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!

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

How Crying Affects the Voice - updated 2020

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Into every life comes a little rain. And sometimes, a good cry. As I update this post in the stressful pandemic year 2020, the reasons for tears are particularly numerous. For this post, I'm not talking about that little vocal stylistic 'cry'. No, this one is about the voice and real tears.

Tears can be...

Happy - people getting engaged, finding out they have booked that gig or won that award, finding out the sickness is curable, hearing just the right song at just the right time, singing an emotionally relevant song to yourself, or just crying from sudden realization of relief and gratitude.
Sad - so many reasons including psychological and/or physical pain, stress overwhelm, hormonal imbalances, loss of something or someone deeply valued, fear and worry of what may come.
Empathetic - seeing others who are hurting can trigger sympathetic sorrow. Sometimes the depth of the pain of compassion can be surprisingly strong.
Healing - tears can help with unblocking pent up feelings and emotions that need to be expressed for well-being. They can also identify hidden unresolved psychological issues that one needs to address. The cathartic release of a good cry can make way for physical and mental health, positivity and solution-finding.

Tears can create vocal problems

If you have an impending singing or speaking performance, crying can affect your voice:
  1. It swells the vocal cords. Swollen vocal cords do not work very effectively, period.
  2. Sinuses also swell. This gives the typical nasal sound, like when you have a cold or sinus infection. 
  3. All kinds of vocal problems present... including limited range and impaired vocal control.
  4. It can lead to vocal damage. If even an infant crys too hard or long, the vocal cords can start to be injured. Long enough, it can turn into the beginning of nodes.
  5. It can take time for the cord swelling to go down. A lengthy period of crying, such as in mourning or from depressions, can cause chronic swelling that needs time to shrink. Voice rest is imperative, not to mention physical rest and psychological peace.

There are ways to control crying

  1. If you have to sing or speak and the subject is intensely personal for you (say singing or speaking at a funeral) you can delay the cry by purposefully focusing outside yourself. This is a rare time when numbing your emotions can work for your voice. Just make sure you release that numbness into feeling again after your performance.
  2. Make sure to give yourself time to center and focus yourself with deep breaths before your performance. This can put you in the control zone.
  3. There are ways to purposefully simulate crying, even producing tears but without tightening and swelling your singing voice. There are ways to 'deconstruct' your vocal technique to simulate being out of control. These acting vocal techniques are often necessary for strong pop, rock and musical theater.
During an interview, I asked international theater star Sidonie Smith about onstage crying. She says:
First of all, I know every performance has to be the same. You never have to cry; stressing yourself to produce an outward sign of whatever emotion you’re feeling is a distraction. But if for whatever reason it is appropriate to cry or you find yourself crying and it makes it hard to sing — I definitely slow my breathing. And I monitor myself, that feeling of observing yourself and knowing whether it’s too far for you to go. It’s a beautiful thing if tears get in the way, but the singing is absolutely part of the job. I know when I’m about to get to the place of no return and I breathe myself out of it. I also keep my larynx down — not pushed down, but the tendency is for it to get way, way up. And then I don’t have any grounding or control if that larynx is in the sky. - Sidonie Smith

Bottom line:

If you need to, go ahead and cry. But try not to push your voice too hard or too long. Cry it out, talk it out, and then give yourself time to rest and heal. DO NOT sing hard with recently cried-out, swollen vocal cords. Be kind to your voice; you are responsible for its well-being. Don't ask or expect it to perform well when it's swollen.

Whatever the reason for tears, I wish you full healing, closure, hope, and peace. Your voice can be even better after it recovers from the release of crying, so do it a favor - wait for it!

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  • At January 3, 2012 at 12:37 PM , Anonymous Randy U. said...

    I like your advice. Very practical and useful. Thanks.

  • At January 3, 2012 at 3:14 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Thank you Randy, for the feedback! May I always post useful information for you and all my readers.

  • At June 25, 2013 at 3:55 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    i don't think crying is really going to mess someones voice up.. unless they cry daily.
    it does hurt the lymph nodes a bit... the muscles around the jaw sometimes...
    (that hard to swallow feeling you get when you intensely cry)

    And yelling can cause pollyps...
    There's already enough things in life that can cause vocal damage... why
    add YET ANOTHER to the plate.


    enough already

  • At September 12, 2013 at 9:24 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I cried all afternoon and evening (joyful crying, I might add) about a month ago and my singing voice is still gone! When I try to sing, it feels like I am jutting out my jaw and feels tight in my neck and throat. I can't sing any high notes at all and as I try to sing a scale the pitch goes flat and won't go any higher. My speaking voice is, also, somewhat hoarse.
    Have I ruined my voice? Please advise.

  • At September 12, 2013 at 12:37 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Hey there...
    You know, the crying episode affects on your voice should be long gone by now. I would speculate that you somehow have developed a bad vocal technique habit or two, maybe to try and compensate, and need to turn that around. If I were you I'd check in with an E.N.T. doc to rule out any organic vocal cord dysfunction or damage, and also with an intuitive vocal coach to watch you sing, assess your technique and do some retraining. Even one lesson could help you. Caution: Do not play around with chronic hoarseness. Get it checked out. Let me know how you're doing...

  • At August 12, 2014 at 1:48 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    how bad is silent crying...? lots of tears but no phonation... I'm assuming it's still a swelling issue just going on the puffiness of eyes and the stuffiness of nose. I really suck at not crying.

  • At August 12, 2014 at 11:08 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Well you're right... it's still a swelling issue and will affect your voice. HAHA... you must really feel the music; not a bad thing. If you have to sing, though, you might try distancing yourself like out-of-body thinking. You can reattach after your vocal performance is over:)

  • At November 25, 2018 at 11:12 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Hey there.
    I know this is a very old post but hope someone can help.
    2 months ago afyer a cold I developed laryngitis and lost my voice for 3 weeks, 8 weeks down the line I still have severe hoarseness and voice very weak and delicate. I am e freely stressed out at the length of time this is taking to heal. I saw an ENT consultant 4 weeks aagoho, he said no swelling at all and everything looks very well... he diagnosed functional dysphonia post laryngitis.. referral to speech therapy. If everything is fine why do I have such a hoarse voice.. I am really depressed and crying every day as a result as I have 2 young children that I can't communicate with.
    Any ideas at all. Please help.
    Thanks you xx

  • At December 5, 2018 at 3:31 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Hi... First of all, I'm so sorry you're having this longstanding issue. Very wise to have an ENT check you out; happy to know he saw no swelling. However, if you are depressed and crying a lot, you are putting stress on your voice, and even healthy voices are limited when pushed. I would say you probably have some counterproductive technique going... you aren't sounding your voice in a healthy way. What I would suggest is that you get with a good coach who can help you use healing technique. If I worked with you, I would be sure you are not pushing too much air, leaning on your voice, dehydrating your voice or tightening your throat channel or ribcage. I would also suggest lightly and carefully working a lot in your head voice (upper register). Instead of pushing, you should pull your voice from above and behind you. You can even talk to your young children in a Minnie Mouse kind of voice, like playing a game with them. I bet they would love it, and it would make you all smile! If ever you want to try a lesson with me online or in person, just hit me up on my webpage at the contact tab. https://judyrodman.com/contact.htm

  • At January 28, 2019 at 2:37 PM , Blogger zulegs40 said...

    Have you gotten your voice back? I'm in a very similar situation and wondering if there's hope for me.

  • At January 28, 2019 at 3:08 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    I have indeed gotten my voice back. My vocal damage was from more than crying... it was from an endotracheal tube. My story is here, and may have some tips you can use even if your issues started with crying... https://blog.judyrodman.com/2013/10/how-my-damaged-voice-came-back.html . I got your longer comment, but will just publish this one. You mentioned you have small children. I'd watch your speaking voice. It can sometimes be the talking that causes the most stress and strain to those red vocal cords. Get to the bottom of WHY they are red and you can reverse your vocal issues. Let me know how you do!

  • At April 16, 2019 at 1:15 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    This happens a lot. Anytime I harshly cry, my voice is hoarse and swollen the day after. It sucks when you have a job that requires a lot of speaking. I technically have to "schedule" when I cry because if I have to give a speech the next day, crying the night before, makes me not even understandable.

  • At April 16, 2019 at 8:59 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Thank you for your comment. Chronic crying signals problems... not just for your voice. Sometimes things that trouble the voice point to a need to dig down deep, possibly with professional help, to the cause. A medical doc or alternative practitioner, a psychotherapist, a nutritionist (it's possible that you need to change your diet, which affects mood, too). But whatever, don't stop til you find your answer... make your way from chronic anguish to peace and joy.

  • At May 26, 2020 at 11:05 PM , Blogger Lady Jeni said...

    This is an old post but i haven't been able to find information over something i'm curious about. Sometimes Broadway performers play characters that do a lot of crying in a scene and then have to belt out a song afterwards. They sound amazing and do not sound stuffed up like you do when you've been crying. they have to do this night after night. how? are they fake crying? or is there special technique they use to produce tears without also producing phlegm and mucus?

  • At June 16, 2020 at 1:25 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I had two procedures done on my vocal cords around 2013ish to remove a cyst and severe scar tissue. It was so long ago now I can't remember if there was anything else. Before surgery and steroid injections I struggled to speak through intense laryngitis. I couldn't laugh or sing. Anyway, I saw an amazing team and my voice was restored to balance. In fact, I think I sing better now!

    Recently I have been working through some intense memories and crying, and even shouting while telling the stories to my support and my darling partner.

    Now on the left side, on my vocal cord (I think it's the vocal cord) I have a sharp pain. It hurts when I swallow and I can slightly feel discomfort even when I'm not swallowing.

    Do you think that this will pass if I am gentle on my voice?

    Thank you so much for this beautiful resource.

  • At June 17, 2020 at 12:19 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Dear Anonymous; I am glad you enjoyed this article. Crying really can have an effect on your voice, and shouting can have a far worse effect. I am not a doctor, but if you take a logical approach, you'll realize it's a really good idea to wait til your vocal cords feel better before stressing them with talking or singing. To reveal any irritation or damage on them, or to find none and put your mind at ease, I highly recommend seeing a voice specialist and getting scoped. Especially since you've had procedures done on your cords earlier, simply don't do what hurts, and get checked out. I wish you the very best, and that you end up singing a lot more than you cry. Be well!

  • At July 21, 2020 at 1:11 PM , Anonymous Jim Terr said...

    Judy is so knowledgeable and a great singer (the proof of the pudding), but more than that, she is a great communicator who knows how to get the information across, and a big-hearted person who knows what people are thinking and wondering and what they need to hear. What more could you ask? Oh yes, she's a very skilled, moving songwriter, so her advice in this area as well is super valuable!

  • At July 21, 2020 at 7:27 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Jim that is so kind; thank you for taking the time to write this review! I'm really glad you enjoy the blog and podcast! Your feedback is why I write it. xo

  • At July 27, 2020 at 9:36 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Lady Jeni... I really hope you see this blogpost update, and the quote from Sidonie Smith. Thanks for your great question, I hope this sheds some light.

  • At July 27, 2020 at 10:06 PM , Blogger Lady Jeni said...

    Thank you Judy for the update! I have an even greater admiration for live performers. Breathing seems to be the basis for every situation.

  • At July 27, 2020 at 10:10 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Yes, breathing is foundational. How we breathe can trigger how we think, and that triggers how we act. Or sing. Or speak!

  • At July 5, 2021 at 9:02 AM , Anonymous Ron Calabrese said...

    Hi Judy. As usual your advice is right on! Having been asked to sing at many funerals, I had to harness those Italian emotions that can easily get out of control. My worst experience was singing at the funeral of a friend’s young daughter, killed in a car accident. The church was full of people weeping and I almost lost it, but I realized my friend and his wife needed the best I could deliver. After any funeral, I didn’t want any compliments, a hug and a thank you were more than enough.

  • At May 18, 2022 at 3:14 PM , Anonymous Natalia Shivers said...

    Hi, i know this is an old post and sorry to bother you but I was crying yesterday for about an hour or more and also screaming while crying. Today my voice sounds a bit deeper and its hard to get my voice to reach its usual peeks, even just for talking, it feels like theres a lump in my throat or something. Is this normal? and if so, how long does this last?

  • At May 18, 2022 at 7:15 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Natalia; first of all I hope the situation that had you crying so hard has been resolved and that you have found peace with it Secondly, yes, it would be normal that your voice is still not back to normal after being pushed so hard with crying and screaming. Give your voice some time to heal before trying to use it a lot. The tissues are swollen and inflamed, and just like a sprained muscle you can really do some damage if you ask it to work too soon. Take care.


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