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Vocal strain prevention

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Animaterra 21 Aug 98 - 08:20 PM
Animaterra 21 Aug 98 - 08:21 PM
Kiwi 21 Aug 98 - 10:00 PM
Alice 21 Aug 98 - 11:49 PM
Alice 22 Aug 98 - 05:11 PM
Alice 22 Aug 98 - 05:46 PM
JB3 24 Aug 98 - 04:13 AM
Alice 24 Aug 98 - 10:54 AM
Alice 02 Oct 00 - 10:59 AM
GUEST,Russ 02 Oct 00 - 11:29 AM
Biskit 02 Oct 00 - 01:50 PM
GUEST,leeneia 02 Oct 00 - 11:08 PM
JedMarum 03 Oct 00 - 09:19 AM
sophocleese 03 Oct 00 - 09:24 AM
GUEST,Michael in Swansea 03 Oct 00 - 09:51 AM
Alice 03 Oct 00 - 02:58 PM
GUEST,leeneia 03 Oct 00 - 06:58 PM
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Subject: Vocal strain prevention
From: Animaterra
Date: 21 Aug 98 - 08:20 PM

As suggested in another thread, here are some ideas. I'd love to hear what helps others. As a singer and full-time music teacher, this has been a problem for most of my career. The best help I ever got was not from a singing teacher, but from a speech therapist. Here are some tips that keep me vocal:

-Learn to breath from your diaphragm (lower abdomen)- I tell the kiddos to breath from your bellybutton! Never start a song without a good deep breath and keep breathing!! - Imagine the sound coming out of the top of your head. Your throat is important, but you have no control over what happens there. Relax! - Breathe - Keep your spine straight, your shoulders relaxed. -Keep breathing - Smile, or if the song isn't happy, lift the cheekbones a little; it helps project the voice into the resonating chambers, or "loft". Good singers have resonance where their brains ought to be! -Don't forget to breathe!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Subject: RE: Vocal strain prevention
From: Animaterra
Date: 21 Aug 98 - 08:21 PM

Oh, and if your voice gets tired- rest it. If you can't rest it:


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Subject: RE: Vocal strain prevention
From: Kiwi
Date: 21 Aug 98 - 10:00 PM

I was told to put your resonance in the sinus mask so that you're not singing from the throat. And for singing high notes, sing 'em from above instead of reaching for them, which will minimize throat strain. Switch to "head tones" when you have to.

Slán, Kiwi

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Subject: RE: Vocal strain prevention
From: Alice
Date: 21 Aug 98 - 11:49 PM

I have provided links on this subject in another thread discussion of singing.... let's see if I can remember them!! Well, they are at the bottom of my voice teacher's homepage, so it's easier to give her URL:

Suzanne Gorder

The link on the page above to the Center for Voice Disorders includes tips, such as warming up. As far as breathing, I had heard in school all my life about 'breathing from the diaphragm', but no one ever really explained to me how to do that until I started taking private lessons. The important technique about breathing is to develop the muscles at the floor of your abdomen, so that you can hold those down as long as possible while you slowly control the release of that air through your vocal chords. Warming up correctly is an important part of preventing vocal strain. There are alot of important techniques, and they are covered for the most part by the links at the bottom of Suzanne Gorder's page. Another important thing to remember is to not push your voice in ranges that are unnatural for your vocal chords.

Alice in Montana

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Subject: RE: Vocal strain prevention
From: Alice
Date: 22 Aug 98 - 05:11 PM


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Subject: RE: Vocal strain prevention
From: Alice
Date: 22 Aug 98 - 05:46 PM

The following is one of the MANY pages of information at links I have referred to in earlier messages on the voice:

"Center For Voice Disorders of Wake Forest University


In dealing with the physical production of the singing voice, one encounters many problems, all of which are interrelated, and often addressed simultaneously. The ten problems listed below are prevalent in different types of singers, regardless of training and experience.

The efficient alignment of the body is of primary importance to voice production. Problems in posture range from "collapse" of the chest and rib cage, with corresponding downward "fall" of the head and neck, to the hyper-extended, "stiff" posture of some singers, that results in tension throughout the entire body. Effective posture evolves from the kinesthetic awareness, that may be developed through the study of a physical discipline such as Hatha yoga or Alexander Technique.

Some beginning voice students seem to "gasp" for air, and exhibit clavicular or shallow breathing patterns. Trained singers, on the other hand, use primarily diaphragmatic breath support. The muscles of the lower back and abdomen are consciously engaged, in conjunction with lowering of the diaphragm. As the breath stream is utilized for phonation, there should be little tension in the larynx itself. Sometimes, in an attempt to increase loudness (projection), a well-trained singer may over- support or "push" the airstream. This extra effort may affect vocal quality by producing undesirable harmonics.

"Attack" or "onset" (a preferable term for singers) occurs with the initiation of phonation. Some singers (possibly related to poor speech habits) use a glottal attack, which is too hard (produced by to much tension in closure, hyper adduction. Vocal cord nodules may develop with habitual use of a hard glottal attack. The opposite problem is the "aspirate" attack, in which excessive air is released prior to phonation. While this type of attack rarely damages the vocal cords, it causes a breathy tone quality. (This technique may, however, be utilized to help correct a hard glottal attack).

Many terms are commonly used to describe a singer's tone, and among those familiar to singers are: clear, rich, resonant, bright, . . . dark, rough, thin, breathy, and nasal. Although, "good tone" is highly subjective, according to the type of singing and personal preference of the listener, in general, a tone that is "clear" (without extra "noise") and "resonant" (abundant in harmonic partials) is acknowledged as "healthy" and naturally will have sufficient intensity for projection without electric amplification. Opera singers strive to develop a "ring" (acoustic resonance at 2,500-3,000 Hz), that enables the voice to project over a full orchestra, even in a large hall. However, for other styles of singing, the use of amplification may allow a singer the choice of employing a less acoustically efficient vocal tone for reasons of artistic expression. A breathy tone, for example, may be perceived by the listener as "intimate" or "sexy", and even a "rough" sound, such as was used by Louis Armstrong (false vocal cord voice), may represent the unique persona of a performer.

All singing voices exhibit an optimal pitch range. Typically, untrained voices have narrower pitch range than trained singers, due to lack of "register" development. The term "register" is used to describe a series of tones that are produced by similar mechanical gestures of vocal fold vibration, glottal and pharyngeal shape, and related air pressure. Some common designations of registers are the "head" register, "chest" register, "falsetto", etc.

Singing requires transitions from one register to another; each of these transitions is called a "passaggio" ("passageway"). Lack of coordination of the laryngeal musculature with the breath support may result in a "register break", or obvious shift from one tone quality to another. Untrained male voices and female "belters" tend to "break" into falsetto/head voice in the upper range. Regardless of the style of singing, a "blend", or smooth transition between the registers is desirable.

Traditional voice training in the 18th-19th century "bel canto" ("beautiful singing") method places emphasis on vocal flexibility or agility -- for example, the singer's ability to execute rapid scales and arpeggios. Virtuosic technique demands excellent aural conceptual ability, coordination of an abundant airstream with energetic diaphragmatic support (sometimes perceived as "pulsations of the epigastrium"), and clear, resonant tone quality. The use of rapid melodic passages in vocal training helps to develop a relaxed, yet vital voice production, that contributes to the development of increased vocal endurance.

Pronunciation with excessive tension in the jaw, lips, palate, etc., adversely affects the tonal production of the voice. Problems of articulation also occur when singers carry certain speech habits into singing.

The longer duration of vowel sounds in singing necessitates modification of pronunciation; the increased "opening" of certain vowels in the high soprano voice, or elongation of the first vowel in a diphthong, are examples. Retroflex and velar consonants (such as the American "r" and "l") need careful modification to allow sufficient pharyngeal opening for best resonance, and the over anticipation of nasal consonants ("m", "n", "ng") may result in a "stiff" soft palate and unpleasant tone.

As any athlete knows, regular practice is essential for optimal development and performance. Unfortunately, the need for disciplined training is not always apparent to singers. Furthermore, "artistic temperament" may contribute to a lack of compliance with the advice of teachers on issues of vocal technical development. When a teacher's advice is contrary to a singer's own established ideas and work habits, the singer may tend to overwork, overperform, or simply "try too hard" in practice. The singer's practice and performance regimen must be sensible, productive, and acceptable to both teacher and student alike.

Many students ignore common sense and good vocal hygiene. The physical demands of singing necessitate optimal health, beginning with adequate rest, aerobic exercise, a moderate diet (and alcohol consumption), and absolute avoidance of smoking. College voice students often test the limits of their vocal health by overindulgence in "partying", alcohol or drugs, and by screaming at sports events. Many singers are careful with their voices but abuse their voice by employing poor speaking technique (see, for example, Bogart-Bacall Syndrome in this issue).

Professional singers who travel are frequently confronted with changes in their sleep and eating patterns. (Specifically, singers should avoid talking excessively on airplanes that are both noisy and dry). Performing in dry, dusty concert halls, or singing over the din in smoke-filled clubs increases the risk of vocal fatigue and infection. A minor cold or allergy can be devastating to a professional singer, who is obliged to perform with swollen (edematous) vocal cords. Good vocal hygiene, good travel habits, and vigilant protection of ones instrument (good judgment) is an important responsibility of every singer.

Although many singers appear to have "healthy egos" and may display the aggressive behavior that is known as "prima donna" temperament, such behavior is a cover-up for anxiety and/or insecurity. Since the slightest aberration - phlegm, for example - can result in momentary loss of voice (even in the greatest of performers!), singers often feel that they are always in a state of vulnerability. Despite unpredictability in vocal performance, the singer does gain confidence through repeated performance and increased self awareness.


Teresa Radomski, MM, is an accomplished operatic soloist and Assistant Professor of Voice and Theatrical Singing at Wake Forest University. In addition, Ms. Radomski is a consultant for the Center For Voice Disorders, and a contributing editor of this newsletter. Her column, "A Singer's Notes" will appear as a regular feature of THE VISIBLE VOICE. Ed.

© Copyright, Center For Voice Disorders of Wake Forest University Designed and Maintained by and Center For Voice Disorders Homepage    Medical Center Homepage Reflux and Voice Disorders    Singers and Singing    Vocal Nodules and Polyps Spasmodic Dysphonia    Diseases of the Larynx    Gallery of Laryngeal Pathology "
---------------- .......happy singing to all, Alice.

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Subject: RE: Vocal strain prevention
From: JB3
Date: 24 Aug 98 - 04:13 AM

Thanks, Alice! I haven't taken a voice lesson for a couple of years, but am still (and forever!) working on technique. I love to check out the Mudcat, but do little other web-surfing. Any more pages, like the above' that you think would be of interest to other Mudcatters, would be appreciated. I'll try to look up Debbie Beinhorns recipes for various concoctions to help the voice thru colds allergies and the like. Debbie is an excellent voice teacher at the Singer's Workshop in Houston and is best known for training Clint Black.

Thanks again!


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Subject: RE: Vocal strain prevention
From: Alice
Date: 24 Aug 98 - 10:54 AM

Hi, June, Did you check out the thread called "Vocal techniques"? I listed the other thread titles discussing this singing topic. There are URL's that you can click on to go to information in the thread called "Help!My singing voice is dying!" You can use the handy forum search that Max has provided to find old thread titles.

Here is part of my message, copied and pasted from the "Help!" thread:

For those who are not squeamish, you can see photos of vocal chord nodules, cysts, etc. at the University of Pittsburgh Voice Center website. They also discuss reflux and other causes of hoarseness. Photo page is

The U.of Pittsburgh Voice Center also has a page of Dos and Don'ts for Singers.

If you explore all the links I gave earlier, I think there are descriptions of warm-up techniques. If you have never sung in front of a full length mirror or watched yourself sing on video, then it would be helpful to look in a mirror and check your posture. Since your whole body is your instrument, there are lots of muscles involved in producing and supporting and affecting the sound. Your posture should be balanced and relaxed, not rigid and tense or slumped over. Relax your face and neck muscles. Massage them if you have to. Drop your jaw and let it go slack, roll your head around to relax your neck. Loosen the tension in your lips. When you take in a breath, your shoulders should stay down and relaxed. If you are holding down the muscles of the floor of your abdomen, more air can expand down there, and you will see your belly expand out, and your ribs and chest expand as the air comes in. Training those muscles to support your air flow will help alot in keeping the vocal chords healthy. The air going through the vocal chords is what makes the sound, so if you can control the airflow, then you won't be straining and blasting air when trying for more volume or a longer note. Start in the speaking range (the note you make when saying a hummm of surprise) and begin singing by humming or singing 'oooh' or 'aaaah' in short scales. Your face muscles, forehead, jaw, etc. should remain relaxed, not tense. Start an easy song, not loud, and then build to songs with more range and volume. You can do this in the car on your way to your sing-along or choir practice. Alot of information is on the links I provided above, but there is no substitute for a GOOD teacher.,BR>

happy (and healthy) singing...

alice in montana

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Subject: RE: Vocal strain prevention
From: Alice
Date: 02 Oct 00 - 10:59 AM

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Subject: RE: Vocal strain prevention
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 02 Oct 00 - 11:29 AM

Sheila Kay Adams says, "pitch it low." Some of her relatives were singing well into their 80s and 90s. Of course, they all sang unaccompanied ballads.

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Subject: RE: Vocal strain prevention
From: Biskit
Date: 02 Oct 00 - 01:50 PM

Alice, Thank you for refreshing this thread, I wasn't around in"98" and wouldn't have had access to it otherwise.-Biskit-

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Subject: RE: Vocal strain prevention
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 02 Oct 00 - 11:08 PM

Would somebody please elaborate on "lift your cheekbones a little"? Mine seem to be inert.

I found that I was straining my voice in church choir because the choir area is small and I was too close to the instruments, which were drowning me out. There are often times when I can't even hear myself. Then I cup my hand discreetly around one ear. That really helps me hear myself.

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Subject: RE: Vocal strain prevention
From: JedMarum
Date: 03 Oct 00 - 09:19 AM

I'll tell you one very important thing I've learned (the hard way) about singing, and 'tiring out' my voice quickly; coffee. Stay away from it! It diminishes my range (low notes hae no power) and makes my voice strain very quickly. If I drink coffee within an hour or so of a performance, I will have to sing some songs a bit higher then normal (up a half step).

Also eating reduces my singing ability. I plan to eat my last meal no sooner then two hours before a performance, preferably more.

After that, I drink water ... lots and lots of water during the performance. I get and pee all night after the show, but it's worth it for my voice!

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Subject: RE: Vocal strain prevention
From: sophocleese
Date: 03 Oct 00 - 09:24 AM

leeneia, lifting your cheek bones means consciously lifting the muscles that cover them, which may brin gthe upper part of the jaw up a bit. Smile and notice how your cheeks lift, then try and do the same lifting without the smile. It will brighten your tone considerably. Also if you're singing with a music folder in a choir you can shift the angle of the folder a little, lifting it higher and it will reflect a little of your voice back towards you so you can hear yourself.

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Subject: RE: Vocal strain prevention
From: GUEST,Michael in Swansea
Date: 03 Oct 00 - 09:51 AM


May you always walk in sunshine. Thank you


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Subject: RE: Vocal strain prevention
From: Alice
Date: 03 Oct 00 - 02:58 PM

leenia, sophocleese described those cheek muscles really well. My teacher calls them "snout muscles", and at first it was hard for me to even isolate them to feel any control over moving them. I haven't even kept up on that practice (tsk, tsk). I can look at my teacher's face when she lifts them, and see the skin either side of her nose, below her eyes, go up quite a bit! She can isolate and just lift that part of her face to add a brighter sound, something you can do to add variety to the sound of what you are singing... bring out a certain phrase with the contrast of brightness, or maybe sing a repetitive part differently by adding brightness sometimes.

Rather than pushing air against your vocal cords to get volume, you will save your voice and have a clearer tone if you relax and float your voice on more air. It may seem like the volume is softer, but your voice can actually carry over the instrument more if you have enough breath support to really flood the sound with air. This is hard to read about instead of being able to see it demonstrated in person.


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Subject: RE: Vocal strain prevention
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 03 Oct 00 - 06:58 PM

I appreciate those tips about the facial muscles and the music stand.

Now I have something else to pass on. Long ago, People Magazine had an article called "Throat Doctor to the Country Western Stars." They interviewed a specialist who gets emergency calls from c/w stars whose voices have crashed from overuse and poor technique (surprise, surprise!)

His first item of advice to the poor stars is to avoid the things that dry up the throat - coffee, chocolate and alcohol.

I followed his advice one year when a Christmas concert was coming up, and found it helpful. Right after the concert I went out and celebrated by having the only thing that combines all three verboten items - a Black Russian.

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