Q. I am a proffessional singer who recently have been through my second vocal cord surgery. Both times it was a small cyste on the right vocal cord. The symptomes before surgery was a crackling sound on some notes in the mid register (usually I have a very goog mid register). Now it is two months since surgery and I habe started singing again, carfully, but the crackling sound is still there, and since I am e classical singer it bothers me a lot, and I am very afraid that my voice is permanently damaged. So, I am writing to you hoping that you can give me som good advices, and please do not say that my voice needs to rest, because that is what I habe been doing for 18 months.
A. Rest is the reason you are experiencing some difficulty. After many months of no use and a change in the surface of your vocal folds – it is natural for there to be a re-acclamation period. The same behaviors which worked fine in the past may not yield the same results after this last procedure. You brain will automatically revert back to the way you always sang but that may need some adjusting. I don’t think it’s damage – just different. I understand the cracking is unacceptable for performance but you’ll need to work through this with more patience. Let your voice crack as you as explore your voice through exercises. It is very easy to slip into a habit of tensing and pushing if you want immediate results. This will limit your voice in the long term. It is not harmful to your folds when your voice cracks. It just hurst the ego! Don’t rest — keep vocalizing towards discovering a new balance.
Q.Hi mark, love the website, it really makes me calmer about my voice! I just have a question or two. About 2 months ago I was told I had the first signs of vocal nodules after a year of a lot of singing and not using the voice correctly! I used to be able to belt up to a top C and have ease in belting high notes but now I’m really worried as I’m going off in september to train in musical theatre and really need my voice back! Over the past 2 months I haven’t really sung at all and I have been having voice therapy, but I am doing a fundraising concert on sunday and I have to sing one song and so I warmed up last night and tried to sing but it sounds awful and tight and I’m struggling reaching a G! I’m so scared that my voice will not return, what do you think?
A.I think you need to re-think your history. When you write that you easily hit high notes that doesn’t describe someone on their way to nodes. I’m sure you reached those high notes — but with a lot of extra muscle behavior. Now that the vocal therapist has made you aware of how aggressive your approach was – it seems difficult to do what you did in the past.
The truth is you can always push like you did in the past – but you’ll head towards nodes just like you were in the past. You’re very young and have a lot of time to re-program your singing behaviors (except for this fund raiser). No one at the show will know how you used to sound – that’s in your mind only. Even the people that have heard you before and asked you to perform will not know there’s a difference unless you tell them.
What you’re struggling with is letting your voice change registers. You used to avoid it and now you’re being told to allow it. In a short amount of time you will find head register to be as rich and powerful as your belt used to be. It’s not now because it’s be avoided for so long. My recommendation is that you use the fund raiser as a debut for your new singing behaviors – but if you panic revert back to the old ways and just sing. Most likely that’s what’s going to happen anyway. One song will not kill your voice – but eventually you will need to allow you reflexes to choose the register rather then demand everything be in chest.
Q.I bought your Survival Manual years ago and I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of an order of your DVD. I’m a self-taught female rock singer, in a band that’s really just for fun, but want to at least manage 1 x practice (3-4 hrs) a week with the band. I know my technique needs work, I’ve been learning from my own mistakes to warm up more carefully to avoid a sore voice and I probably am not singing properly from my diaphragm but trying to learn. But I have been finding my way, and backing off when I know I’m pushing it. A few weeks ago, I did a really thorough all-day warmup before our first (pretty small-scale) gig – and then a rehearsal where I sang softly and slowly warmed up to singing more intensely. I don’t think I did much if any damage that night, because I don’t recall feeling soreness that night or the next day. I was so proud of myself for warming up so thoroughly! But after all the intense pushing myself working up to the gig, I just needed a break from making singing a lot of work and I didn’t really sing much at all (definitely not with that full volume projecting voice) for a week or two. Then as soon as I tried to sing again (with mild projection – probably just one or two songs), my throat (vocal cords, I assume) started hurting immediately and it hurt to sing at all. So I stopped and chalked it up to lack of practice/warming up. I tried again in a day or two, same thing happened. I could sing OK softly, but not with any projection, even the kind that should never irritate my cords, and the soreness in my throat was significant enough to stop me in my tracks. I tried warming up a bit, same thing happened. I tried singing in the shower, nothing that ever would have required me to warm up before, and again, immediate soreness upon projecting mildly. I tried warming up and singing softly without doing anything that hurt for a full week. Then today I tried warming up gently in the shower and then singing not even one song with some mild projection in the shower – and immediate soreness. Hours later, I still feel a little irritation in my throat, and I bet as before, I’ll feel normal tomorrow, until I try to sing again. It’s been a month and I’ve been racking my brain and searching the internet trying to figure out what’s going on with me.
It seems like my vocal cords are really damaged, but I can’t really think of any reason that makes sense. I’ve never had this kind of soreness except when I overdid it before and it was pretty obvious to me that I did (soreness after and the next day and voice a little hoarse the next day) and then I recovered within a day or so at worst. > > To confound things, I’m hyperthyroid and taking medication (methimazole) to suppress my overactive thyroid. I may be a bit “hypo” right now, as I’m working on the ideal med levels. I have had a mild goiter (swollen thyroid) for years, that’s borderline noticeable to others, and might be a little bigger than usual lately. I know the goiter may also be contributing to or even causing this problem, but it seems weird that when I stopped singing and tried to start again, this is when this sudden sensitivity happened. I’m imploring you to tell me if in all your experience, you’ve seen anyone have a problem that sounds like mine. It’s making me crazy not singing, and it’s freaking me out wondering if I might not be able to any more. I know, I can just sit around waiting which is incredibly frustrating, but wouldn’t be so tragic if I had reason to believe I’ll get better and that what I need is some kind of rest. Could this be a seasonal virus, like a laryngitis kind of thing but somehow just making me unable to sing?
A.I work with people dealing with your issues (except for the thyroid) every day. The biggest problem is your lack of consistent voice use. Singing occasionally allows all kinds of conditions to creep in without notice until you sing again – then it seems like a big deal. It’s not that singing every day would prevent a cold or your thyroid imbalance but you would have noticed the oncoming soreness much earlier and in smaller degrees.
There’s nothing wrong with your vocal folds. What you’re feeling is soreness in the area surrounding your larynx. Your goiter is a contributor, along with the swelling that goes with it. There is no extra space in the area so any swelling anywhere crowds everything else. You also may have a virus that hasn’t blossomed yet.
The other factor is that you are not separating what sounds bad form what feels bad. If it hurst to sing loud then don’t – just vocalize under the volume level that irritates. You should do so daily and allow your voice to shake or wobble and crack – but don’t allow it to hurt. If you vocalize daily at a low volume (just like light stretching for a sore back) you will release some of the stiffness inside and be able to turn the volume up slowly.
Q.Hello, I just came across your site and found very helpful information on it. I am a 28 year old male. A month ago I had some 5 days of smoking (not too much, but too much for me as I generally smoke around 3-4 cigarettes a day), drinking, not really sleeping very well and shouting, yelling and loud singing… I ended up having difficulty to speak. The doctor diagnosed me with a laryngitis and gave me cortizone and antibiotics medication and told me to rest my voice for ten days.The truth is I tried not to speak, not to smoke and not to drink but wasn’t absolutely faithful to all this, speaking a little, drinking some glasses of wine and smoking maybe 5-10 cigarettes in a period of two weeks… I got a little better but not that much. Apart from the voice problems i didn’t have any other symptoms, no fever, no cough, and felt very well physically. And I was also gargling with lemon and salt water some times a day, drinking a lot of water, eating some honey, many fresh fruits etc… Then I begun the treatment again, and this time I ve been absolutely strict to it. In general i ve had a sensation of being much better but I couldn’t really tell as i never tried to speak, so I don’t know if I can… Today, after 8 days of silence i tried to speak some phrases, for a minute of so and felt difficulty again so i just stopped. Now, what could this be? is this going to be a polyp or a cyst or a nodule or something? will i have to be operated? will I have to go on cortizone again? The cortizone treatment was quite heavy on me…
A.You didn’t need the cortisone in the first place – because it only helps those who want to get better. You’re not ready to address the real changes you need to make in order to have a healthy reliable voice. I doubt there’s any cysts or polyps or nodes on your vocal folds – they’re just abused. The way you speak and sing and smoke and party equals the way your voice sounds and behaves. Ten days isn’t enough rest to forgive all that – and you can’t even manage a full ten days rest. So I recommend you look into getting some vocal instruction from a teacher. Your behaviors need to change before anything positive happens with your voice.
Q.hey i’m an 18 year old male i love singing more than anything it’s the greatest passion i’ve ever had i mean i could sing trapt, chevelle, drowning pool, breaking benjamin, green day, slipknot, spineshank, hawthorne heights, papa roach, and alot lot more but about 8 month’s ago i lost my voice due to a combination of bronchitis, walking pnuemonia, and bad smoking habits. i haven’t really sang much since then and it feels like there’s been some improvement since then but even now i can’t even sing any of the songs that i wrote and those were the ones that i did the best i’ve considered quitting smoking but i feel like the damage done has been too great so what i’m asking is if i was to quit smoking could i possibly get my old singing voice back exactly the way it was and if so how long would it take. i really need some advice because not being able to sing depresses me more than anything else and i’m sure that someone who has as much love for singing and music as you would understand. but i don’t really have an email address and i’m using the school computer and a friend’s email so if you could please post your reply with the FAQ’s it would be much appreciated cuz i need some advice from somewhere and you seemed like the best source thanks alot.
A. Quit smoking now — especially the bong. Your voice will come back in six months.
Q. I am a singer and Mom. I have been singing for many years and have just recently been diagnosed with vocal nodules. The doctor prescribed medicine for acid reflux and told me no singing for 2 weeks. He seems to think the nodules will diminish. Have you ever seen a person get rid of nodules without some type of surgical removal? I was just wondering if you had any suggestions that might help. I am very sad that I cannot sing right now, but I wish now that I had taken lessons all of those years. I am not a trained vocalist, but had a 5 octave range. I cannot say where it is right now, but I cannot hit the notes I used to. This has been going on almost a year. I would appreciate any help that you might have.
A. I help singers diminish nodes every day wihtout surgery. We can’t change the past but we sure can learn from it. Unfortunately, about half of that amazing range of yours was gotten by force — which, combined with the acid from your churning stomach, caused the nodes to form. The good news is you’ve never had a lesson — which means things can only get better. The no talking rule just keeps you from hurting yourself any more. It doesn’t fix the behavior. So you’ll need to develop some much needed coordination and maintenance habits – like warming up and vocalizing daily. Make the diet changes that the doctor recommended and read through my entire web site to get your head around what needs to happen.
Nodes are nothing more then a callous, so when the irritation (meaning friction form you banging out notes) is gone so is the node. Vocal exercises will create more independence and flexibility so you won’t have to work so hard to sing. For now hydrate like crazy, get plenty of rest (impossible as a mom) and stop yelling at those kids!
Start with the routine I’ve outlined in my free lesson “KISS” when you’re ready to use your voice again.
Q. I came across your website and noticed that you give advise to singers. I have a problem that I went to my doctor about and she referred me to an ear, nose and throat specialist that I went to on yesterday. The problems I am having are allergy and sinus symptoms along with hoarseness with my throat. My throat right now feels like I have a sore throat but when I swallow, I don’t feel any pain but I do have the irritation feeling. Also, my ears feel like I have an ear infection but when I was checked out, nothing. But on my visit to the doctor on yesterday, after taking the scope down my nose to look at my vocal cords, he told me they were swollen (which is what I told him) and that he could do surgery which I thought was crazy, especially after he told me he does not see a cist or anything, just them looking swollen. Me personally, I would have thought to try to control the sinus/allergy and see if that helps (by shots, herbs, medication, etc.) but surgery for swelling? I have to consult another way which I plan to get another opinion from a specialist on. Can you help me with this? I mean, what can I do for swelling of the throat because I want to see if I could possibly now be allergic to something or if it could be allergies causing this reaction because it is affecting my ability to sing which I have events scheduled for.
A. It’s absolutely crazy to suggest surgery for swelling. The swelling is either coming from the allergens dripping down or digestive acids working up (reflex) both of which are very common and manageable by adjusting diet and increasing warm ups and vocalizations. Get that second opinion.
Q. I just came across your website which is full of very usefull information. I am a fully trained singer, and i would say use very good technique most of the time. i always do a proper warm up before singing. I am currently auditioning for Mamma Mia and need to do quite alot of belting for the material i have been given. I don’t feel as though I am straining in anyway when i am singing and it is not painful, however the left side of my throat after practicing is very sore. it does not feel like a normal sore throat, it is more of an ache. I feel it most when i move my tounge! My question is should i be worried, and have i done some vocal damage. Also if i haven’t done vocal damage, how can i prevent this.
A. First order of business is to adjust your thinking about your technique. You don’t have to cause pain to belt all day. It’s all about sending up the appropriate amount of air pressure. How do you know when you don’t have it right? When you feel like the way you do! So keep exploring with the idea that you’re going to use the absolute minimum amount of pressure you can to get the sounds you need. Most times, we over-compensate out of insecurity and cause irritation to the throat. That’s all you’ve got — no damage. Good luck with the show.
Q. I do impressions. When I do Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, and especially the Plant from “Little Shop Of Horrors”, my voice goes away. I become very hoarse and lately have pain in my larnyx. I do these impressions very well, but I don’t want to hurt my voice permanently. I gave up doing the plant for a while, but my voice still isn’t coming back. I always did get hoarse a lot faster than I thought I should. I haven’t smoked for 9 years and I was getting more range for a while, but now I am worried about not being able to sing. What advice do you have for me?
A. Make a choice — impressions or your own voice. The singers you imitate paid the price for their bad habits — they were also very successful so the price doesn’t seem that bad. You did not harm your larynx. You just have to learn to release the muscles that surround the larynx to relax when producing sound.
Q. I came across your website today and saw that you answered questions about vocal health… well… I have a question about voice damage… I just recieved a lead part in The Music Man and like any other person would do, I started singing the music a lot during the day. One thing I have always struggled with is projecting while I sing. I tried projecting more than I usually do while I was singing the songs and apparently I did something to my voice either from projecting or over using my voice… When I swallow it feels like there is a lump inside my throat on the right side. You can’t feel it if you touch my neck, but I do feel it when swallowing. Also, my throat is starting to bother me when I sing now and my voice sounds the tiniest bit scratchy. I really need help! Rehearsals for the musical start next week and I really would appreciate help! Please let me know what to do when you can. Thank you!!
A. The muscles inside your throat are reacting to the sudden over-activity. The best thing to do is to make sure you’re warmed up before going for volume. read through my free lesson called KISS. Hopefully there will be a good musical director for the show and he or she can give you some more pointers for vocal health.
Q. I just came across your site and found it very helpful. I am writing to you because I am a singer, it is a real calling on my life. However, I have been working a cust. service job for almost a year in which I talk non-stop 8 hours 5 dys/week, mostly to old people who can’t hear – and I am a rather soft-spoken person. Obviously this has put a lot of strain on my voice, and it hurts to talk and sing, and even just be silent – even when I am off of work for a week. How much have I damaged my vocal chords? My muscles are tender to the touch from my neck, it hurts to swallow after I’ve been working all day. I haven’t vocalized in a long time, so my first soprano range is not existent at this point in time. (I used to be able to sing 5 octaves, now I’m maybe 3??) What can I do to get myself in top shape again without hurting myself more? Do I need to seriously pursue flat-out vocal rest in your opinion? I appreciate your help…
A. There is no damage to your vocal folds. When you speak you are engaging throat muscles (the ones that surround the larynx) and they are what hurt. Ironically — vocalizing is the only thing besides two weeks of silence that can turn things around. You should warm up and vocalize very gently before and during work as if getting ready to sing a performance.
Q. Dear Mark, Firstly, many thanks indeed for such a brilliant and informative website. I teach singing in local schools, and usually average about 6 hours singing a day, three times a week. The problem is, I am now on my holiday, and my voice has disappeared. It does this quite a lot. When I speak I only have a rather feeble upper range. I also live on my own, so I have hardly spoken, let alone sung for 3 weeks. Do you think my lack of voice is down to the fact that I have stopped using it, and if so, why?! I also have been getting frequent heartburn, which is worse when I am rushing around, from one school to another. I would be most grateful for any advice you could give me, as I am quite worried!
A. You have reflux disease (commonly know as GERD). It occurs when digestive acids back up the esophogus and burn the area around the larynx. This causes inflamation of the vocal folds which restricts range and vibration. I recommend you see a doctor. You will then get a perscription for the stomach issue which should in turn relieve the stress on your larynx.
Q. I was helping my brother move his couch into the garage so he could redo the floors in his house. While walking down the driveway I started to lose my grip and when I went to readjust my brother stopped dead and the couch hit me in the throat right in the Adams apple, I actually heard a crunching noise. A little later my voice was hoarse and it hurt to swallow. The next day it seemed a little better so I didn’t go to the doctors. About a week later everything seemed find but I didn’t want to try singing yet. I waited about 3 weeks and found that my high notes are gone, my low notes are fine, and mid notes are so so. What I wanted to know is did I destroy my high range? should I keep trying or give it more time? How long would something like this take to heal if ever?
A. The trauma of the blow most likely caused a bruise, swelling and much residual tension. High notes require flexibility and stretch, therefore they will be elusive for a while. I wouldn’t burden the area with the demands of singing. However, focused vocal exercises — very low volume EE vowel swoops and glides into the upper area — will allow the muscles to regain their flexibility without stress. Let the voice break up and blank out any time it wants, but keep visiting those higher notes. Think of it like a sprained ankle. At first you want to get the swelling down, then try light movement, then gradually place more demand on it. Always let the larynx (or your ankle) tell you when it’s okay to increase the demand. If you don’t see any improvement in a month — see an ENT.
Q. I have recently been performing 3 or 4 nights a week at a piano bar…the only problem is that the place gets incredibly smoky and in the past 3 weeks or so my voice has suffered a little……when I sing full out it gets really dry on me and it sounds unclear….my speaking voice has also becoma a little raspy…..this alarms me alot but I love the gig and the money is great…is there anything I ca n do to help clean up my voice and why does it feel like my register has shifted downward a little?(I break into my headvoice alot sooner than I normally would….the notes are still there it just feels like its coming from a different place than it used to…the production feels different to me)….what I also find interesting is that when I leave the chest voice my head notes are still clean and I havent lost any of my register…is there something I can do to clean up my register(teas,herbs etc.) any shouyld I stop gigging at this club?…..thanks
A. Don’t stop the gig — start warming up sooner n the day. You symptoms suggest you are developing some bad habits which is typical of performing often. A long thorough warm up should be done daily to reset last nights cheats and short cuts. If you are singing softer than usual that will bring down the break point in the voice. If chest sounds different from head (worse condition) than it is purely behavior that is to blame (as opposed to smoke). The same two folds produce every register. They can’t be in bad shape for one note and then in good condition for another.
Q. i ALWAYS warm-up/down whenever i sing, rehearse with my band, or perform live… for some reason, i woke up WED morning and was missing from about Eb (above middle C) up…i had only vocalized (light to medium volume) the two days before– and i didn’t feel sick. what is the MOST effective way to restore my voice?— you say lightly vocalizing “ee” and “zz”… but should i repeatedly start low in the range and work up to the ‘missing/airy’ notes–or should i stay closer to the problem area… thanks a lot– your book/site/approach is so cool– since following your advice, this is the first (serious) problem i’ve had with my voice in about 5 months…
A. It doesn’t seem like it’s a vocal problem — it seems more health oriented. Allergies, dehydration, reflux, dry air . . . a million things can take away the high notes (the folds need to be thin to access those notes. All the things I mentioned thicken the folds) You should be approaching this with ee and zz at very low a volume. The important part is to let the voice blank out when ever it does rather than use extra pressure or change your face to make the note work. All the while, look to solve what caused your swelling.
Q. i have a question for you and it might sound a little strange. i am currently performing in the musical CATS so i am a proffesional singer, and we are performing in a big top (tent) theatre. we have a few issues at work with the humidity of the tent. most nights we are performing between 25% and 40% humidity in the air. so it is very dry. for example tonigh it was 26% humidity. i was just wondering if you had any idea on the effect the low humidity might have on the voice. is it dangerous to be performing in these conditions? i would appreciate your views on this matter.
A. Dangerous it too strong of a word. 50% to 60% is ideal singing conditions. Dryness can cause a tickling in the throat and will allow the lubrication to evaporate faster. An efficient technique is the savior here since anything you drink will only be a temporary fix. I would extend the warm up and be aware of not over producing volume. Break a leg.
Q. I naturally have a deeper voice than the average woman. I have a problem when I try to whisper either nothing comes out or it’s not a whisper. I love to sing I sing at church, I consider myself an alto, but I also have a problem with loosing my voice. I want to be able to sing and give it all that I have without worrying that after 10 minutes of singing that I will loose my voice and not be able to sing for the rest of the service. I can’t really get someone to train me because I do not have the money to pay someone. But I am very interested in what you have to say. I have been searching the web for free tips and I came across your site. Thanks for all the other tips. Can you give me a tip with my problem Please. Thanks
A. There is something wrong with your voice. Don’t panic. It’s just that the little you have described here points towards a problem. Your age, whether you smoke, how you’ve been using your voice, how long this has been going on all figure in to what you should do about it. If there is a doctor you can visit you should have him take a look down your throat. There may be vocal nodules (little calluses that interrupt the sound) or a polyp (growth that gets in the way of the folds) or damage from reflux (digestive acid that backs up into the larynx).
Besides the doctor, a good warm up routine would help you a lot. There is information about the health and maintenance of the voice in my video, “The Singer’s Toolbox.” There is also a new warm-up routine of mine available as a MP3 download atHTTP://WWW.GETSIGNED.COM/PAGE/GMM/PROD/BAXWARMP3. If you can’t afford these things then check out the free lesson entitled “K.I.S.S. In The New Year. It’s a step by step description of the warm up.
Q. I reference your information all the time and own your book and video, but I have a question relating to voice damage. I’ve had a cold recently and sung on several occasions and there were no difficulties with one exception. I had rehearsed with my band and of course a healthy warmup in the car had preceded this, but one song with a high note sustain in the Chorus had thrown me for a loop and I began to cough afterwards. Then my voice tired and weakened and I ended rehearsal early that day. But since there has been a little swallowing pain on one side of my throat and I’m curious about it. There is a limited shelf life on my voice when I choose to sing (if it exceeds an hour or so) and then I tire. I feels like that area gets irritated with the singing and at one point there was a tiny sharp pain with a swallow, but that has gone. My vocal range is intact, my tone is also intact, I can sweep the range at a very low volume, so what can this thing be? Can vocal fold bruising not intrude on phonation and flexibility? If there is additional mucous production, is it on my folds? Should I rest the voice for a few days and see if it clears? Any help on the matter would be very much appreciated.
A. You pulled a muscle which anchors the larynx while singing that high note. It’s a supporting muscle, it holds the larynx in place, and not involved in producing sound. The pain is going to hang around for a while but, as you have discovered, will not interfere with singing. Use the pain as a guide for now. It’s a good time to develop independence between supporting muscles and production muscles. When vocalizing, learn to sing in such a way as to not disturb the pulled muscle. You have been driving too hard on those high notes. The pull will force you to find a better air pressure or else you’ll continue to aggravate the muscle.
Q. First thanks for answering my previous question on the difference between an adult’s and child’s voice. It was really helpful to me and taught me something new. To make a long story short, I was speaking with a friend of mine about Scott Wieland. It reminded me of a question I’ve been meaning to ask. I have a pretty good idea on what smoking, cocaine, alcohol and pot does to the voice but what about heroin? I’ve been told that it “deepens” the voice. Obviously such a dangerous substance is going to have some horriffic effects on the body but what does it do to someone’s voice? Thanks in advance for your help and keep up the great work on the site.
A. The danger of heroin is that you feel a sense of euphoria. It’s not a big sensation — just a general sense of well being. It doesn’t seem to have any negative effects to the voice. Now the kicker: You can’t stop. Once the use of heroin is established, the body can not function without it. You become violently ill. To maintain the high, people make desperate choices. It’s more the lifestyle, the typical junkie behavior of not eating or sleeping that kills the voice. Actually, lots of people do it without heroin!
Q. I read your website and saw the answer that stated to watch out for raspiness in the 11 year old. I am raising my 10 year-old granddaughter who loves to sing. She has a very raspy voice when she sings and many times when she talks. Unfortunately, she comes from a home where she did cry a lot, screamed, and yelled. To top this off, she has seasonal allergies as well. She also sung the high notes of Celene Dion s, The Heart Goes On from Titanic, very loudly, like she was straining, each time she heard it on the radio.
A. Have her lay on her back with her feet flat on the floor and sing. This way she will be able to feel herself pushing as she tries to lift her head off the floor to get the high notes. Tell her to sing softy and experiment with making no faces at all when singing. Kids tend to over animate and mug when they sing in leu of adult emotions. I suspect she has nodes (small perhaps) and they will go away if she backs off her drive (stops pushing from her abdominal muscles). The drip from allergies is also a big contributor. Have her sleep with a humidifier in the room and drink plenty of water (a 1/2 ounce per pound of body weight per day).
Have her warm her voice up by gently humming at a very low volume and making ZZZZZZZ sounds for a good twenty minutes before attempting a song. The damage she has created is not permanent but the behaviors she has adopted can easily become so if not addressed. Have her place a hand on her belly button and take big breathes which make her belly come out and then speak without tensing that area. Encourage her to speak slower and pause for full breathes. Suggest that she releases her neck, like a bobbin head doll, when she sings and speaks. Lots of little things combine to irritate a voice and that’s just how it’s repaired — lots of little adjustments.
Q. hi mark, i love your site and have your book and video. my question is that i am a harmonica player and singer! i get alot of throat tension when i play harp and then sing, any suggestions. thanks.
A. Stop blowing your voice like it’s a harp. I know it seems like a close relationship, but the influence of your mouth, tongue and air pressure are very different for a harp. Think of singing as if you swallowed your harp. Now you can’t push against the pitches — everything is before the mouth and tongue.
Q. Im a female singer in a punk rock band, I sing very deep, rough and very growly, my band used to practice 3 times a week and I was fine, but we cut back to once a week. Now after either one session of practice or on show my voice is shot. I was just wondering if there was anything I could do after I was don singing to not lose my voice becuae practicing 3 times a week isn’t an option anymore. Thank You
A. Who says you have to practice with everybody to keep your voice gig-ready? One day a week is too much of a shock. Use a recording of your band and play it as loud as rehearsal in order to have more time to practice.
Q. My daughter, age 11, is a vocalist who performs hour long shows several times a month and rehearses every day for 2 hours. Although her vocal coach cautions her about straining she continues to belt high notes without, seemingly, too much effort. She continually reaches to stretch her range beyond 4 octaves and I am concerned in the long run this will damage her voice. Do you have any tips for strengthening her “head” voice and any words of wisdom to keep her from belting beyond her range? She’s been singing for 9 years. Also..any advice for how to build stamina to sing and dance at the same time.
A. Keep an ear out for raspiness in her speech — there shouldn’t be any. The body is very resilient at her age, so she should be fine. The problem is, as she ages, she will have to accommodate for growth spurts and physical shifting that may alter that range. When young adults defiantly force themselves to sing what they could as a child, there’s bound to be some problems.
Q. I’m a very good singer and my family and friends think so too. I have one little problem though and it’s my throat. I love to sing songs onto my audiocassettes and I have no problems but whenever I do have a problem it’s always my throat. I get annoyed and bothered because sometimes when I’m singing a song my throat begins to feel sharp, sore and clogged up making it hard to sing properly and I have to start the song again. I try to clear my throat by coughing a little but it just seems to make it worse. I have a 20 to 30 minute break and that’s okay but then my throat begins to clog up again. I’m sad about this because I love to sing and I don’t want to record me singing with a crackily or jumpy voice. I’ve never really had this problem before but I want to get rid of it. I would be truly grateful if you could help with this. How do I keep my throat clear when trying to sing without it clogging up?
A. The feelings in your throat are caused by muscle tension. The mucus is a result of pushing too hard with your air. It seems you are not warming up your voice properly or maybe not at all before you sing. Read through the free lesson on my site entitled “Warming Up.” It is very important to warm up every time you sing.
Q. First of all ,I love your site.I have been spreading the word about it to other musicians up here in Canada. I have a question.Three weeks ago I was sing out of my range (even tho I could hit the notes) I strained my voice.I contined to sing lightly for the next week.Then it started feelong like there was a rope wrapped around my throat.It really hurt.I went to the DR.. She said I have swollen vocal cords. She wants me to have a scope put down my throat. She says not to sing for a month or so. I am confused. On your sight it says I should continue to sing some. Can you help me? I have to sing vocal tracks in a week. I can sing but certainly not to my ability.It still strains. I am interested in you vidio and book.I will puchase these soon. ps.I cant afford to have voice therapy or lessons right now.Help!!!
A. I didn’t say you should sing I said you should vocalize — there’s a big difference. Your folds may have been bruised when you pushed them the other day. Continuing to stress them can irritate them further and create a node, which is a small bump on the edge of the fold. Your doctor doesn’t want you to do further harm so she says no singing because she figures every time you sing you will push.
Vocalizing is all about form — no pushing allowed. Light, low volume sounds on an EE vowel with pure attention to releasing tension will not harm your folds. It’s like the small movements a physical therapist would have you do to work through a shoulder injury. My video would be the most help to you at this point. If you can postpone your recording session I would recommend that, only because you’ll be frustrated with the results. In the future you’ll be able to bring your voice back — but since this is the first time you should chalk it up to experience. Use this as a learning experience. Use the warm up routine on my free lesson page — VERY LIGHTLY with absolutely no facial or neck involvement. It’s okay for your voice to sound bad — don’t drive it to clean up the sound. Basically, only let yourself vocalize on the notes which require absolutely no effort. You’ll find that there is not many pitches at first. As the swelling goes down, more pitches come around.
Q. I’m having a little trouble with my voice. There seems to be a bit of a mild crackling sound on almost any note I do, but mostly on my falsetto notes. No matter how hard I try to stop it, when I do these falsetto notes I can hear a little stream of air hissing out. I never had a problem like that before, and I can’t think of anything I’ve done to damage my vocal cords, because I’ve been practicing the way my singing teacher taught me to, and I never had a problem. I notice that my lips are really dry too but I don’t have a cold or anything. I’ve been sanding drywall compound for a couple of days and despite wearing a mask it gets really dusty and I’m positive I breathed enough in, but I’ve had this problem for over a week now. Whatever you could do to help would be greatly appreciated, and one more question, what would be your top recommendations for exercises to raise your falsetto range, and one to eliminate the break between chest and head voice (I have your book so if you want to recommend something from there). Thanks a lot for your help Mark.
A. Drywall dust is evil. It will stay in your lungs for weeks. But since you said this occurred before the dust then you’d better look at your form. Does your speaking voice crack? If not, notice what pitch you speak around and start there to reinforce good behavior. The bottom line is your voice should not produce this sound — so keep exploring ways of finding a vocal balance. With the dry lips, my first suspicion would be the drywall dust, or that you’re coming down with something — and it just hasn’t blossomed yet.
Q. I think i’ve written you about this before, but here goes I have a chronic bronchitus from smoking, i am happy to say that i’ve quit smoking and its been a whole month since i’ve had even one puff. The thing that helped me the most was me being sick not to long ago with a very bad case of bronchitus, but ive noticed a little weezing still remains, I’m not sure if this will go away or not but i hope so. My voice is very shitty right now, and i was wondering do you think it will ever get better again? Also i in the past year i haven’t really sang as much as i used to which used to be like everyday, but when i have sang i immitate the person i am listening to usually marilyn manson or peter steele (type o negative) The problem is Im not sure what my voice sounds like, because i am immitating too much. What should i do about this?
A. Congratulations on quitting. That’s a good thing. It takes a lot longer than a month to clear out years of abuse. Your lungs will heal if you don’t smoke — again. Your abilities are going to not be what they were having laid off a while. Take it easy as you bring your voice back. Don’t rush and you’ll be fine. The obvious answer for finding your voice is to stop imitating. It will take a while for you to get used to your sound — you won’t like it at first.
Q. Whenever I sing softly my voice sounds scratchy, like there’s something caught down there. But I don’t produce any mucous. It mainly seems to happen on words like see, I, can’t, me. When I rest for a few minutes it goes away then starts again in a few seconds after I start singing. I drink room temperature water and warm up everyday. Even when I’m not practicing I vocalize quietly. Does the weather have anything to do with it, because lately it’s been fluctuating between the 40’s and 70’s these last few weeks. Well I hope that you can help me, I really hate the sound that’s being made.
A. The voice cutting out at low volumes is a symptom of swollen vocal folds. It means you are driving them too hard when singing. Warm up longer and make sure you can vocalize very softly on a EE volume before you sing loud. The weather has very little to do with this.
Q. I bought “The Rock and Roll Singer Survival Manual”, and it is absolutely great. It provides a lot of very useful information and I can’t wait getting through it so I can read it again! I have a question that I hope you may be able to answer. I have a pain in my throat that has been bothering me for months. It is especially painful when I sing high notes in falsetto. I saw an ear nose throat doctor, and he conducted an indirect laryngoscopy. Basically he didn’t see anything. He said that my vocal chords look fine, and the only source of pain he could think of was that there could be some kind of a muscle strain, since I don’t get this pain all the time. Is this something you’ve encountered before? If so, what would you recommend I do?
A. I see this all the time. You have strained the muscles which elevate the larynx. Use them as a guide now when you practice. Do not let them become activated as you explore your falsetto range. Allow the voice to falter and make sure you don’t include the lifter muscles to reach notes — no matter how bad you sound. You can learn to lift less — and stop irritating those muscles.
Q. I am a female 30-something singer. I have been singing all my life albeit self-taught. I have mainly been in an Irish/Country band, but I have always wanted to do my own thing; chart songs, 90’s etc, and I have just got my first solo gig, with backing music on minidisk. The landlord liked my voice and offered me my first gig at a reduced rate. I was so complemented that I accepted the gig. The trouble is, my voice! About four years ago I started to lose my singing voice – not all the time, but enough to worry me. I can’t practise in my home because I can’t get the notes out, my voice is hoarse. I can’t even hum to a tune on the radio, I have no voice, but when I go into a bar with a microphone I can sing. I can even reach the high notes, although I can’t make them last. I have recently had tests done on my throat, where a camera was put down through my nose. I was told that my vocal chords are swollen with fluid and they needed draining, but that I should have speech therapy first. What’s the use of that? I’ve had this voice since I first learnt to talk, it’s too late to teach me how to talk and sing now isn’t it? What have I done wrong? Is it too late? Do I have to give up my possible new career?
A. Relax. Literally. Your throat is too tight. That’s why the notes don’t come out unless you push hard. The problem with pushing is that it swells your vocal folds. Go to the speech therapist. He or she will show you how to relax your throat. That way you won’t have to push, which means you won’t lose you voice.
Q. I have never actually sang a whole song. The reason for this is I have an ok voice, but I don’t have a clue on HOW to sing. When I sing my throat hurts. Like on the inside. As if someone was inside my throat squeezing my vocal cords or something. I don’t really know how do describe the pain. I just know I can only sing a couple lines to a song before my voice starts to hurt. Now I am afraid to sing. I am afraid that maybe I might be doing something wrong and ruin it even more. Why does my voice hurt when I sing? Also, why is it such work to make myself sing? When I here other singers sing it sounds like the sound comes through their mouth so easily. I want to be able to sing easily. You know? Not have to feel like I working my throat.
A. You are creating that feeling in your throat when you sing. I know it seems weird to think you would be doing it to yourself, but you are. Think of it like you are trying to draw something and squeezing the pencil in order to not mess up. In a short amount of time, you’re hand would hurt. Obviously, artist who draw all day don’t squeeze the pencil. Their hand stays loose and they have great control because of that.
To learn to release you throat — start by talking the words along with your favorite CD. Get used to keep things very casual. Slowly, add a little more of the melody as you talk the words. Don’t worry about pitch or sounding good. Trying to be perfect is what’s causing you to tense too many muscles. Let it be bad — but loose. The better sounds will come once you can make any sound loose. Notice that your throat doesn’t hurt from talking a few lines — that’s what singing should feel like.
Q. I have been singing opera now for about two years. I have a question for you, I have a pain on the far right side of my neck. For example, if you took your left hand and put it around your throat, where your middle finger lands, all up and down that side hurts when I sing. It feels like an inflammation of some sort. If it is on the far right side of my neck, would this have anything to do with my vocal chords. I would greatly appreciate a response.
A. A dull, lingering pain would be a gland. A sharp pain to the touch or with activity would be a muscle. The area you are describing would be the edge of the sternocleidomastoid muscle or the platysma and it is typical to involve them when singing. Our muscles are often imbalanced in strength from left to right, and it seems this is the case with you.
If you suspect it to be muscular in origin, I suggest neck stretches from side to side combined with a re-assessment of your singing technique. Involving the external muscles to this degree is a pre-cursor to vocal problems. Watch your routine in the mirror. Release all faces associated with pitch change and volume. And, of course, there should be no visible activity in the neck area when singing.
Q. My voice is not scratchy when I sing very quietly or after I’ve been singing for a long time. But when I make the sound “ah” it becomes rough-sounding. (As opposed to singing “ooh”) It always feels like I need to clear it even though I know that is bad. Is this a common problem?
A. The good news is that you don’t have any vocal damage — just poor technique. It’s very common and the number one reason you should warm-up your voice. Vocalizing (doing exercises especially for your problem) will teach your body new behaviors which will remove that scratchiness. You would always be able to create the sound if you wanted it — but a new clear option would also be available. My video, “The Singer’s Toolbox” shows you what to do for warming up. Best of luck.
Q. I went out and purchased your video today and will start to work with it soon. A concern I have is with the style of blues/rock singing that I do. Can (well, actually HOW) can the technical singing style work for this “untechnical” way of singing? I can’t imagine guys like B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, or Joe Cocker ever took any voice lessons or did any kind of vocalizing other than singing in their bluesy ways. I’m certain a guy like Joe Cocker is singing technically wrong, but he somehow makes it work. Unfortunately, I am not one of the lucky ones. See, I understand how singing scales and vocalizing would make someone a better singer if they were singing “Somewhere over the Rainbow” in a stage show…or even a rock song like Journey’s “Open Arms”. What I don’t understand is how to apply it to the kind of singing Jonny Lang and myself do. I was wondering what type of specific things you do with Jonny to ease the pains and problems he has from his singing style? I was wondering if he also has had the strained neck muscle disorder that I suffer from or what sort of problems he’s suffered from? I see our styles as very similar. I guess I’m just not able to grasp the ideology of how vocalizing and practicing scales can transfer into the area of rock/blues singing. I don’t DOUBT that it can… I just can’t UNDERSTAND it at this moment. I’d really like to know if you do anything different with Jonny Lang than you do with other clients or is it all the same technique for everyone? I am really amazed at the fact that Jonny Lang can tour and play night after night. I saw him with Aerosmith at the Hollywood Bowl and, frankly, Steven Tyler was SO amazing that I felt like throwing away my microphone and taking up needlepoint. How long have you been working with him? He is absolutely great!!! Well, thanks again. As always, I’m looking forward to a lesson, but, in the meantime, I’m going to look at your video. I have purchased your book as well.
A. Surely you can understand that doing push-ups helps your swing with a baseball bat. Why do football players stretch their legs before a game (even the ones who don’t run)? Why do all professional athletes have body trainers along with their coaches? Why don’t they just play their sport a lot to get better?
Your mind is spinning in circles and your throat is become tighter as a result. No one ever said that it doesn’t hurt to sing rock or blues. It can — sometimes. If you do anything with a passion, athletics, music, dance, singing, there will be a physical toll. However, staying on top of how much your particular passion costs you physically is smart. Otherwise, you may loose your ability to do what you love the most. Keeping you body in the best shape, which means strength AND flexibility, allows you to extend yourself in moments of passion. If it’s truly a passionate moment, you won’t feel the cost until afterward. If you’re worried about hitting a pitch, projecting enough, sounding bluesy and hurting yourself at the same time, your muscles are not free. It’s like driving a car with the brakes on and the gas pedal to the floor — lots of unnecessary wear and tear.
Vocalizing on scales is better then singing songs when you’re working on form. We have such a strong emotional investment in the way we sing it’s hard to let go, even when our behavior is bringing us down. The scales melody is insignificant — it’s the attention to form. In your case you are missing flexibility. Read, “Singing with Passion” in my free lesson section on my site. Watch and do the routines on the video. It’s all about proportion — not being careful.
I was working backstage at that Hollywood Bowl show. I agree, Tyler was “on” that night. He had a horrible cold, blowing his nose behind the amps during solos but still managed to rise to the occasion. He warmed up for an hour solid before hand. Nothing fancy, the same stuff that’s on my video. Jonny was suffering from a lack of sleep, which is the hardest thing to overcome, but still sang well. Both he and Tyler were nursing soreness the next day, but jumped right back on the program and sang another show.
You’ve got work to do. Get flexible.
Q. Let me start by singing how I enjoy your column. I do try faithfully to read every Getsigned article that pertains to me, but mostly it is with a grain of salt, praying for some gleam of unprecedented wisdom I never find. Yours, even if my mama already told me, at the very least reminds me of the things I know should be doing. We all need a kick in the ass, or at least a reminder. I am (was?) an excellent singer. I have a serious problem. I don’t expect you to provide a miracle cure, but maybe, just maybe, you’ve seen this before. I can sing very well over a cold, that’s no problem. Except when it comes to the fact that I should have been back in the studio four months ago. I don’t have a cold. What I have is a wierd congestion in my head. Funny, it’s not in my nose, no where near my lungs, and above my chords. It’s an excessive mucous in my head that doesn’t come out my nose, and hardly falls into my throat. What the hell is that? It makes no sense. The problem is that it really is fucking with my tuning, not to mention range. I feel perpetually bug-eyed, the top of my throat feels gummy, yet when I clear it I get little or nothing. I have little control. I can’t hear myself when I sing. It’s like there’s two steel plates cutting off my ears from my head – I hear externally perfectly well, but all resonance inside is non-existent. I’ve been to the family doctor. The nose/ear/throat specialist. The naturopath. My chords are fine. My ears are fine, ‘better than average.’ I eat right. I drink tons of water. And truly, if I’m not getting enough exercise, truly it is because I am not singing like I used to. I guess I’m depressed. Damn right I am. I am used to pushing my vox to the limit, singing six hours a day, bouncing around like a maniac on my feet, playing guitar. Six hours was never a problem and certainly isn’t now, because now I get pissed at every note and hardly sing at all, waiting for a healthier day. It isn’t stress and it never was. And it ain’t Jack Daniels, though it may soon be. I feel my career is over. Yet there’s a record to cut. Been one waiting for me for four months. Four months!!! I don’t expect you to have an answer. But if you will, answer me this. I don’t get colds. I do however get a sinus infection once a year, without fail. It lasts two weeks. NBD. The doc says it’s just me working my chords too much. Is that normal for singers?
A. You asked for honesty, so now you’ll get some. Let me start by saying thanks for the kind words and I want to let you know I have lots more info on my web site, www.voicelesson.com. To answer your question yes, I’ve not only seen your situation hundreds of times but been there myself. I was addicted to Coricedian for a while swearing I needed the antihistamine to sing. Since you’ve already gotten the green light from your doctors, you obviously have some mental blocks showing up. Unless, you have a polyp in your nasal septum which would trigger that strange mucous (check it out).
Anyway, here are some tough questions you need to ask yourself. Did this strange mucous show up right when you were scheduled to sing in the studio? If so, isn’t that suspicious timing? Why is this recording so important to your career? Not to be cold, but do you have a singing career, or are you working 9 to 5? Are you very overdue at turning this record into your label? What pressure have you placed on this recording and therefore on your voice? What has changed in your singing routine, why aren’t you singing six hours a day anymore? Does everything have to be perfect or else you won’t open your mouth to sing? Have you ever had to tour and sang for your supper? Why don’t you record now even though the vocals won’t be the best you can do — just to keep things moving?
On the physical side Are you warming up? If you are pushing your cords too hard (that’s very normal) a good warm up will turn the situation around. Can you sing your material at a very low volume? Does the range open up when you let yourself go into falsetto?
As you can see, there are a million questions to ask and only you can answer them. I sang through my slump and have never slipped back (The process is what inspired me to teach). It could be as simple as you feel you’re getting old or maybe there’s some pressure from outside sources — placing a burden on this recording project. I feel there’s a lot more here your not divulging. Ultimately, it’s none of my business and 100% up to you. I know you can beat this thing and continue — it will take a little self inspection, though.
Feel free to yell at me or ask anything you want.
Q. Dear Mark Baxter, I am writing in regards to any suggestions you may have about a wrecked voice. Not so much from a singers point of view, but from that of one who does a lot of public speaking. Are there any suggestions you may have on how to help a raspy voice? Any helpful tips would be great!
A. The voice blows when the membranes within the larynx swell. Like any swollen area in your body, let’s say a sore shoulder, gentle, stretching activity is more therapeutic than rest. Light activity helps restore flexibility. Light activity for the voice is low volume (not whispering, which irritates) high notes. Pretend like you’re talking to a kitty. Sweeping the voice up and down in an animated fashion at the lowest volume possible is a good warm-upwarm-down. Also, making a motor boat sound while sweeping the pitch of your voice helps reduce the pressure on the vocal cords. Coffee and cigarettes are no-no’s, drink two liters of water a day and try to get as much sleep as possible. Your voice directly reflects your health. If you speak a great deal, you’ve got to take good care of yourself. Check out my free lessons about warming up, sleep and eating. They may be of some help to you. Good luck.
Q. Hi, I’m emailing from Ontario, Canada. I am a musician that dabbles with singing once and awhile. A few days ago I decided to try to sing more in a rock vain, I grunged out a bit and wasn’t using 100% proper technique, and I think I pushed it too hard, I became very hoarse. Now it’s 4 days later and I am still just as hoarse and I can’t hit any falsetto notes. I’m afraid I may have really damaged my voice. I was hoping you could immediately help me out as to what to do, how to go about finding the right medical help, there seems to be very limited information on the net regarding this subject.
A. Don’t panic. You folds are swollen, which is a natural reaction for any muscle group which has been shock out of its normal behavior. Think if you played softball and your arm was sore the next day. If you over did it, it would be sore for a week, without its normal mobility. Falsetto requires your folds become very thin. They cannot at this time because they are swollen. Try the exercises outlined in my warm up lesson on my web site. Remember to do everything extremely soft. Drink at least two liters of water per day. Get lots of sleep. Don’t sing for a few days (not vital, these are all suggestions) but mainly don’t panic. If you keep pushing high notes, checking falsetto too soon, then you’ll keep irritating the tissues within your larynx. Relax and give it time.
Q. My jaw and toungue were soar…. so i looked in the mirror at my tonsoles, and they were gigantic. Like i would say the size of two big grapes cluped together. and theres a giant red vein across one of them… when i swallow i feel them…. I went to the doctor…. and they said for me not to worry about it.. but they gave me the name of a throat specialist. But ive been worrying that this could be from screaming wrong.. I know that the vocal chords are way lower…. but .. Ive never seen tonsoles like these before…and i dunno what could be causing them to be that size…. My other question is.. if its just tonsolitous.. or something… should i get them removed.. will it effect my singing.. if so how?
A. A sore tongue and jaw can be from screaming too hard. Were you gigging or rehearsing a lot lately? Enlarged, infected tonsils can also cause your tongue and jaw to become stiff. Screaming irritates the inner walls of the throat which can cause swelling and enlarge the blood vessels, including around the tonsils. The tonsils are rarely removed once your over 21, so if they should be, it’s more important than singing. Any alteration within the throat will affect singing — but only slightly. It’s more the healing time that would hold you up. But, since you haven’t developed your voice yet, I don’t think you should worry about your voice should you need surgery. If you can afford it, it’s always good to get a second opinion — see the specialist they recommended.
Q. For over 2 weeks I’ve had laryngitis for the first time in my life. Only today has my voice seemed somewhat normal… I can’t sing at all yet…only bass notes….no medium or higher range. I decided to look in my copy of the Singer’s Manual for what it says about it….(I should have done this earlier) and it says that I should refrain from talking and singing as it could ‘permanently’ damage my voice. Well ‘not’ singing was followed..(I couldn’t even imagine it)… however… I’m afraid I tried to speak too much …there were even times when I tried to yell at my 19 year old son during some inane argument. How do you know if you’ve caused permanent damage… to tell the truth I’m afraid I might have caused this ‘permanent’ damage to myself. Some of those arguments were pretty heated…and even though I couldn’t speak… I’m a hard guy to have ‘nothing to say’ … I don’t know if I’m seeking advice or assurance or what… do you have any other information about this…singing is the only pure joy I have in this life
A. You did not permanently damage your voice. Your vocal folds are swollen and therefore thick and rigid. While this condition helps the timbre of low notes it denies higher ones. Don’t push the range issue — it will come back. The fact that any notes come out clear indicates your condition to be OK. The same two membranes sing every pitch, so they can’t be damaged on some notes and not on others. Use the warm up routines on the video, hydrate and don’t panic. You’ll be 100% in a little while.
Q. Could you tell me what is the internal consequences when we drink cold drinks, whiskey, etc. I mean, how could them affect the vocal cords if the drink doesn’t touch them directly.
A. Anything we put in our mouths causes a reaction in the body. You are correct that nothing touches the folds when we swallow. However, cold fluids make the throat muscles tight. Milk and other thick drinks coat the throat and slide down slowly causing a need to clear often. Whiskey (all alcohol) drys the throat because alcohol evaporates faster than saliva. Therefore, the best drink when singing is room temperature water.
Q. Mr. Baxter, As an aspiring vocalist in a heavy metal band based in the Boston area which has recently played its first few gigs I feel personally that I could benefit from quality vocal instruction. However the wide consensus from some of my peers is that vocal training would hinder if not ruin the natural “growl” of my singing voice. I tend to think this kind of logic, is, well, illogical. However there are more than a few musicians who are telling me the same thing. As someone who has taught some of the signature vocalists in rock I guess what I’m asking is your opinion. If I had to compare my own range or style to active vocalists I’d have to say my natural voice lends itself in comparison to James Hetfield and Eddie Vedder (growl/clean). I’d really appreciate your opinion.
A. I heard the same comments before I started taking lessons many years ago. It seemed illogical to me, too. Does learning another language mean you’ll lose your ability to speak English? Of course not — you’ll always be able to sing anyway you want. The important thing for you to remember, however, is that growl is not a natural sound, it’s forced. It’s the sound of friction and friction causes heat and eventually swelling. Swollen folds do not perform like healthy ones. If you’re fortunate enough to perform every night (touring) your voice will not allow you drive it the same way you do now. Learning how to read the body’s early warning signs in order to avoid losing the voice is vital if you’re going to make a living singing. The biggest drag is waiting till your shot and then calling someone like me. Listen to Steven Tyler, Dez Fafara of Coal Chamber or Jonny Lang. They all still sing really hard, but they now know how to ride an internal threshold so they wont blow out.
Suggestion: Run a mock tour. Break down and reset your equipment every night for two weeks. Play a full-blown set each night — invite friends or video the set so the pressure is on. See how your voice feels on morning fifteen. Ask yourself if you could do another fifteen. It’s hard to make a dime on the road if you can’t play every night. Best of luck with the band.
Q. I’m a 24 year old female singer for a rock band. Recently, I found out I had nodules and thankfully through speech therapy and a lot of “shutting up” they are gone. I continue to go to therapy and vocal lessons to learn how to breath and sing properly. I sing with a gravely and raspy voice at times and fear my vocal coach will try to talk me out of my own personal style. My band has 3 c.ds out and I’m not about to change my style of singing. Please tell me, how does Steven Tyler do it night after night with that wonderful raspy voice of his, or any musician for that matter? I feel like I have so much to learn, therefore want to know the secrets of famous rock singers. Do they gargle or eat anything special? What keeps them going? Is there a book out on the market that would be helpful for me? Thanks so much for your time.
A. What keeps them going is their personality. They push and damage themselves every time they sing. People assume it must not be painful for singers like Tyler because he does it every night. Truth is . . . it is. Like an athlete playing through injuries, singers like Tyler occasionally suffer for their styles (Migraine headaches, black-outs on stage, nodes).
To sing hard every day, you’ve got to surround the bad behavior with good. Every moment you’re not singing you should be attending your voice. Vocalize lightly on EE vowels from falsetto to chest. Hummm, ZZZZZZ and Brrrrrr all day long. Gargling with warm salt water will help bring up excess mucus which will form around swollen folds. Try not to clear your voice all the time. In other words, do all the things your speech therapist showed you religiously. If you folds are healthy and flexible, they will be able to withstand some pressure. If they are still rigid from the night before there will be an accumulated tension effect and singing will become very difficult.
The other aspect to explore is the degree you are pushing your voice. I’m very aware that you don’t want to sing “proper,” but you should question how much air pressure your calling up to create your sound. Look to minimize the push to the smallest degree which still allows your sound. Always look for the fewest muscles to engage and still satisfy the vocal part. I also would recommend my video, “The Singer’s Toolbox,” and my book, “The Rock-N-Roll Singer’s Survival Manual,” if you don’t already have them. You should explore the voice as deep as possible so you don’t fear damage. Respect it from an educated view and you’ll be able to keep your sound without trashing yourself.
Q. Hi mark. I’m writing you from Portland Maine. (it’s frikkin freezin here) i am a rock vocalist, now doing mixture of hardcore screaming and soft melodic singing. (deftones dynamics come to mind) my voice is actually SOMETIMES sore for weeks at a time. (sang last Sunday, still sore Thursday). i have a below average (student/starving musician) diet, but i exercise and do not smoke or drink alcohol. I’ve been singing full time (about 6-8 hours a week) for about 4 years now. I’m losing range, control and I’m in pain. i visited the HMO for it, and they basically couldn’t see any cancers or anything like that. i can however see a small node on the left side of my vocal cords. shit. i would be psyched to get help, and to possibly take lessons in person. thanks in advance for your time, i really am starting to freak out, and i have no idea what to do… i am sure that i am doing lots of things WRONG.
A. Your condition is due to an accumulation of tension. A little pushing years ago triggered some tension which inspired a little more push which locked in more muscle which made you push harder . . . on and on. Now the folds have protected the area most irritated by adding layers of skin (a node is a callus — just like you get on your finger from playing guitar) The node now requires tremendous force to make the folds vibrate. The throat is severely overworked and therefore stays tight all the time, cutting off circulation — which is why it’s sore.
The therapy is to release these muscles that surround the larynx and back off the air pressure. This is simple in theory but takes diligence in reality. You’ll need to vocalize all the time. I know it feels like you should probably rest, but, at this point, your muscles don’t know how to relax. They need to be shown. I’m talking about vocalizing on simple vowels at an extremely low volume. It’s okay if your voice cuts out or sounds terrible when doing this. It’s important to remember that sound is not the focus — releasing the muscle is. As long as you’re not pushing from your abdominals, you’ll be heading in a better direction.
Q. Hi Mark, Obviously I’ve been going through a lot since I’ve had my nodes,emotionally and physically. I just finished band practice 10 minutes ago and am bothered by the fact that my throat started hurting after a couple of songs, just like it used to when I had the nodes. Is it normal for my throat to hurt at this stage? I’ve been doing everything I’ve been told to do as far as warming up, speaking correctly and drinking lots of water. In addition, I have huge tonsils could this have anything to do with soreness when I sing? But, it’s not a “sick” sore throat, it’s a sore throat from singing. Also, I look forward to buying your book and video.
A. It takes a while to turn around old behaviors. Even though your mind is very focused on doing things right, your body will continue to forge down the old path until enough repetitions turn it around. Your tonsils may be a factor — not in their condition but that their size may be making you push. Your throat should not hurt after a couple of songs. It indicates an imbalance of pressure (more than the larynx can handle) and the tension that was required to counter-balance. Take it as slow as you can. If your voice hurts early into a practice, sit out a few songs or sing them very softly. Don’t push through. Let things come down — both physically and mentally. You are going through the same trails an athlete must face when coming back to the sport after an injury. It’s tempting to check your strength, but doing so too early could delay real healing. Think long term. You are going to be fine. Keep the faith.
Q. I have a question. I grew up singing along to Minnie Riperton’s music. I’ve done this for little over 20 years. When I have had solos and hit high notes, a few people have commented that if I keep doing it, I will permanently lose my voice. At first these comments hurt me, then they made me angry. It doesn’t hurt when I hit those notes; it’s become quite easy, through the years, for me actually, I don’t do it ALL the time; and I always warm up some kind of way before I sing. My question is are they just ignorant or do I have to take special care and save it for rare occasions? I know artists like Mariah Carey and Rachelle Ferelle hit those notes often. But not from a “popular” music standpoint, but the standpoint of one with technical knowledge, should I be doing this at all?
A. Those who say you will lose your voice by singing high are more than ignorant, they’re jealous. Singing high notes requires your folds to be elastic — and that’s good. The fact that you are up in the ozone simply means that your folds are either very small, very flexible or able to access whistle register. As long as it doesn’t require extra effort to “hit” a pitch, you are doing your voice a favor by stretching your vocal folds. Contrary to their warnings, what limits the voice is NOT exploring range on a regular basis. Just think of the body. It’s important to challenge the mobility of our joints. Stretching is rarely appreciated, so most elderly lose mobility in their arms and legs and become rigid — and injury prone. Only those who stretch on a regular basis maintain a flexible body and therefore are less susceptible to injury. Same goes for singers.
In the days when high notes were the fad in POP music, I saw much less damage coming into my studio. These days with the ruff, low “alternative” style, people are constantly losing their voices. The good thing about exploring range is the built in alarm system. If a note cuts off, you must be imbalance in your technique (pushing or tensing). Lower pitches will continue to ring even though imbalance exists, so the singer is unaware of fatigue until it’s too late. Never push, always warm up and enjoy singing with the birds.
Q. I’m gigging as a singer in a cover band, and am looking at investing in some in-ear monitors. It seems like they would be a great way to shield my ears from some of the stage volume and give me a consistent vocal mix. Do you recommend them? If you do, would you be able to tell me what company makes a reasonably priced set with the transmitter and receiver.
A. A lot of the singers I work with have a Shure model, I’m not sure of the number but I hear it’s reasonably priced. They all swear by them. However, keep this in mind. The stage volume will only be reduced a little and you may be tempted to turn the ear monitors up to create a mix. Direct sound pressure (i.e., headphones) is more damaging to the ear than indirect. If you don’t play guitar, my recommendation is to wear foam ear plugs (the cheap ones) and learn to sing without monitors. This way you protect your hearing as much as possible and always have the same reference sound (albeit a crummy one).
I’ve been doing this for years and find it very liberating to tell the monitor guy to turn them off and take a break during my set. Singing in pitch does not require you to hear yourself — only the music you are singing to. It is the internal environment which will dictate whether a pitch is sharp or flat — and this occurs before we sing the note. Monitors can only tell you what has already happened. Becoming sensitive to an internal balance will let you control what’s about to come out of your mouth — and that’s far more valuable.
We rock singers have become too dependant on monitors. They weren’t invented yet when the Beatles played Hollywood Bowl. Listen to that record someday; their harmonies were perfect and the girls screaming prevented anyone from hearing anything. Operatic singers also fly by the seat of their voice. Once they start an aria, their voice blocks the orchestra. Essentially, they are singing a cappella. This is why the conductor follows them — not the other way around.
So that’s my two cents. I’d be happy to find the model number everyone is using. But I know for a fact that the plugs I use are 79 cents!
Q. I want to be a poprock singer and i am also playing guitar while singing. How can i learn to keep my voice clean and healthy.If i sing without knowledge in clubs..etc…my voice will be deprived? When i sing some hours my throat is aching.I also try to sing like bryan adams old-rock voice sometimes and this kills my voice…How Can I find my own voice and be more competent about it? Thanks (I am female but my voice is more like a guy’s voice)
A. It’s not whether you CAN maintain a healthy voice and sing in the clubs, it’s that you MUST. The voice is a primary instrument. No voice, no gig. You should learn all you can about the voice, just as you would explore guitar or any other instrument. My book, “The Rock-N-Roll Singer’s Survival Manual,” and video, “The Singer’s Toolbox,” would be a good place for you to start.
Your goal is to find a balance between strength and flexibility. Too much force will irritate your voice, as you already know, and not enough will sound wimpy. The balance will allow you to sing with emotion and not lose your instrument in the process. This takes time — lots of gigs and lots of exploring, but you’ll get it.
To find your own voice you need only to stop imitating others. We are all unique but tend to copy successful people. What we usually fail to understand is that the person we are copying is interesting to us because he/she is being themselves. You ask about Bono in your other e-mail and he is a perfect example. He has always sung from his heart — not his insecurity. When you’re a beginner, not sounding like someone else can be a problem. You’ll want to compare yourself with other popular voices to know if you’re any good. Bono never imitated anyone. His personality gave him permission to be himself, while all his peers were busy trying to sound like someone else. The end result is history. We love Bono because he is so passionate. There are plenty of problems with his singing but we overlook them because he is so into it. After all, it’s only rock-n-roll!
Keep at it. Write your own songs. Take care of your voice. May you have a long and successful career.
Q. I go hoarse all the time! I sing all the time as well! help me! I don’t know how to use my diaphram! I use my throat! I have allergies so that contributes to my hoarseness! is there any thing I can do!
A. My video, “The Singer’s Toolbox” ($14.95) would help you a lot. It is available in stores and through my web site.
Q. I’m going back to my ENT for a checkup on my node situation and I wanted to ask you if there is anything that I should be asking the doctor or get from him. Last time I was there I was at the point of passing out so I didn’t get to really question him about anything. So this time I’d like to bring a list with me so I don’t forget anything (or I can hand to him before I hit the ground!) I would really appreciate your thoughts.
A. Ask where the nodes are, if they’re still there. Have him draw a picture and show you exactly where on the edge they are located. Ask about their size — if they are mature. Ask if the folds are closing normally. He should report on the overall condition of your throat, whether it’s swollen or shows any signs of reflux.
That’s about it. Just remember whatever he observes was caused by behaviors. As long as you are working on reversing irritating behaviors, you’re on a good path. The reason the exercises are hard is exactly why you should be doing them. You’ve used your throat to regulate your air and the nodes where the payment for doing so. Reversing that tendency goes against everything you’re body has been doing for years. What has become normal to the body is not natural. I would choose exercising over root canals any day.
Q. I am a female vocalist for a full-time road band. I have been diagnosed (years ago) with vocal nodules, allergies, asthma, and gastroesoghageal reflux disease. I have had to start using steroids in small tapering doses to be able to sing. I have slowly lost almost all of my range and have no real hope for much vocal rest. We play 5-7 days per week, 50 weeks per year. Do you have any suggestions, or know of any sources on tape or otherwise, that would help me survive as a vocalist for a couple more years? Anything you could give me would be appreciated greatly.
A. Do you have my video? That would be the best place to start. “The Singer’s Toolbox” has lots of tips for warming up and maintaining the voice and “The Rock-N-Roll Singer’s Survival Manual” provides a complete overview. Both book and video are available through my web site or by calling 1 (800) 637-2852.
You should be vocalizing — carefully but constantly to reduce the swelling around your larynx. Investigate all options before relying on the steroids. Your schedule is heavy but not impossible. Half the battle is removing the belief that you must lose your voice if you sing so often. I did that routine for 13 years straight and came out of it a much better singer.
Q. I’m just starting out to learn how to sing, I’ve got good technique when I sing vowels in a scale or on their own, etc. I’ve been told I can belt out notes using my diaphragm exceptionally well for a beginner. Yet, I can’t sing a song very well. That’s what you get for taking a months worth of lessons from an opera singer, and I don’t really want to learn opera songs when I could be spending the time singing more in a rock format. I don’t really have too many favourite singers, but I like some of James Hetfield’s stuff (Metaillica) as well as Mike Patton (Faith No More), Chris Cornell (Soundgarden), Bruce Dickenson (Iron Maiden), there’s probably other singers I like more but I can’t think of them right now. Basically I’m trying to use an affected voice to sound aggressive, but I need to know how to do it safely. I guess I’m trying to use less throat and grunge out other ways (eg. I know that jutting your lower jaw forward makes some vowels more aggressive, and hunching over a bit gives your voice a lower timbre). So, I’m wondering on where I can learn a good rock/pop technique. Thanks.
A. Rock singing is a personal statement. The singers you mentioned are simply being themselves. When a singer is aggressive with their voice it is because of how they feel, not how they want to sound. When they take voice lessons, it is to maintain the strength and flexibility of their instrument — not to learn someone else’s ideas of what sounds cool. Opera is different because the singer is a vehicle for the composer. It is frowned upon when a singer makes a personal style statement. To develop your chops for rock singing you need to learn the mechanics of your instrument. My book, “The Rock N Roll Singer’s Survival Manual,” and video, “The Singer’s Toolbox,” can help you greatly. You also should record and sing songs that move you. It takes time to shed the imitations we use when beginning to sing.
Q. I bought your book “Rock-n-Roll singers survival manual” and I will recommend it to every singer I know. But there are two questions I have that I don’t think I came across. My first question is, How damaging is having a tongue piercing? My second question is regarding oral sex, can physical manipulations stir things up? I’m kinda embarassed to ask you but I’m not joking and I do have my tongue pierced, and sometimes do the other thing ya know. sincerely indebted to the devotional qualities you possess and want to take your advice because you did tons of study and research. Thanks,
A. I didn’t deal with tongue piercing because it wasn’t the rage when the book was written. It shouldn’t be a problem so long as it doesn’t make you hold your tongue in an awkward position. I’m sure as time goes by you will forget about it and move the tongue naturally. Speaking of moving the tongue, oral sex depends on your technique. Anything which causes the tongue to tire would be bad for singing because of the stiffness which would follow the activity. Relaxing the jaw and throat are good for singing so it seems to be a toss of a coin. Nothing you swallow touches the folds so that’s not an issue. Sex in general is usually bad for singing because of the grunting and groaning (what good is sex without that?) But honestly, the worst thing for the voice is talking and laughing, only because of poor speech habits.
Q. I am a budding singer and I have always wanted to sing. Now I am embarking on a career and I find that my voice does not want to cooperate. I have been diagnosed with GERD and I have been going to a vocal trainer since June with no noticeable improvements in my voice. I have been told that I am a soprano. The specific problem is that when singing in chest voice I don’t have too much of a problem. When I sing in head voice I am starting to lose notes; meaning that the note will be coming out nice and clear, and all of a sudden, nothing for a few seconds then it comes back. It’s as if someone shut the volume off on the CD player the flipped it back on.. I have what feels like a constant plug of mucus in my throat (it never goes away). I regulate my water intake carefully. I drink 66 ounces a day. I eat fruits and vegetables and limit the consumption of junk foods. What can I do to eliminate this problem?
A. The GERD has caused minor swelling of the vocal folds. Because of their thickness, higher pitches will be elusive. Singing in upper ranges requires the folds thin and the air flow be proportionate, which in your case it is not. A complete warm up routine should address this problem (my video will help in that department). The temptation is to push a little more when notes stick but the solution is to back off the air pressure. Continuous pushing on the high notes teaches the throat to brace whenever we approach the range. Be watchful of your abdominal muscles (no pushing) and allow the notes to blank out when first warming up. It will take about an hour each day of light, flexible vocalizing to reduce the effects of GERD.