Voice like an old croak Here's seven steps to sounding youngerAs surgeons start offering 'voice lifts', the scalpel-free ways to shave off years
00:39 GMT, 20 September 2012
June Brown as Dot Branning in EastEnders: Does your croaky voice make you sound as old as her character
Settling down with a glass of wine, I prepare to watch the lovingly compiled video footage of our summer holidays. As the screen fills my six-year-old daughter Nancy cheerfully building sandcastles on a beach in Ramsgate I smile in happy reminiscence.
But wait, what horror is this Oh my God, it’s me. No, not the unpleasant vision of me in my swimming costume (a sight I’d mentally primed myself for) but me talking — or to be brutally accurate — droning on.
Cruelly, the video camera has faithfully recorded my reedy nasal voice for posterity. Thin, monotone and crackly . . . on and on I bleat. I’m only 44, but I sound nearer 80.
No wonder a hapless cold-caller recently trying to flog me cheap electricity over the phone made the fatal mistake of calling me ‘dear’. Surely no one under 70 is ever called ‘dear’
But when did this happen I’m sure my voice wasn’t always like this. When I worked as a teacher only a few years ago, lecturing a class of 30-odd teenagers, my voice was strong and resonant — clear as a bell, in fact. It had to be. A hint of feebleness and I’d have been mincemeat.
But who knew that while I’ve been busy scrutinising my crow’s feet and grey hair for further signs of ageing since turning 40, another part of me was giving the game away completely It’s my voice that is crying out for an anti-ageing treatment. Forget Botox or facelifts, I need a ‘voice lift’. And, yes, such a thing does exist.
Last weekend, I read that an operation called vocal-cord augmentation — or voice-lift surgery — is becoming the latest must-have for those keen to turn back the clock.
The procedure involves taking fat from the stomach wall and grafting it on to the vocal cords, or ‘vocal folds’ as experts call them, to plump them up and make the voice sound younger. John Rubin, a consultant at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital in London, says: ‘Older voices sound breathy and slightly harsh. After the fat is injected the voice will be more effective and efficient, sounding stronger and richer.’
The procedure is carried out on older people whose voices have worn out, and is particularly in demand with high-flying business types, who worry that their ageing tones undermine their authority at work.
Mr Rubin, one of the first people in the UK to offer the surgery, says men start to lose vocal resonance at the age of 30 — and by 65 the muscles around the larynx have worn so thin that their voices usually sound reedy, wobbly and thin.
Women, he adds, are a bit luckier. We are protected by oestrogen, which helps to keep the vocal cords and larynx lubricated — until, that is, menopause hits. Then, oestrogen levels drop dramatically, which causes the vocal folds to dry out — known as menopausal voice syndrome.
Oh dear. Please don’t tell me I’m menopausal. Although I may not be in the first flush of youth, I still feel and — thanks to some serious facial peels — look young. If my voice starts shrieking middle-aged and menopausal to the whole world, then that voice has to go.
But can I keep my voice young without resorting to the knife
Frances Parkes, a vocal expert who runs the clinic Max Your Voice in Harley Street, says she’s seeing increasing numbers of women who feel their voice is letting them down when they hit their 40s. But she assures me there is, thankfully, plenty we can do before having the fat sucked out of our tummies and injected into our throats.
‘With a few small changes, voices can defy time,’ says Frances. ‘If you listen to some of the best voice coaches, they might be 80 but sound 30. That’s because they know how to look after their voices.’
So, for now, my tummy fat can stay where it is. Here are other, non-costly ways to sound eternally youthful . . .
Curry lover If you do eat spicy or acidic food, neutralise the effect by drinking lots of water
Take deep breaths
we breathe shallowly, our voices sound breathy and weak,’ says Frances.
‘So the first thing to do is breathe deeply. Letting the air into the
diaphragm rather than keeping it in the upper chest makes your voice
sounds resonant and strong.
Loren has a great voice. She sounds sultry and sophisticated, but not
old. If you look closely, you’ll barely see her cleavage move when she’s
speaking. Her breath control — long, deep breaths, not gasps or shallow
breaths — is fantastic.’
Ditch the curries
Diet plays an important part in how we sound. Spicy or acidic foods can damage our voices because as the stomach attempts to digest them, unpleasant gases are produced that travel over the trachea and vocal folds, irritating them. The voice then sounds phlegmy and croaky.
Frances advises: ‘If you do eat spicy or acidic food, try to drink plenty of water to neutralise the effect.’
Dairy products are out, too — they
are hard to digest, producing those gases. So dark chocolate is fine,
but milk chocolate is a no-no.
Red wine is better than white because it is less acidic, while tea and coffee should be avoided.
‘Caffeine is a diuretic and very dehydrating,’ says Frances. ‘Dehydrated vocal folds leave the voice sounding dry and raspy.’
No crash diets
Tuck in! A woman eats a fry-up breakfast. Carrying a bit of weight actually benefits our voices (posed by model)
Luckily enough, carrying a bit of weight benefits our voices because fat cells provide a good source of oestrogen. This hormone is essential for lubricating our vocal cords, keeping our voices rich and young.
‘It’s far better for your voice to keep a few extra pounds on board,’ says John Rubin. People with barrel chests have greater lung capacity than the ultra-skinny Victoria Beckhams of this world, so more resonant voices.
If you are naturally slim, aerobic exercise — such as running, dancing and swimming — will improve your lung capacity and give your voice depth.
Mr Rubin says: ‘We lose 50 per cent
of our lung capacity between the ages of 20 and 80 but you can improve
capacity by physical exercise. More lung capacity means a richer, more
Feeling low expresses itself in your voice.
of the symptoms of depression is a flat, listless voice. This is due to
lack of energy, which makes the muscles around the vocal cords slacken
Slack muscles, whether they be on your tummy or in your throat, are very ageing.
So perk up and smile. It will not only actually lift your mood, it will add youthful brightness to your tone.
Frances says: ‘Smiling opens up the throat and encourages higher pitch, which makes you sound younger.
‘Practise great big smiles while speaking on the phone and no one can see you. You’ll definitely hear the difference.’
If you stand tall with good posture, you make more space for breath — and more breath means stronger, richer tones. The Alexander Technique, which voice coaches use to help actors achieve rich tones, like those of Dame Maggie Smith, is great for posture and voice.
Imagine your shoulders are totally relaxed and someone is pulling a piece of string from the crown of your head towards the ceiling. Lengthening the body means the diaphragm can move properly, letting in more air, so your tone is clearer and more powerful.
Belt out a tune
Practise singing scales and humming. This gets the vocal folds moving and keeps your voice young and supple.
Frances says: ‘Humming the sound “Mmm” up and down the scales is great. It brightens the tone because it encourages higher pitches.’ If you sing for a few minutes every day, you should notice an improvement within three weeks.
No shouting or whispering
Shouting strains the vocal folds and, more strangely, whispering does, too. For me, as a harassed working mum of a six-year-old, whispering is not an issue, but I have been known to raise my voice on occasion. Perhaps this is what has caused me to sound like Dot Cotton on a bad day.
From now on, when Nancy refuses to let me brush her hair in the morning, I won’t impersonate a banshee, but I will smile broadly, imagine someone pulling a piece of string from the top of my head, and say in my brightest, bounciest tones: ‘Please, darling.’
If nothing else, it might shock her into doing as she’s told.