Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

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. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Vocal Strain: Top 17 Causes

From the answers to my recent questionnaire, vocal strain is the subject most often on my readers' minds. You spoke, and I listened.

This is a big subject. Instead of just a series of posts, I will be writing about vocal strain off and on, interspersed with other vocal subjects in which you and other readers have expressed interest. Also per reader preferences, some posts will be short tips, some longer articles.

Here are the top 17 causes of vocal strain I see in singers and speakers:

1. Bad Breathing Technique:
...inhaling too high in chest, too much or uncontrolled breath pressure applied to vocal cords.

2. Tight Throat Channel:

tightness where nose, throat and mouth meet at the "post-nasal drip zone".

3. Yelling:
... 20 minutes of yelling, screaming or "shooting your voice from your throat" can result in blood blisters, the beginnings of vocal nodes, appearing on the vocal cords. Keep it up and you'll harden those blisters into callouses, polyps, nodes, or even cause vocal cord paralysis or vocal cord hemorrhage.

4. Acute Viral Laryngitis:
... which usually is triggered by an upper respiratory illness, but sometimes appears without other signs of sickness.

5. Acid Reflux (GERD)
... most damaging if it is laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR)

6. Smoking
... causes irritation, swelling and dehydration of the cords

7. Talking too loud, too long, without good vocal technique... can cause serious vocal damage. Many times the first thing I address to correct vocal strain is the person's speaking voice.

8. Chronic or Strong Coughing

... the constant hitting of your vocal cords together is as bad as yelling. You must get to the bottom of the cause of the cough and cure it. Sometimes it's GERD or LPR, sometimes a short term virus, post nasal drip, allergen or other air-born irritant, sometimes it's throat cancer. See your doctor if your cough lingers or brings up blood.

9. Bone and joint problems
... lack of strength and flexibility in the spine tremendously affect the voice; pain in spine or between ribs can indeed cause vocal strain from breath and throat issues.

10. Muscle tension problems
... trigger tight chest and/or throat channel and "freezing" of anatomy... always detrimental to voice.

11. Fatigue problems

... inhibiting good support/control, causing slumping of body with concurrent high, pushed breathing and throat tightness.

12. Posture issues
... causes pushing of breath, tightness of throat channel and guarding stance.

13. Emotional problems
... nervousness, lack of confidence, numbness, eating disorders, addictions, chronic resentments, inability to focus on communicating. These emotions affect anatomy in ways that can cause vocal strain.

14. Lack of Sleep
... causing once again, slumping of body and breathing/throat issues

15. Dehydration
... the vocal cords need a thin layer of mucus lubricating them to move most efficiently. Not enough water intake results in a thickening of this lining... imagine your boat running aground and you'll have an idea of what your dehydrated voice experiences.

16. Flabby Core (insufficient physical exercise)
... causing slumped posture, unsupported and under controlled breath and tight throat.

17. Endo-tracheal damage from being on a ventilator
... if you must undergo surgery, watch for this one.

Need your help:
Which of these 17 top causes of vocal strain do you want me to write more about next? Or... is there another cause of vocal strain that you'd like to add to this list for me to address?

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  • At October 26, 2009 at 9:58 AM , Anonymous Kyle Brooks said...

    Awesome, Judy!
    Great presentation @ Corey's last week Thanks. I'll keep you and your Dad in my prayers.
    What about cold temperatures? Personally, if I don't keep my throat covered below 50 degrees, it affects my sinuses, which affects my throat. What about singing or speaking out in cold, wind, rain, etc?
    Take care of you.

  • At October 26, 2009 at 10:02 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Yes, singing in conditions that lead to sinus issues and then on to throat/laryngeal inflammation definitely would contribute to vocal strain. I'll be posting about this, thanks for the suggestion, Kyle!

  • At October 27, 2009 at 9:36 PM , Blogger Kelley Ann Hornyak said...

    Judy, I'm shocked (and disturbed!) at how many of those points hit home with me. Just a quick run-through of the ones that definitely affect me... bad breathing technique, tight throat channel, acid reflux, talking too loud, muscle tension problems, fatigue problems, posture issues, emotional problems, lack of sleep, dehydration, and a flabby core (hate to admit it!).

    It's funny how you can see things with blinders on--thinking that just one or two things are the problem, when it's really a plethora of issues. Almost the entire article applies to me. I wish I was independently wealthy so I could come to Nashville and let you take me on as a pet project! lol :) You'd have me whipped into shape in no time.

    But I DO have your CDs, and I finally do have time off from work in November and December, so I am committing to working with your CDs daily and I will keep you posted on my progress. Exercise and meditation should help with the posture and tension problems, and eating healthy will help with the acid reflux (that is an occasional problem and I avoid the foods that cause it). Lack of sleep is one that I'm currently tackling, and I need to drink more water because I know I'm chronically dehydrated!

    Lots of things to put on that daily list, but I am ready. I'm planning to put my first singles and/or EP out via www.Kelley-Online.com in 2010, so there is no excuse for being lazy about this. I need my voice to be in its best possible condition.

  • At October 29, 2009 at 9:59 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Kelley, your upcoming CD project is a GREAT reason and stimulus to get you working on your voice. I look forward to your progress as you do get serious about it... and your better health, as well!

    Needing to sing can help us live longer:) xoxoJudy

  • At August 8, 2014 at 9:01 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    I am a new singer and experience scratchy throat after I sing even when I warm up and stay hydrated. What am I doing wrong?

  • At August 8, 2014 at 9:07 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Hi Lee Ann... I just replied to your comment on another post, but wanted to add here, it's great that you're seeking information on the internet such as I offer on this blog. There are many things that could be happening to irritate your throat. The next step is to find a coach you think you can trust and take a vocal lesson. Let us know when you get to the bottom of your issue~


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