, whose oscillation frequency is higher, and
high-pitched children, whose vibrations occur at more than twice the frequency
of a man’s.
The endless variations in voice result from differences in
the length, thickness and other properties of the vocal cords.
also thick and less-delicate “false” or vestibular folds that protect and sit
adjacent to the “true” cords; they help produce deeper tones and grunting
sounds. Also involved in speaking is the epiglottis, the “trap door” on top of
the trachea (wind tube) that opens and closes to keep a person from choking
while swallowing food or drink.
Gal lists a number of common causes of
hoarseness: poor body structure; shouting instead of talking calmly; speaking in
a pitch that is far from one’s natural pitch; speaking with a rise in pitch at
the end of sentences, as if they were questions; strong coughing or laughter;
excessive phlegm in the throat; too much speaking as in a classroom; stress from
speaking before a crowd or in public places; incessant yakking on the phone;
emotional problems; smoking and drinking excess alcohol or caffeine; eating
before going to sleep; taking certain medications; exposure to polluted air or
too-dry or humid air; inadequate sleep; lifting heavy weights; excessive playing
of wind instruments; and hearing problems.
In addition, a variety of
medical conditions including influenza and other viral infections can lead to
hoarseness. So can the reflux of acid from the stomach into the throat;
calluses, cysts, polyps or malignant tumors on the vocal cords; hematomas
(collection of blood outside a blood vessel) within the cords, edema (swelling)
and paralysis of the cords; asthma; pneumonia; and the inability of the cords to
close properly during speech.
A person’s posture is correct when the
spinal column is in a relaxed, S shape. Poor, unhealthy posture is rigid, with
the skull pulled back and the back in an I shape or when standing stooped in a
hunchback; these are not conducive to a clear voice.
The top of the head,
the ear and the shoulder should be positioned at 90-degree angles. The neck
should be straight, while the jaw must be parallel to the floor to maximize the
potential of the voice.
THIRTEEN EXERCISES for the jaw, including one
using a ruler, are illustrated by photographs. A dozen exercises are offered to
improve posture. An amazing variety of 47 different exercises, some using a
stick or chair, are presented by Gal to improve breathing. To improve control of
the tongue, the reader is shown how to hold it down with a towel. These
exercises are best done in the morning after the completion of breathing
exercises. She even suggested well-known Hebrew children’s songs for singing
while the tongue is held captive.
Then there are facial muscle and lip
exercises, some of them amusing because they make you look like a fish, whistle,
gargle, pull the nose to one side of the face or another or sound like a horse.
But they are all beneficial, writes the Gal, for treating
Even yawning, humming and sighing exercise can improve one’s
performance. How to practice vowels and consonants is explained in detail, and
speaking into a lit candle is suggested.
It is very important to find
one’s own “natural tone of speech,” says Gal, who says many cases of hoarseness
result from people setting an artificial tone because they want to change their
image. Women with a low voice naturally try to raise it, and men with
high-pitched voices want to lower theirs. Once you discover your natural pitch,
you can slowly lower or raise what you have used that has hurt your throat and
To determine your natural pitch, she writes, put your thumb
and pinky of one hand on the upper lip under the nose and locate the nasal bone.
Choose a tone and sound out a mmmmmm sound with a closed mouth. Place the
fingernail of the index finger of your other hand on the front of your throat to
make sure you haven’t put too much pressure on it. The fingers placed on the
nose and upper lip can feel the vibrations from each; if they are equal in
strength, you have found your natural pitch. But if you sound various tones and
don’t feel that the vibrations from the nose and lips are equal, try another
pitch. If you have difficulty trying different tones, says Gal, try getting
accompaniment from a piano, flute or another instrument.
If you are still
unsuccessful, you can also try making sounds while simulating the chewing of
food. “These are the basis of human language” from which ancient man speech
developed, she writes. Chew three times while sounding out mmmmmm in one flow,
moving the lips forward as in a whistle. Say “mayim mishamayim” in that same
tone, and what will come out naturally with the consonant M is one’s natural
pitch, the author says. Most people, using one of these techniques, can easily
NEAR THE END, Gal presents Hebrew texts for reading out and
practicing in one’s natural pitch, but any text can be used. She also recommends
placing notes on your bathroom mirror, computer screen or refrigerator to remind
you to inhale and exhale long breaths with S sounds in through your nose, or to
speak at your natural pitch, for example.
If you have done the
recommended exercises and the hoarseness does not disappear within two weeks, go
to a physician, asserts Gal. Medications should be taken only with a
prescription. If healed, she proposes continuation of the exercises and a number
of natural “remedies” from lemon and honey to steam inhalation, green tea and
The book ends with a list of questions and answers,
including the denial of a number of myths about hoarseness. Milk doesn’t always
cause phlegm, she writes; a very hot or cold drink is not beneficial; whispering
is not good when hoarse, as it causes excessive stress on the vocal cords; heavy
meals are a burden to the voice because the diaphragm rises and makes breathing
Finally, says Gal, speak gently, as if you are
Breathe after every seven words. Speak with a wide-open mouth.
Don’t shout from room to room. Don’t wear tight clothing or belts that press on
the stomach and interfere with blood circulation. Try to be silent when you have
a viral infection. Avoid both active and passive smoking.
Keep your teeth
healthy. And follow a healthful lifestyle of good nutrition, exercise and
If you follow all the rules, you should be singing like a