Listen & subscribe on iTunes ... on Spotify ... or anywhere elseIf you follow me or have taken a vocal lesson from me, you know that I specialize in preventing and getting rid of vocal strain or fatigue from overuse in singers and speakers. I believe (and still do) that we can use our voices as long as we want and not have vocal strain - IF and ONLY IF - we prepare ourselves and our voices for the performance we're about to do. OK now about that 'if'...
Here's my cautionary story:
Factors that led up to my vocal problems:
- The allergy levels in Nashville were up. Focusing on the arrangements and on singing with pitch accuracy, I began having to deal with an unusual level of phlegm in my voice. Without thinking I started clearing my throat too hard between recording takes. I got by with it the first day, but not the second.
- The studio was cold and I didn't bring a jacket! I know to ALWAYS bring layers so I can wear what I need to based on the conditions in the vocal booth!
- I didn't bring pineapple juice!! I only had water - which is important but not nearly as soothing to the throat as that juice.
- Unbelievably, (I am so embarrassed to admit this) I didn't warm my voice up! I was too busy with everything else and I guess my lizard brain's hubris was telling me I do exercises all the time, I would have no problems skipping them!
- I went from zero to 90. I hadn't sung full voice for 6 hours straight in a long time! Now I had to do that 4 days in a row. WARNING: No matter how many vocal exercises you do, the voice is not able to suddenly perform full voice much longer and harder than it has been without experiencing negative consequences.
This may surprise you (click to tweet):
Here's how I was able to get my voice back and finish this vocal marathon:
- First of all, towards the latter part of the session when I did notice my throat irritation and my voice going south, I started doing two things:
- talking as little and as lightly as possible and
- 'lifting my voice above the lava' as I sang. I used my pulling technique, very consciously dropping my jaw, using my eyes, and lifting my soft palate to avoid pushing my voice through phlegm. Doing these two things and drinking enough water, I was able to finish out the backgrounds for that second day.
- Next, as soon as I got home I used the kitchen sink approach - I did everything I could to fight any possible infection trying to take opportunistic hold in my swollen throat tissues. Please note that everyone's different. It's important to experiment (with a doctor's ok) with different immune strengthening, pathogen-fighting strategies to see what works best for you. Also, please check your pulse... you're human; sometimes nothing works, and you and I will have to get sick and heal. But my strategy included the following:
- taking a quercetin formulation,
- gargling with hydrogen peroxide, plus gargling with salt water
- taking a hot epsom salts bath to alkalize, detoxify and raise my temperature to an artificial fever. I bundled up and sweated it out as I drifted off to sleep, first saying a prayer that I didn't have covid or a blown vocal cord!
- The next morning before leaving for the session, I drank my lemon juice and protein smoothie, took another warm bath, deeply breathing in the steam. Then I took some time to seriously warm my voice up with some careful, targeted vocal exercises, including a new one based on a scale my fellow coach Mark Thress had shared with me. At first, I had some glitches in my range, and using this new exercise with morphy slo-mo vowel modification I was able to stretch and smooth those areas out. I'm now using it with students who need more flexibility and help with vocal glitches, and it's really working! Here's a video demonstration I did for you.
- So even this scary situation came with a silver lining. Oh, the research I do for you guys! I also worked my head voice up slowly and did staccato scales throughout my vocal range to pump interstitial fluid out of my puffy morning vocal folds.
- I brought my jacket and had 2 six-packs of pineapple juice at the studio waiting for me and the other singers. All day long I limited my speaking, kept drinking the diluted pineapple juice, and used excellent vocal technique, lifting up and pulling notes into place as if from the sky.
Bottom line - IT WORKED!
- Thankfully, my voice not only worked, it got better as that third day went on! My tone blended well and I had no vocal issues. The fourth day my voice felt pretty much like normal - and I found fresh faith in vocal techniques and strategies that work for serious performance. More importantly, our producer Paul Thomas and engineer Joe Carroll were thrilled with the results of our background vocals! I resolved to swallow my pride and share this as a cautionary tale with you:)