Natural Remedies for a Healthy Voice

From Julia Norton’s Voice Box

What do actors, teachers, singers, lawyers & auctioneers have in common? 

They’re all professionals who just can’t afford to lose their voices. Singing teachers and those in close proximity with kids during lessons or classes are especially vulnerable to colds and sniffles. So what can be done? I’m sure you all have an arsenal of ‘go to’ remedies for just such occasions, Vicks, etc, but I wanted to share what I do, just in case there’s anything new for you that might be helpful. 

At the FIRST sign of a cold take  ZICAM 

‘Zicam’ is a homeopathic remedy which fights off a cold at the very first sign. I don’t leave home without it…except when I recently went to LA for an awards show, shook all the hands and had forgotten to pack it! You can buy it anywhere.

Blocked stuffy nose

I steam over a bowl of just boiled water with 1 or 2 drops of the following essential oils: eucalyptus, peppermint (very clearing and decongesting) or ti tree (if you’re also wanting a bacteria buster in there). You could try combining any of these, but I wouldn’t suggest starting with more than two drops. Put a towel over your head to trap the steam and breath through your nose listening to your favorite podcast (Dark and Twisty Tales) LOL or just until the steam is done. You can buy essential oils at any natural health store or Amazon (but make sure they are pure therapeutic grade). 

Sore throat

Short answer…Gargle half a cup of warm salt water….I know it totally sucks, but it works faster than anything else I’ve tried.

General cold symptoms

Drink LOTS of water and herbal teas, peppermint and ginger are excellent. I always have ‘Throat Comfort’ tea in my cupboard too. In addition to those, if I’m ‘Netflix binging level’ sick, I’ll be making ginger tea (with fresh slices of ginger and lemon, honey and a pinch of cayenne pepper!). Yup, rocket fuel cold eliminator! While brandy is nice, all alcohol dries your throat, so watch out for that. 

Lung Recovery Mullein Tea

For those of us in the Bay Area, we’ve had two smoke filled Octobers in a row, the last one being particularly gruesome. It also seems to me that more people are suffering from bronchial symptoms this winter as a result of our weakened lungs. I had been feeling like a smoker again, getting out of breath walking up hills, coughing etc. So my excellent herbalist ( Joshua Muscat ) put me on this tea a month ago. It’s starting to make a real difference AND it’s yummy.

Directions

Take a half a cup of packed Mullein LEAF tea (leaf only) it’s light and fluffy with little hairs in it so don’t fluff it around too much, made me sneeze like crazy the first time!

Add 5 cups of boiling water and let it steep for an hour. Then strain through double tea strainers or muslin/gauze (to catch those little hairs I mentioned).  

Vaporizer/Humidifier

I have one of those essential oil vaporizers in my living room and next to my bed. Add up to 6 drops to the water and let that clear your nose as you sleep. In addition to peppermint and eucalyptus which are clearing, but quite ‘bright’ oils, I also swap in lavender at night time, my number one very favorite oil, which I also never travel without. 

General tidbits

I sprinkle peppermint or eucalyptus in my vocal booth to keep my airways clear during recording AND when I’ve cleaned my car I sprinkle the same oils in there. If I’m really tired and busy and need to keep awake while driving I use Rosemary, which is an excellent mental stimulant. Bonus, my car always smells lovely.:)  Pro Tip – Essential oils work best when you change them out every now and then. So use peppermint for a week, then eucalyptus, then maybe rosemary before going back to peppermint.

So that’s it I think?  Those are all the things I do to keep a healthy voice over the winter months. I hope they help you and you are able use your fabulous vocal instrument all winter long!

Julia

P.S. If you have a natural remedy for vocal health that I’ve missed, I’d LOVE to hear about it on my FB page Julia Norton’s Voice Box

I am NOT a health professional, but these are a few remedies and solutions that have worked really well for me over the last 20 or so years. Herbal remedies, homeopathy and essential oils are medicine and not to be taken lightly, but the few I have listed here are all known for being very safe. If you are pregnant or have a health condition please do your own research first.

Do Voice Actors need to be able to sing?

Well, no, but it can really help. 

We all know that the most important training a Voice Actor needs is ‘acting training’. While many VO’s already have at least a  BA in theatre and as such would have likely learned some basic vocal technique as part of their training. Many more voice actors have come to VO as a second career after quitting their desk job or whilst transitioning out of that and won’t have any training at all. Being very smart cookies however and listening to the advice from all around them, they will invest in acting classes of a wide variety, but for those in this latter category, the ‘voice training’ part might get forgotten in all the excitement about characters and confusion about mic technique.

Ok ok, but, WHY do I need Voice Training?

Well, like I said, you don’t HAVE to train your voice, but given that voice actors and singers are using their voices much more like athletes than the regular person on the street (aside from teachers, preachers and prosecuting lawyers etc) you’d better know how to fully care for you instrument if you don’t want to repeatedly lose your voice or suffer debilitating vocal injury. 

But I want to just do commercials and tags, that’s not very demanding. 

True, but how many professional voice actors are there out there who can make a great living ONLY doing that? Not many I’ll tell ya’. The truth is, we nearly all of us audition for (and hopefully book) video games, toys, e-learning, industrials or audiobooks. All of these categories of voice over demand a LOT from your voice, which when it comes down to it, is relying on two tiny moist membranes in the back of your throat! Not knowing how to protect them seems a little…shortsighted?

Alright, so now you know WHY you need to properly train your voice, how do you actually  fill in that missing piece and get the voice training you need?

A great place to start is to get singing lessons with a well respected voice teacher.

Ask your friends and colleagues who they use, find out what kinds of things they’ve learned in their lessons and sign up for a lesson or two to try it out. 

What will I learn?

A great voice teacher will show you how to warm up both physically and vocally and help you to understand the different areas of your voice and how to use proper technique so as to reduce the chance of injury. They will make sure your breathing is not restricted and that you are singing with the least effort possible. They will encourage you to try different kinds of singing styles as you build confidence and listen to your concerns. 

An excellent voice teacher will do all this whilst also making you feel comfortable and empowered on your journey.

But what if I don’t want to learn to sing and I just want to know how to look after my voice?

That’s fine too, but, as a voice actor,  you know that you want to be as creative and flexible as possible right? So the ‘baby dragon toy’ audition you just got, also sings. What are you going to do? Skip the audition because you’re not a singer? No of course not, you’re gonna sing like a dammed dragon (let’s hope you warmed up first so your not shredding your cords) but then you book the gig and all the way into the studio you’re thinking “omg I’m not a singer, I’m not going to be able to repeat what I did in the audition and they’re gonna find out I’m a fraud and they’ll tell my agent I suck and my career will be over.”  Lol. Relax, you’ve got all the confidence because you took a couple of months of singing lessons and know what the heck you’re doing. Right?

Learn from the best whenever you can.

I recently had the priviledge to be coached by Jennifer Hale, ( if you don’t know who she is and you ever want to work in games she’s THE industry titan for women, look her up. Jennifer Hale IMDB ) The thing you will hear her emphatically demanding of anyone who will listen again and again and again is “drink room temperature water” which is true, but even louder she says 

“get singing lessons and learn how to use your instrument”.

Me and the amazing Jennifer Hale

So, do voice actors need to be able to sing? Not like Pavarotti no, but knowing how to care for your instrument and how to hold a tune can be really bloody useful!

Have a fantastic rest of week, you singing dragon master you!

Julia

The 10 essential benefits of singing & performing…at any age.

This last weekend was my young singers’ summer recital and they were breathtaking as usual.

My lovely singers and their post recital glow.

Despite my dog barking at a squirrel in the garden during a couple of the songs and my graduating star of the evening calling an hour before the show, sick in bed with sore throat and swollen glands, it was still totally and completely fabulous.

I will never cease to be amazed by the courage and growth shown by my young students. But it’s no surprise really, when you think that all this good stuff comes with learning to sing and perform, on your own and with others.

Well, let’s see, what skills DO you develop?

Collaboration –Working together on the group songs and duets is about understanding that we can play together and support each other. When we focus on making our partner look good, we both win.

EmpathyLearning about the stories you are singing about…”this one is about an orphan who wishes he had a mother”. Oliver “Where is Love”

FlexibilityWell, we thought we were going to be doing it this way, but so and so is sick, or couldn’t be here, so this is how we’re going to work together to fill their role.

A Red Fox, By Allie K

ImaginationWriting your own verse to an existing melody is a great way to get started song writing! I even got a painting of a Red Fox inspired by the verse one student wrote.

Emotional OutletLife can be stressful, especially for kids in school, so to have a place to go where all you are going to do for the next 30 or 45 minutes is sing…well, it goes without saying you’re going to feel better when you leave than when you arrived.

Concentration & Memory  – Learning all those words and different parts of the melody and staying focused enough during the performance so you don’t lose your way!

CommunicationYou have a story to tell, so you need to be in it and articulate it clearly and sing it out, so we can be in it with you!

Confidence  – This one is probably the one that parents tell me they have noticed the most. To feel like you not only have permission to take the space and share your story, but to really feel like the audience and your fellow singers are right there with you, builds confidence like nothing else. For so many people singing and public speaking are fraught with terror, these kids however are getting to recognize their pre-performance nerves not as something to be feared and shut out, but more as an energy to ride. Just like before you get on a roller coaster!

FunLast but not least, singing just makes you feel better! Especially if you are laughing and having fun along the way! I am a stickler for my students developing great technique, not because I’m looking for perfection, but because I want their voices to be reliable, strong and flexible so they can sing their whole lives with minimal risk of injury. But if they don’t have fun and love coming to se me every week, it’s just not going to work, for any of us.

These are all priceless skills, not only for children and teens, but for anyone.

I challenge you to look through this list and not see how that skill might also be useful for you?

OK, here are a few little tongue twisters for you to try in the shower or when you’re walking the dog or whatever:

Bertie the big brown bear bites buns.

Lennie the lion, loves licking lollipops.

I’m not a thistle sifter I’m a thistle sifter’s son and I’m only sifting thistles ‘till the thistle sifter comes

And if you’re feeling much braver…

She sat upon the balcony

Inexplicably mimicking him hiccuping

And amicably welcoming him in.

See… I bet you’re smiling already?

Let me know if I can help you on your journey to discovering the joys of singing!!

Julia

To schedule a lesson or book a free 15 minute telephone chat click here

Is it time to take your slippers off?

I spend a lot of time in my comfy slippers, either in my vocal booth recording voice over, or in my home studio teaching others how to sing and use their voices. 

Last week however, I put on actual shoes and got out of the house! I know! Crazy right? And what a truly, lovely experience it was.

This is the view from the room at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, where I joined with poets Patti Trimble, Maya Kholsa and instrumentalist Peter Whitehead to perform ‘The Penelope Poems’.

If you love Greek myth or interwoven poetry and music, it’s a real treat. Penelope’s chance to talk back.  Here’s a link to the podcast episode. https://www.commonwealthclub.org/events/archive/podcast/penelope-poems

I was a little nervous. We hadn’t had much rehearsal, I was reading poems, singing songs, improvising and being recorded in front of a live audience, but the pay off from getting uncomfortable was huge. I LOVE to collaborate. I LOVE to be with like minded creatives, who can trust in the creation process and live with the imperfections that often arise in a live improvisation. I love it all and am so grateful to Patti for creating such beautiful poetry and bringing us all together.

“We cannot grow, if we don’t get out of our slippers…out of our comfort zone.”

Huge thanks to you to those of you who have been emailing me responses to my questions …

What aspects of singing would you like more confidence in?

What do you think is standing between you and a free and open voice?

Today I’m going to add one more…

What’s stopping you from singing…right now?  Because my guess is…it’s got something to do with your slippers?

Huge hugs

Julia

P.S. If you know someone who you think might enjoy this, please share 🙂

PPS. If you’re ready to sing let me help you with that..mailto:voicework@julianorton.com

I shouldn’t have done that. Is ‘regret’ a useful emotion?

Ugh, I think we’ve all experienced that gut wrenching feeling when you’ve just said or done something that you instantly regret: ordering that third ‘Manhattan’, eating a second slice of birthday cake because the first piece was so good (the second never is though right?) or volunteering to organize the high school graduation night.

Then there are the regrets that take a while to settle in that often start with “I wish I’d” and refer to things you wish you HAD done rather than hadn’t. I wish I’d stuck with piano lessons,  forgiven my dad sooner, picked up the phone and opened for The Chieftains instead of cowering in the corner listening to the answering machine.

Ok some of these are a bit specific and obviously from my back catalog, but you get the gist. The question I’ve been asking myself is…Is regret a useful emotion?

For much of my adult life I’ve berated myself for not studying theatre or music in college and instead opting for the safe ‘English Major’ route. It was obvious I was never going to be happy unless I was singing, teaching and acting, but it has been a very circuitous route getting here I can tell ya. The truth is, despite the fact that I believe I arrived on this earth brimming with joy and confidence,  by the time I was a teenager, it was pretty much gone and didn’t think I would amount to much at all.  Not at all the resilience needed for a career in show biz!

So back to my question…a different way…Regret, is there an upside? Or is it just a means of making us feel like idiots for not having had the insight and courage we have now, back then?

I’ve come to the conclusion regret is mostly a crappy emotion and not much worth the time BUT it is useful if you can either learn from it straight away and make a different choice the next time a similar situation arises, or and this one I love, project it into the future as a ‘look back tool’. (Brook Castillo talks about this approach in her brilliant podcast The Life Coach School podcast episode .)

For example, if I project myself 5 or 10 years into the future what might I regret not doing now?

Hmm…

Putting money aside for retirement.

Spending as much time with my awesome teenager as I can before he leaves home.

Creating my online course.

Becoming the best voice actor I can be.

Taking more time for my health and fitness.

Telling my husband I love him every day.

Visiting my mum more often.

And learning to play that damn piano!

So, with a holiday weekend coming up, watch out for those margaritas and take a moment to think …What would be on your list in 5 or 10 years?  Let’s not keep thinking it’s too late to start and then not start at all.

I’d love it if you would inspire others by sharing in the comments.