How old is Morgan Freeman’s voice? How can Julie Andrews still mimic a teenager? Morgan and Julie prove good voices don’t have to grow old.
Both actors are in their mid-80’s, and their voices are still beautiful.
Both, of course, depend on their voices to make a living, so they understand the mechanics and take care of take care of everything that affects their vocal health. That’s a clue.
Voices that stay young forever are not rare genetic gifts. You can do the same things professionals do and keep your own voice as strong, interesting and healthy as it was when you were in your 30s for your whole life.
Who knows, a little practice and you could sound as sexy as Elizabeth Hurley or Idris Elba.
Start with Mmmmm and Keep Limber
Once you reach adulthood, your voice box is full size. From that point on, you should have no more voice changes other than possibly some deepening.
“Old voice,” or presbyphonia, is not caused by aging. It’s a signal that something has changed with our your health or your physical condition. Often the problem is simple disuse.
Most of us don’t have voice coaches like actors and singers do to keep us on track. We don’t do daily voice drills. They’re the reason so many singers and actors keep youthful voices all their lives. Those exercises keep the mechanics working right.
It’s simple anatomy. Voice production happens when we force air through the vocal chords (folds) and they vibrate. Any change in your voice quality reflects a change in your vocal chords, the larynx (voice box) around them, the lungs that supply the air, or the diaphragm muscle that pushes air into the voice box.
Shallow breathing and weaker diaphragm muscles, for instance, lead to less energetic airflow. Then your voice becomes weaker, it may rise in pitch, and you probably have trouble being heard over background noises.
Another common malady that affects voice quality is asthma because it can reduce airflow strength, too.
The point of voice drills is to exercise the equipment so that the vocal chords do not lose mass, get stiffer, or become thinner when they are older.
That is why one of the first things you can do to keep a strong, youthful voice is to use it more.
Sing. Sing a lot.
Read stories out loud. Recite poetry while walking around.
And especially, hum. The mmmmm sound is excellent for waking your vocal chords and making them vibrate.
- In fact, if you are getting squeaky and your pitch is rising, a good exercise is to say a lot of Mmmm words at a slightly lower pitch.
- Draw out the Mmmmm sound then say the rest of the word at the same lower pitch.
- Say Mmmm Mmmmmichael, Mmmmmary, mmmmarble, mmmmaple, mmmmimic, mmmmeme, mmmmumu, mmmmostly, mmmmama, mmmmouth….
If you need to give a public speech or plan to talk in a meeting, do this exercise beforehand to get your voice limber and the pitch under control.
You don’t want to be loud. Don’t strain or try to go too low, but those vocal chords are muscles. Just as with the rest of the muscles in your body, the principal of “use it or lose it” applies.
Find Your Right Pitch
The Mmmmm exercise will help you speak at your correct pitch. One that is comfortable, without tension.
Other cues to your right pitch are the sound you make when you laugh or cough.
Or try this “Mmmm hmmm exercise” recommended by Dr. Morton Cooper, the voice coach who wrote “Change Your Voice, Change Your Life.
His quick way of finding you best natural pitch is to stand up and put your index finger just under your sternum (breastbone). Press gently and quickly and make a sound with your lips closed.
That will be your correct pitch for most people.
He also recommends that you project your voice through the “mask” instead of trying to force it from your throat or through your nose alone. The mask is the area of your face that contains your nose, mouth and chin when you place your hand over it.
This also can help you find the right pitch.
Imagine a statement, like “your dog has fleas” and respond “umm hummm.” Put your hand over your mask as you respond.
If you feel a vibration, you are speaking at the best, most comfortable pitch for your voice.
Repeat several times, you should find there is one pitch where vibration in your mask happens. That’s it.
How important is the right pitch? Using it prevents strain.
Interestingly one of the most beautiful, low-pitched women’s voices ever known is now linked to a voice disorder.
People who try to lower their voices too much below their natural range may suffer Bogie-Bacall Syndrome named for Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart. The strain causes hoarseness, excessive throat clearing and can make the voice weaker.
Don’t Overlook This Common Problem
Another thing that can age our voices is the very common problem of GERD. It affects about 20% of adults.
The acid reflux in GERD can flow over the vocal chords, and it is irritating. GERD is rarely the direct cause of voice changes. That happens in only a small percentage of people with the disease unless they have a cough or other irritation on top. But GERD does frequently cause laryngitis.
It is talking when you are hoarse that can lead to changes caused by straining your voice. So if you have GERD, or suspect as much, see your doctor. Also go easy with alcohol, which can set off reflux. Some people have more reflux when they eat spicy food as well.
Take a Straw
Is your voice tired? Off pitch?
You might practice the straw exercise. Humming into a straw is called “semi-occluded vocal therapy” or SOVT.
that shows you how to do it.
By holding straw in your mouth and voicing through it, you lower the air pressure in your vocal tracts so the vocal chords can vibrate more easily. Upshot—tired voice gets new life. And you get a nice bit of vibrato to make you sound great.
Do this two to five minutes at a time several times a day.
All the Other Stuff
Since your voice depends of breath and muscles, then things like good posture and exercise also help keep it purring.
In addition, it’s good to keep vocal chords moist by drinking plenty of water. And go easy on the drying drinks like coffee and alcohol. For each cup of coffee, drink at least one cup of water as well.
When To Ask For Help
If your voice sounds young and energetic, people regard you as younger and more interesting. It can be worth your while to find a speech therapist or voice coach to give you more tips and guided practice.
On the other hand if your voice problems veer toward health concerns like chronic (more than three weeks) hoarseness, sore throat, or pain, see a doctor.
Even in extreme cases, there is help. Voice problems caused by thinning or weak vocal chords can be fixed with surgery or Botox.
Fortunately for most of us, a few simple drills and paying more attention will be enough to keep us purring.