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!

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!
  • 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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  • At March 12, 2015 at 10:53 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Hello again! I don't mean to bother you but I have another question. I just sang for a while but my voice feels like it wants to just give out? The feeling of control is almost gone and I'm not really sure why. I have some theories but I'm not sure...could it be the past few days I haven't been drinking as much water, letting mucus build up? Maybe overuse throughout the day? For example, if I'm going for a high note, sometimes it comes out ok and others it feels like it's right on the verge of cracking, or it actually will crack. I would just like to know your opinion because I'm really looking for a solution or at least an understanding of why this is happening. Anyway, Thank you!!

  • At March 12, 2015 at 10:55 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Also, lately, I haven't been getting nearly enough sleep, but would that affect my voice that drastically?

  • At March 12, 2015 at 10:58 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Dear Sam, you really need to get with a coach who can observe you singing and diagnose what you're doing counter-productively that is producing fatigue . Then you can be directed with insight instead of guess work.

  • At March 12, 2015 at 11:09 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Ya...you're right. It's just hard because we just don't have any money for that stuff and my parents think that me singing is a joke. You're the only person I have to ask and I just want to gather as much information as possible so I can do it right but problem after problem keeps coming up. But thanks again!

  • At December 5, 2015 at 5:49 PM , Anonymous Vicki said...

    Hi Judy,
    I'm a soprano, and I've been taking lessons for a while. I recently decided to prep a piece of music which sits very high in my range before singing it for my instructor. I felt fatigue/some soreness the day of, but the next day it got much worse. My voice felt tired, sore and tight, and I developed a strange "clicking" feeling when swallowing. It's been a few days now, and it doesn't feel much better and the clicking is still there. I saw my ENT and he said there were no polyps or anything concerning, but that doesn't explain how awful my throat feels. What should I do? Is complete silence and good hydration enough to combat a single (albeit large) vocal insult? How long should play it safe?

  • At December 5, 2015 at 10:13 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Dear Vicki... with that good report from your ENT, I would think that yes... voice rest, increase hydration, good sleep(don't forget a humidifier at night especially if heat is on and air is dry), and then slowly work your voice back. Don't push - don't extend your vocal exercises where it hurts! Give it time and trust the process. You might look at this blogpost, too: http://blog.judyrodman.com/2009/02/laryngitis-scare-how-to-get-your-voice.html

  • At December 6, 2015 at 3:02 PM , Anonymous Vicki said...

    Thank you so much, Judy! That makes me feel a lot better. :)


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