How to Avoid Vocal Strain for Singing and Speaking
Ten Leading Causes of Vocal Strain
We are born to sing without flaws or defects. Our body houses all the tools that are used in singing. Various influences, such as habits we develop as we grow, cause us to develop certain faults. Most vocal strain is initiated by using poor vocal technique, but don't worry because I'm here to help you find your way to a healthy voice.
The best way to avoid straining your voice is through prevention. The main factors that cause vocal strain are:
- Yelling or screaming.
- Singing or speaking without proper breath support.
- Trying to sing too high or too low.
- Forcing the voice.
- Over-singing or speaking.
- Failing to warm up the voice before speaking or singing.
- Carrying too much tension in the neck and shoulder area. Tension is the enemy to all performers, especially singers and public speakers.
- Vocalizing out of your natural range.
Vocal strain causes the vocal cords to become inflamed and irritated. In time, you may be at risk for developing vocal nodules or calluses which form on the vocal cords. Obviously, you want to avoid this which brings me to the reason I'm writing this article.
As a vocal instructor, I feel that I have a responsibility to help you protect your voice, keep it healthy, and ready for your next song or speech.
Yelling or Screaming Will Damage Your Voice
Avoid Yelling and Screaming
It's natural to want to yell or scream with excitement for your favorite sports team while attending a game. But too much screaming can change the quality of your voice as well as causing hoarseness. You may even end up losing your voice completely. Hoarseness means the voice sounds raspy or breathy, quieter and lower-pitched.
Worse yet, If you use your voice incorrectly, the vocal cords become so irritated that over time the irritated areas harden and become small callouses known as vocal nodes. This calls for a trip to an Otolaryngologist for an examination of your vocal cords.
According to the National Institute of Health, close to eight million people have vocal problems. This includes teachers, lawyers, singers, actors. cheerleaders, preachers, radio hosts and other professionals.
Use a Mirror to Check For Tension in Key Areas
Tension in the neck, jaw and even at times, the tongue, can sometimes cause vocal strain.
One of the best ways to make sure you're body is doing what its suppose to do when you sing is to watch yourself in the mirror. You can see exactly where you may be holding too much tension found in the neck and jaw.
When tension is found in these areas, it can creep into the tone. The singer must be free of tension throughout the entire song. With this freedom, the singing voice will flow with beauty and fullness.
The Human Voice is the most perfect instrument of all...”— Arvo Pärt
Ten Ways to Eliminate Bad Vocal Behavior
You can still root for your favorite team by using good breathing techniques. The reason the air we take in is important is that as we sing or speak, our sound is supported by air. Without air, we would not be able to utter a word. Visualize the sound you make as it 'rides on air' which is a natural 'cushion' for singing and speaking.
Here are ten additional important habits for preventing vocal problems:
- Keep your throat well hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Make sure your water is room temperature as cold will restrict the vocal cords.
- Slow down on caffeine and alcohol consumption. Limit your servings to two servings per day. If you're going to be singing, avoid caffeine and alcohol completely the day of the performance. The vocal cords need moisture. Alcohol, caffeine, and antihistamines are drying to the vocal bands.
- If you're going to be a good singer, do not smoke. Smoking is irritating to the vocal cords.
- Warm up your voice before singing, acting, and public speaking to maximize your vocal potential.
- Release tension in the neck, shoulders, and face by doing relaxation exercises prior to singing.
- Sing songs within your vocal range. Trying to sing to high or too low is a major cause of vocal damage and strain.
- Do not force your voice to be heard or to reach a high note. Correct breath support will supply you with the energy needed to project your sound along with using the proper resonating chambers.
- Avoid clearing your throat. This can be damaging to the vocal cords. A better way to clear your throat is to simply swallow a few times.
Don't Drink Alcohol During Rehearsals
Avoid Alcohol When Singing
Some performers think that drinking alcohol will help them relax and overcome the jitters associated with stage-fright. I can think of two reasons why entertainers are better off without it:
- Alcohol impairs muscle coordination and reduces physical efficiency of your vocal folds. Even losing just a slight amount of muscle coordination can cause you to compromise your pitch resulting in singing off-key.
- Alcohol irritates and dehydrates the vocal folds as well as the rest of the body. When this happens, the blood thins and comes to the surface, which makes you more susceptible to a hemorrhage on your vocal cords.
During my years, as a professional singer, it has been the custom for happy fans to order alcoholic beverages for me as a way of saying "thank you." I don't drink alcohol at all. My solution was to alert the bartender to serve me only sparkling water. Making this choice resulted in my performing with a clear head which allowed me complete control over my singing voice.
Although we can look at our vocal cords through a laryngoscope and chart the various formants of acoustical sound, we cannot chart the effects of body, mind, and heart on the voice—and those things are as much a part of the instrument as are the vocal folds themselves. Because our entire person is our instrument, everything about us—our physical, emotional, intellectual, psychological, and spiritual state of being—affects the physical and acoustical aspects of singing.— W Stephen Smith
Television's American Idol Finalist
Symptons of Vocal Strain
Sore throat or hoarseness
Yelling, overuse, singing too high
Avoid screaming, take vocal breaks, sing within your natural range
Tightness in the throat
Tension, insufficient breath
Release face and neck tension before singing or speaking. Breathe from the belly.
Smoking, caffeine, alcohol, antihistamines and medications
Increase water intake, avoid smoking, alcohole and certain medications
Any type of vocal strain including excessive speaking without proper breathing techniques
Learn and use diaphragmatic breathing for singing, acting and speaking.
Aching in the throat during or after vocalizing
Vocalizing too long.
The muscles of the throat and larynx can become tired and start to ache, especially for beginners. Limit your practice time to 20 minutes, 2-3 times a day.
One Last Word
I strongly urge you to work on becoming well-equipped with proper vocal technique. This will set your voice free each time you sing or speak and help you to avoid straining in the first place. Understand, that we don't sing the same way we speak. Specific skills are required such as:
- Diaphragmatic breathing.
- Music Fundamentals.
- Tone beautification
Don't let the word "technique" scare you. This is your insurance policy designed to protect your voice and guide you on the right path to beautiful singing and speaking.
A Teacher's Reward
My passion for teaching the art of singing has been rewarded in countless ways. I'm not just referring to seeing a student of mine on a television show, performing a lead role in a Broadway Musical, or being invited to their first record release party.
Don't get me wrong—I'm proud of these hard-working, dedicated musicians. I'm talking about how good it feels when I witness a student who has lost all hope of ever singing, rise like a Pheonix from the ashes of doubt and fear to a confident, beautiful, vocal sound.
I'm also talking about the times I've held back tears of joy watching old folks confined to hospitals and assisted living homes to forget about their loneliness and disabilities as they watch my young vocal students perform songs from "their day."
And how about that sweet elderly man confined to his wheelchair, who didn't utter a word, until my children's chorus entertained him with their sweet voices. It was when they sang a favorite hit from the 1930's "Let Me Call You Sweetheart", that he began singing along, surprising the nurses and staff at the nursing home.
I have hundreds of stories like these—a treasure trove of memories. These are my rewards for having dedicated fifty years to teaching others to discover their voices.
Good singing doesn't have an expiration date.— Audrey Hunt
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© 2019 Audrey Hunt