For most singers sometimes the last thing we think about is our vocal health, we’re usually more concerned about the next gig or performance or hitting those high notes to take the time to worry about what’s really going on. We see a slightly tired or sore throat after regular singing as nothing out of the ordinary and just part of using our voice more than the average person.
The truth is there are so many warning signs that we ignore, warning signs that could help you prevent serious damage if you take the steps to change things now!
The main thing to remember is anyone can damage their voice, whether you’re a singing professional, someone who has been trained for years or a singing teacher yourself. Just having a ‘nice’ or ‘good’ voice does not mean you are singing with good technique or that you most importantly have a healthy technique.
The problem with a lot of singers when I first start working with them is that they have just become so used to the pain and strains when they sing that they do not recognise it anymore. This whole no pain no gain thing is definitely not true when it comes to singing, if there’s pain – there’s something wrong!
This is why in my lessons we focus on what it feels like as well as what it sounds like, is it tight? too much pressure? Scratchy? These are all things that can lead to further problems down the line. If you know what a good and healthy sound feels like you stand more chance of avoiding vocal damage in the future.
Working with damaged voices there is one thing I can say – there would have been little signs along the way to tell you something isn’t quite right. But as singers like I said before, we dismiss, we don’t have time to worry about that – we may have deadlines for recording/exams/performances that need us to keep on going, to maybe just get through this gig and then I can have a few days rest!
It’s scary to think just how many singers /vocal coaches / singing teachers I have worked with that do see voice problems just a part of everyday life – it’s something that we need to just get through and I’ll be fine tomorrow!
The truth is there should never be pain when we sing, effort yes – but effort is another thing entirely. Any pain is the bodies warning signs that it is being used in a way that is not healthy.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a classical singer or a rock singer – style doesn’t mean that you will have to suffer with vocal damage through your career, it’s a personal choice which comes down to discipline, study and taking the right actions when you need too.
I lost my voice when I was younger, I was gigging regularly, studying music performance at college, I’d started working for my vocal group and all in all I must have been singing pretty much all day every day, and suddenly my voice couldn’t handle it anymore.
Unfortunately I was in a position where my teachers weren’t teaching me about vocal health and recovery, no one told me it was a bad idea to sing that much!! I was warned to stay away from caffeine and chocolate when I sang and that was about it.
I went and studied with a fantastic teacher who helped me to rebuild my voice and set myself onto a path of protecting my voice against vocal problems in the future, and I am so happy that happened then – I am a full time vocal technique tutor, if my voice is poorly then I don’t work – It’s just not an option for me, so now when I notice the warning signs I know how to recover and quickly.
That’s why I hope the following warning signs will help you to identify any underlying symptoms that can be fixed to help prevent vocal injuries from affecting your music.
There are a lot of signs that can creep into your singing voice that you need to be aware of, this is just a list of the most common issues singers may find – it’s not something to scare you with, sometimes we do just over sing and have a sore throat for the rest of the day and are fine after we’ve slept – but we recognise what’s caused it and try to stop that from happening again. What needs our attention is if it’s a repetitive occurrence, that’s when we need to take action.
So the warning signs?
- Tight or strained feeling around the throat
- A hoarse or husky sound (both singing and speaking)
- Any general change in the speaking or singing voice for prolonged periods of time
- A breathy voice (where the vocal folds cant reach a good closure)
- Scratchy, squeaky sounds (when the voice slips or voice is unresponsive)
- A lower sounding voice (are those low notes suddenly easier to reach?)
- Changes in the range (the higher notes or mid range suddenly becomes harder to reach or not there at all)
- Pitching issues
- Trouble singing quietly or in mid range, can usually get a louder sound out
- Sore/painful throat either at rest or singing
- Dry throats – feeling tickly, needing to cough or keep drinking water
- A feeling of a “lump” in the throat
- Build up of gunk (phlegm) on the cords – feeling the need to clear before during and after singing
- The obvious one – No Voice at all
If you are noticing any of the above for more than a few days I’d suggest speaking to your teacher or if you don’t have one approach a technique tutor who understands vocal health. These signs shouldn’t be ignored as slight changes now can prevent serious issues later! Working with a teacher will help you to identify habits which may be causing these problems and together you can ensure that those bad habits don’t get you into trouble down the line.
Remember just going on vocal rest isn’t the answer – yes it may help you to recover at first, but without the understanding of why the warning signs keep cropping up, I can guarantee you without fail you will be back to the same position in just a matter of time. A few years back I attended a conference on working with injured voices, a well-respected vocal surgeon (who was also a trained singer himself) gave me the best bit of advice on poorly voices – he said never to completely stop singing, keep the voice moving gently with slides and controlled exercises. I followed his advice the next time my voice started to feel over used and within days I was back to my old self. It was the inspiration behind my TLC disc in my vocal programme, sometimes you do need to go back to basics and re-align the voice.
So now you’ve identified some of the vocal health warning signs – what do you do now? Head over to the second of my vocal health blogs here