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Finding the Root of Vocal Fatigue

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Finding the Root of Vocal Fatigue

This is a big issue and there are lots of causes.  Vocal fatigue is one of things I often run into with students, especially new singers.  It is common fatigued by singing, especially if you don’t sing very often. An hour lesson can be a lot.  If you have tension while singing in your throat or tongue, that will create more vocal fatigue. If you are a little bit sick and your vocal cords are already a bit tired or swollen, that will be a factor.  But there’s another factor that sometimes people overlook: the amount and way you are talking during the day.

EXAMPLE 1:  I have a student who has a very tight and unsteady chest voice. It’s really frustrating to her and we’ve been trying to release some of the tension.  Her speaking is tight as well.  This was a bit easier to diagnose but there were patterns she had during the day that were majorly contributing to her vocal fatigue.  She was tired before ever singing a note.  Her job is working in elderly care on the phone and in groups.  So, she usually is talking at a loud volume.  Keep in mind her speaking is tight as well. The tighter your throat is the more constricted your sound/voice is.  Therefore, the volume is softer than if your throat was not constricted.  But if you have to talk louder, more air is used but because of the tension it’s like pressure builds in the throat and the vocal cords get even more fatigued.

So two things are really hurting her.  The first and most crucial is the tension in her speaking voice.  I am not a speech pathologist, so my recommendation was to seek sessions with a speech pathologist first.  Although I know her passion is singing and not talking, it is crucial have a healthy speaking voice.  Her speaking habits directly relate to her singing habits in her chest voice (lower notes).  Wonderfully, her mixed voice is very healthy.

The other is to modify the stress she is putting daily on her speaking voice.  She can do that right now.  I know it is inconvenient to go on vocal rest or to modify your speaking voice especially when you believe it’s crucial to your job.  But it is very important to take care of your voice.  Continued damage will result in harder and longer fixes like surgery.  If it hurts every day, it’s not just going to go away.  Think of it like when you wear shoes that don’t fit or are uncomfortable.  You get a few blisters.  If you keep wearing the shoes, you’ll get calluses.  The calluses will get harder and harder over time if you keep wearing them.  The same thing happens to your vocal cords.  The difference is that the calluses on your vocal cords will interrupt your vocal production.  They are meant to be soft and lubricated to function correctly.

EXAMPLE 2: I have a student who has a great voice, good range, okay breath support, and about 15. She was complaining of her vocal cords while singing. I always take that seriously.  Pain is never good when you are singing.  After a bit of feeling her throat and checking out tongue tension, I was puzzled.  It didn’t feel too bad and we’d only been singing for about 10 minutes.

Then we talked a bit about the other singing she was doing.  She’s in a choir and the teacher encourages the to sing loud.  This is really common.  When you are in a young choir, volume is often an issue.  The choir director wants a certain amount of volume just to be heard.  However, the director may not take into account that they are dealing with young singers who frankly can’t make that much noise, especially if they are in their mixed voice. It hasn’t matured yet.  So I gave her some tips and asked her to apply them during week and see how it goes.

The next week, she still had pain.  I was perplexed.  So I asked if how much talking she was doing, if she has to talk over people during the week (basically yell).  She said no.  But she does make this sound that is like silent scream when she’s frustrated, and she does it several times a day.  I thought, “ah-hah!” That is it.  A very tight high sound that is being cut off tension around the vocal folds.  And sure enough, her pain stopped when she stopped doing that.

Sometimes vocal tension has nothing to do with singing and maybe not even your talking voice.  Think about how you use your voice when not in a conversation or singing.  Are there habits you have that are secretly stressing out your vocal cords?

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