Is Vocal Cord Strain Affecting Your Singing?
Have you stepped up to sing a high note that you’ve previously been able to hit, only to push and shout while missing the pitch completely? It’s possible you’re suffering from vocal cord strain, and a better approach to vocal technique will do wonders for your singing, and ultimately help you regain your vocal health.
Vocal Cord Strain occurs when you sing with a disproportionate between the elements of your singing voice, ultimately using your vocal mechanism in an overly muscular way that wears and strains the delicate muscles required for proper vocal control. If you’re not careful, this vocal strain will become a permanent fixture of your voice and you’ll ultimately end up with vocal damage. Let’s fix your vocal cord strain once and for all by identifying the 5 main causes of Vocal Cord Strain.
The 5 main causes of Vocal Cord Strain
Vocal Cord strain isn’t limited to these 5 causes, but they’re a great place to start if you’ve started experiencing vocal issues or you’re having trouble developing your singing voice and implementing proper vocal technique. Remember, singing should be a simple, easy and a strain-free pursuit – if something doesn’t feel right, you’re not doing it right.
#1 – Lack of support
Support occurs when you breathe in the right manner and then moderate your airflow in the right way for healthy singing. If you aren’t supporting your voice properly, or you’re supporting in an overly muscular manner you might be causing vocal cord strain with improper airflow, too much pressure or inconsistent air management. Support is linked to many other aspects of a great singing voice, from your posture to your onsets, to the way your vowels resonate – support is the most important part of your foundation and really should be the first thing you set up in your voice before you sing.
Support starts with your posture and the way you engage the muscles required for proper diaphragmatic support. With the widened rib position that is often known as Appoggio, you will be able to control your breathing solely through expansion of your diaphragm instead of the contraction of your ribs like we often do in speech. I often remind my students that their singing voice will only ever be as strong as the foundation they have built it upon.
#2 – A forceful delivery
The way your resonance starts is known as an onset in singing, and is a direct balance between airflow and vocal cord closure. If you’re singing with too much air or too forceful closure of your vocal folds, then you’re putting your voice at risk of vocal strain.
A great onset occurs when you balance your airflow and your cord closure in a manner that results in powerful, strain-free and instantaneous resonance without any other sound or sensation when you start singing. A balanced onset is imperative to vocal health and should be treated as a priority if you’re experiencing vocal cord strain.
#3 – Excess vocal tract width
Are you taking “Open Throat Technique” a little too literally and trying to widen your throat in some way? Open Throat is a literal interpretation of the classical Italian singing term La Gola Aperta, or The Open Throat which is actually a figure of speech referring to strain-free singing where your focus is low on your breathing and your resonance is high in your head – in essence making you sing without your throat.
Excess width in the vocal tract leads to a disproportionate balance of frequencies and the need for muscular support, leading to vocal cord strain and putting your voice at risk of permanent damage. An overly wide throat is often employed by singers who are stuck in ‘belt’ mode and by proxy are unable to sing in anything other than a pedal-to-the-metal shout even on passages that require some finesse or lighter dynamics.
#4 – Improper vowel production
While we often pronounce our vowels in speech, a sung vowel is actually created through the shape of your tongue and the relative width of your vocal tract – in essence EQ’ing your resonance into the illusion of a vowel and ultimately your words. A great example of this is for you to slide gently between an EE sound like word feed and an AH vowel like in the word love – can you feel how your tongue is high at the back on the EE sound, and low in your jaw for the AH vowel? Congratulations, you just shaped and tuned your first two vowels!
#5 – Locked register coordination
Did you know that there is a third honorary vocal register that connects your chest voice and head voice – often referred to as Mix or Middle Voice? My coordinating vocal fold weight with fold tension (stretch, not strain) you will retain the depth of chest voice while accessing the extensive range afforded by your head register, in essence ‘mixing’ the two resonance qualities of your main registers into a powerful middle tonality that not only allows you to connect, but do so in a POWERFUL way.
Proper register release occurs when you train your voice to travel in between your registers in a fluid and balanced way without vocal cord strain – this takes training, practice and perseverance, but ultimately leads to a much healthier voice and more powerful, extensive vocal range.
A great place to start is your foundation – your singing voice will only ever be as strong as the foundation it has been built upon, so make sure you set up your posture, diaphragmatic breathing and placement first using my complimentary short courses to ensure you’re releasing any vocal cord strain that might be cropping up in your singing range.
Vocal cord strain is the ultimate voice killer and can ruin your singing voice for good.
Are you letting vocal cord strain affect your singing? If you’re ready to do away with strain for good while taking your voice to the next level you can book a Skype Session and we’ll get started today!
If you have any questions about vocal cord strain, feel free to leave any questions or feedback below!
Kegan DeBoheme is Bohemian Vocal Studio’s resident vocal coach and voice expert. He teaches professional singing and voice technique to students all around the world and enjoys providing tutorials like this one on how to improve your voice.