Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: February 2015

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Vocal Strain: What is it? What can you do about it?

Vocal Strain- Never Again!

What is vocal strain?

Vocal strain, like any other strain, is the overuse or misuse of the vocal cords. Only 1/2" to 1" long in adults, these little bands easily can be overblown. After just 20 minutes of screaming at a ball game, blood blisters can begin to form on them! The mucosal lining covering the vocal cords becomes irritated and inflamed, the sound of the voice becomes harsher, less controlled; you can even lose your voice completely for a time. 

You know it when you do it, don't you? Strain your voice, that is. Sometimes you want to pretend you didn't... that's just a temporary thing and if you ignore it, that uncomfortable feeling in your throat will go away. And sometimes, if you let it rest, it does go away, at least until you strain it again! 

The bad news:

But the truth is: if speaking or singing is important to you, vocal strain should NEVER be ignored!
Why?
  • It matters immediately to the quality of your singing or speaking voice.
  • It takes the focus off your communication and puts it on the throat discomfort and fear of what that feeling could mean.
  • But the most important reason: Vocal strain is cumulative!! 
That means that unless you deal with the cause of vocal strain, it will build on itself. It can spiral down the slippery slope to serious vocal damage including nodes, polyps, hemorrhage and can even contribute to vocal cord paralysis.

Ignoring the issue and continuing to speak or sing with vocal strain can also cause some very counterproductive operations of the vocal apparatus to become entrenched in muscle memory. A term for this is 'Muscle Tension Dysphonia'. This can be a very complex issue requiring medical diagnosis, sometimes sessions with a speech therapist, even surgery. 

The good news:

If caught soon enough and reversed, vocal strain can go away... and go away for good. Some things you can and should do if you even suspect you have vocal strain are:
  1. Voice rest. Use the text messager service on your phone, and online (Facebook, etc.) At least severely cut down on the number of times you make any vocal sound. And when you do, make it a clear, bell-like tone. Avoid whispering, breathing tones at all cost. 
  2. Drink like a big fish. Hydrate your cords... this is non-negotiable.
  3. Sleep. Get 8 hours or more... all week! Sleep is major cell-repair time.
  4. Practice new techniques to re-train your voice into healthier operation. Get your throat open and relaxed. Learn how to take pressure off your voice when you speak or sing. Learn to use the perfect balance of breath support/ breath control that leaves your throat feeling nothing when you use your voice unless you put your hand on it! Your vocal cords love to be buzzed, they hate to be blown!

What vocal lessons can do for vocal strain:

  • Your voice can be assessed for what is causing your vocal strain.
  • Vocal lessons can re-train your voice with specific techniques according to your core causes of strain. 
  • You can tell it's a good lesson if you feel a diminishing of your vocal strain as soon as you apply the better technique. You should immediately experience a lessening of excessive air pressure, a more resonant sound and a healthy release of tension in and around your throat.
  • You can be taught some kind of exercise to practice the new anti-strain vocal techniques. 
  • And finally, vocal lesson re-training should also apply to your speaking voice, because if you're like most people you speak a lot more than you sing. 
If you'd like to talk to me about a packaged course, Skype or in-office vocal lesson, let me know!

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Sunday, February 1, 2015

Vocal Performance and Acting Technique: Making Choices

The colors your voice chooses determines the message heard.

Masterful vocal performance and great acting have many parallels. For one thing of course, acting usually involves the voice to some degree. But did you know that to use the voice effectively requires certain acting skills? The third cornerstone of Power, Path and Performance vocal training involves a deep understanding of acting technique. Without it, the voice is useless.

Acting

If you've ever had a good acting coach or director, you will remember that acting is very much about making choices. Even with a script and directing suggestions, a lot is left up to the actor to 'make it real' A legendary acting teacher put it this way
Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances. -Sanford Meisner
So too, I would add, is singing!

Vocal Performance

The voice only exists to deliver messages. While we want to sing 'good' (perfect technique, stellar pitch, well executed vocal licks, Olympic extremes of range), and indeed the media, music business, American Idol culture makes this seem the vital focus, this is the classic 'cart before the horse'. Learning better vocal technique for all these things will absolutely give us more range of choices. But of what use is the most agile and technically excellent voice without a message to deliver?

The secret to great singing is that the choices the voice makes should cause the heart to understand something at soul level. A wise friend of mine put it well...
Vocal performance should elicit an emotional response. - Mike Davis
So too should acting... really, should this not be the goal of all art?

Getting The Response

In order to develop real value or any possibility of a viable career with your art, the end goal of all acting and vocal performance should indeed be to get a response, or reaction. We need to dig into our human communication paintbox and choose nuances of facial and body language, posture, degree and location of tension. A word said with a clenched poker face communicates something very different than a word said with a raised brow and loose jaw.

Breath and throat configurations change with these choices. Because of the resulting quality of sound, the listener would discern the different messages even if he or she couldn't see the speaker. It's why you can tell someone is upset when you first pick up the phone.

When using your voice to speak or sing, ask yourself what you are REALLY communicating - and to whom - through your choices of vocal tone, rhythm, volume, nuanced articulation. Go deep.. what's the message between the lines? I always say 'real singing is not for the squeamish'. For great singing and great acting, get stronger responses by making authentic, unique and more interesting choices in the service of delivering the message!

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