Is Vocal Chord Strain Making You A Bad Singer? (Here’s how to fix it!
If you have found yourself in a situation where you are unable to sing a high note that you previously could (even though you are pushing hard), you have probably suffered a vocal cord strain. Many reasons can cause vocal cord strain, but it mostly occurs when you don’t approach a vocal technique the right way. For example, when you sing disproportionately, you are using your vocal mechanism in an overly forceful and muscular way that will over time wear off and strain the delicate muscles necessary for proper vocal control. Correctly approaching your vocal techniques is vital not only to sound good but also to preserve your vocal health. If you are not careful, a vocal strain can become permanent and ultimately lead to vocal damage. By learning what causes this problem, you can get rid of vocal strain once and for all.
The 5 Main Causes of Vocal Cord Strain
Vocal cord strain doesn’t necessarily have to be caused by the following five reasons. However, if you struggle developing your singing voice and implementing the proper vocal technique, they are a great place to start. Never forget that singing should always be a simple, easy, joyous and strain-free activity. It should never be painful and hard. If something doesn’t feel right while you are singing, you are not doing it the right way.
Lack of Support
In order to sing in a healthy manner, you need to support your voice properly. You provide proper support to your voice when you breathe the right way and adequately moderate your airflow. Lack of support will damage the muscles necessary for appropriate vocal control, and cause a vocal cord strain. Proper support is vital for having a great singing voice. It is the most important part of your foundation, and it should definitely be the first step you set in your voice before you start singing.
For proper support, you shouldn’t only focus on breathing correctly and managing your airflow. Support starts with good posture, and then the way you engage the muscles necessary for adequate diaphragmatic support. For example, Appoggio requires a widened rib position and controlling your breathing only through the expansion of your diaphragm. Without a proper posture and strong foundation, you won’t be able to control your breathing without contracting your ribs. Remember that your singing voice will only as powerful and strong as the foundation you built it on.
A Forceful Delivery
An onset in singing is the way your resonance starts, and it depends on the balance between vocal cord pressure and airflow. If you sing with too much air or with a forceful closure of your vocal folds, sooner or later, you will experience a vocal cord strain. A balanced onset (that also has proper balance) should be strain free, pain-free and instantaneous. If you’re suffering a vocal cord strain, balancing your onset should be a priority.
Excess Vocal Tract Width
Taking the Open Throat Technique literally can really be painful and cause a vocal cord strain. The Open Throat Technique doesn’t involve somehow widening your throat. It is only a figure of speech, and it actually refers to singing strain free. In open throat singing, your focus is low on your breathing and your resonance is high in your head. When you think about it, it actually means singing without your throat.
Widening your vocal tract will lead to a disproportionate balance of frequencies and greater need for muscular support, which will result in vocal cord strain, and put your voice at risk of permanent damage. Singers that sing with their throat wide open are typically stuck in ‘belt’ mode and are unable to sing in anything other than a pedal-to-the-metal shout, even when the passages clearly require or lighter dynamics and finesse.
Improper Vowel Production
Singing vowels is not the same as pronouncing them in speech. A sung vowel is created through the shape of your tongue and the relative width of your vocal tract. Your resonance is actually echoing into the illusion of a vowel and ultimately your words. For example, when singing EE sound like in the word feed, your tongue will be high at the back, and when singing the AH vowel in the word love, your tongue will be low in your jaw. Doing it in some other way is bad both for your sound and your vocal health. Proper vowel production is not only vital for healthy singing but also the difference between resonant singing and just plain shouting in your speaking voice.
Locked Register Coordination
Have you ever heard about Mix or Middle Voice? A Mix or a Middle voice is a third vocal register that connects your chest voice and head voice. When you coordinate vocal fold weight with fold tension, you can retain the depth of chest voice and at the same time access the extensive range of your head register. So, you are basically mixing two different resonance qualities of your main registers, creating a powerful middle tonality.
In order to release your middle voice properly, you need to train your voice to travel in a fluid and balanced way. Doing it otherwise will hurt your vocal cords. Proper register release requires a lot of time, training and persistence, but in the end, you will be rewarded with a more powerful and extensive vocal range.
If you want to improve your mix voice, work on your foundation. Start by setting up your posture, diaphragmatic breathing and sing with placement. That way you won’t have to worry about potential vocal cord strain will be cropping your singing range.
A great place to start is with the complimentary short courses available here at Bohemian Vocal Studio, the premier voice studio providing Rock Singing Lessons and Online Singing Lessons to students all around the world. When you’re ready to take your voice to the next level with professional singing lessons online, you can book a Skype Session and we’ll release that vocal strain for good!
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.