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, March 22, 2016

Cracky, Weak, Strained Middle Voice? 4 Fixes

Is your middle voice as blended in as this little one?

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Middle voice. The easy notes. Right. Those notes in the middle of one's vocal range can be surprisingly difficult!  There are many possible saboteurs, for instance the breath pressure may be unbalanced, fragile notes through the passagio may not be set up properly, the throat channel may have some constrictions, or there may be problems with the surface of the vocal cords. Here are 4 issues and fixes for common middle voice problems:

1. Breath Issues: 

  • Your inhale is wrong. If you take too much breath, you can cause tension in the upper ribcage. If you don't take enough, your ribcage won't be open enough for your diaphragm to control itself.
  • You aren't supporting your 'easy' notes with enough power. They are weak and uninteresting.
  • You aren't controlling your 'easy' notes. You may be allowing too much breath pressure to lean on those notes, pushing them off center.

Breath Fixes: 

Check your posture throughout inhaling and exhaling ... make sure you're staying flexibly tall, head balanced over your heels. Make it a habit to breathe into your lower abs and back, not your chest, so your lower ribs widen. Keep the bottom of your ribcage flexibly wide as you sing for control, squeeze your butt for power and pull- don't push - your voice to apply support.

A bonus cause and fix for breath issues: Pain. If you have pain in your upper spine, shoulder carriage or ribcage, seek out the cause and the fix at your doc, physical therapist, chiropractor, Alexander Technique or Feldenkrais practitioner.

2. Facial Language Issues:

Most people are surprised at how facial language (or the lack thereof) affects the voice! To create richly resonant middle voice pitches, your voice wants access to movement. This includes lifting and morphing the ceiling of the throat channel, which won't happen without eye language. It also requires a flexible, movable jaw that can give the tongue a free ride, keeping the tongue root relaxed.

Face Fixes:

To wake up and activate a frozen face, it helps to remember the raison d'etre of the voice: which is to deliver messages! Even if you're singing to a deaf person, they should be able to read your lips and your facial movements and understand what you're saying. This will give your middle voice the freedom of movement that gives those notes access to resonance placement where they sound best.

3. Register Mix Issues. 

Your vocal apparatus hasn't developed the flexibility, strength and coordination to create a continually changing mix of chest and head registers throughout middle voice. So, you bring your head voice down too far, and/or you push your chest voice up too far. In a well-mixed middle voice, the top of chest voice will sound a lot like the bottom of head voice. But Instead of mixing, your head and chest voices are separated by the frustrating crack we call a vocal break, and sound like they come from two different people. So...
  • You compensate by singing what should be middle voice notes in head voice, and those notes sound weak, dark and hollow. This is tiring to the voice, due to the over-lowering of the larynx.
  • Alternately, you try to sing those notes with unmixed chest voice, sounding harsh, thin and yelled. You over-raise your chin and larynx, interfere with the healthy tilting of the thyroid cartilage, tense your neck and throat muscles, and create vocal abuse which will eventually strain or damage your voice.

Mix Fixes:

Train your voice! Yes, some people naturally develop a good mix, possibly from growing up in a family whose lineage includes professionally trained voices. But even they can have an off night of singing and develop counterproductive technique dysfunction. Vocal exercises and knowledge can grow, protect and maintain the health and ability of middle voice, and the rest of the range, too.

The Power, Path and Performance method I teach shows you how to power your voice path up and back before pulling through your face to mix your registers smoothly, create rich resonance with no strain and heal vocal breaks. Dramatic improvement is instant, and then you learn to make the techniques habit.

Think you can't do vocal training? No matter what your budget or time constraints, where there's a will there's a way. Of course, studying the free resources of this All Things Vocal blog is something anyone can do. Check out my vocal training packages on my website. Contact me if you'd like to discuss personal vocal lessons.

4. Vocal Cord Issues

Unhappy, swollen, dry, infected or inflamed vocal cords don't sing middle voice notes very well. One of the tell-tale signs of vocal cord damage is a glitch in the middle voice. Sometimes this is due to a swelling, polyp, nodule, hemorrhage or other lesion on the cord surface, sometimes in other tissues of the vocal apparatus.

Vocal Cord Fixes

Use common sense if you've been sick. Don't sing until it doesn't hurt your voice. Make sure you are well hydrated. Have throat soothers like warm herbal tea or diluted pineapple juice with you when you practice.

Don't worry too much about needing surgical intervention; most of the time, even with vocal cord damage, with good information and training you can take the pressure and strain off and the voice can heal itself. BUT... If in doubt, check it out! If your middle voice continues to be missing, weak or strained, go see an ENT doctor who specializes in voices to rule out anything serious, such as cancer, Laryngopharyngeal Reflux or Spasmodic Dysphonia.

Whatever the issue that is plaguing your middle voice, do get it conquered. Great vocal performance is NOT all about the high notes!

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  • At March 22, 2016 at 7:01 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Thank you Judy! I never got much training so this is very helpful!
    Mike Boyle Tampa :-)

  • At March 23, 2016 at 7:12 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    You are very welcome, Mike... thanks for the feedback!

  • At March 23, 2016 at 10:23 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    As always, this is extremely helpful information, Judy. I'm curious: Do you have a specific type of herbal tea you use?

  • At March 23, 2016 at 5:34 PM , Anonymous Mr. Ron Calabrese said...

    Thanks, Judy for a very interesting and valid list of recommendations. Like most tenors, I had some problems at the passagio early on, and remember forcing my voice up to the high "A" with little or no head voice. I spent some time wondering why the "A" was my maximum elevation! My voice teacher at the American Conservatory in Chicago worked on my transitional notes E, F, and F-sharp, and low and behold, high C's popped out. Every student who sings classical music, has to withstand the urge of singing forte throughout the middle range. Volume has a way of growing, if as my teacher said many times, you first get the train on the tracks.

    At 72 years old,,some days the mechanism works better than other days, but the high C is still there. Too bad it sometimes takes a lifetime to understand what works. Another favorite saying of my teacher, Walter Kirschner: Old too soon, smart too late!

  • At March 23, 2016 at 5:39 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Really great to get your feedback, Ron, thank you! I love hearing how classical singers like you find common ground with the techniques I use for contemporary singing. The voice is the voice... no matter what we're doing with it, there are ways it works best for everything!

  • At March 24, 2016 at 5:25 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Dave... hey, I actually don't have just one herbal tea. I love all kinds for different reasons. Off the top of my head: Dandelion Root, Yogi DeTox, Ginger, Peppermint, Chamomile, Rosehips, Rooibos, and Chai tea. I have used Throat Coat but find the pineapple juice does a better job at soothing my throat. I don't like regular hot black or green tea, it feels drying to me.

  • At May 23, 2016 at 9:57 PM , Blogger David said...

    Hi Judy, i have this problem with singing that's becoming pretty irksome. When i sing acapella or just with my guitar i feel like i have adequate control of my voice and am pretty happy with my singing. However, when i attempt to sing along to an instrumental track or some form of karaoke, my voice collapses. i feel like i lose all my technique and control and that my voice is straining the entire time. Afterwards, my voice feels damaged. Is there some way to become better at singing karaoke? Why does karaoke seem so much harder than singing acapella?

  • At May 25, 2016 at 1:26 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    The difference between singing karaoke and acapella or just with your guitar could have to do with several things. I suspect first of all that when singing karaoke you have to keep up with a steady beat. When singing acapella or just playing for yourself, you can speed up and slow down to help hit notes. That's why I recommend that singers practice a LOT with tracks, click tracks, drum tracks, or some regular beat they can hear. You can even find click track apps on smartphones.

    Another variable could be pitch and key. When singing acapella, many people just change keys to hit high or low notes, without knowing it. Singing karaoke causes you to stay within the key and you may notice songs seeming to have much wider ranges than when you sing without music.

    If you're straining to hit a note, DON'T SING THE NOTE. Get some training to challenge your voice without hurting it, to control your voice and hit high and lows without strain.

    Glad you want to go farther. Keep reading this blog for more free info; get lessons if you can.

  • At May 26, 2016 at 7:52 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Hey judy, im the same person that commented the other day and i took your advice and started practicing along with a drum track. and omg i can already hear myself improving after just a day of doing that. thank you so much for your advice :)

  • At May 26, 2016 at 10:04 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Excellent!! Thx for the report!

  • At June 29, 2018 at 4:56 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Hi Judy, I'm struggling with my mid range been a singer all my life nrver had vocal issues before. I know proper technique so that's not the problem. I believe my problems stem from haven taken zyrtec for over a year every day. I can sing high notes I'm a soprano and i can sing low notes, my range had always been vast. I've been off zyrtec for over a year now and my voice just isn't getting better. It always feels dry. I'm really worried that its damaged and I'll never get it back. I would be devastated. Can you give any advice?

  • At October 18, 2020 at 10:19 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Ah... just now saw this question, Anonymous. Here's the thing... for any chronic vocal health issue or concern/worry, you need to get checked out by a doctor - an ENT who specializes in voice is best. Otherwise, for dryness, I find diluted pineapple juice a great help. 1 part juice, 3 or 4 parts water to avoid adding to acid reflux (unless you're allergic to pineapple!) Try sipping this between singing or speaking lines. And don't forget to drink enough water in general. Shower steam, and a humidifier in very dry environments can also help.

  • At June 12, 2022 at 4:38 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Hi Judith, I have been having a problem in the middle male first passagio around Bb b, particularly singing the ah vowel. It’s just starts sounding distorted unless I overmodify the vowel towards o. The orl says It seems to be cause by a vein that gets inflamed after a previous hemorrhage episode. I’m getting operated with laser to cautheriZe the vein. I’m really nervous about it. Have you heard of something like this before. Do you have any advice ?

  • At June 12, 2022 at 9:51 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    I am sorry but I don't have experience with this, unless the vein is inflamed from technique that causes excessive pushing of air. If you would like to try a lesson where I can observe how you sing, I'd like to help you. But you don't want veins hemorrhaging so you have to do something about it. If you would, I'd love to read another comment where you tell about your experience and how the surgery affects your voice. Take good care.


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