Dream On – Switched Off?

Steven Tyler’s high impact singing reveals essentials about vocal health –says Megan Gloss.

In The Vocal Injury 101 Series Megan Gloss shows how you can avoid vocal injuries that affect popular singers.

Case: Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler
Diagnosis: Popped vocal cord blood vessel

Six months into Aerosmith’s “Rockin’ the Joint” tour in 2005, the legendary Steve Tyler’s distinctive voice fell raspy, shrill and hoarse.

Now Tyler was opened wide on a Massachusetts General Hospital operating table.

A laser was taking aim down the pipes of the iconic singer whose vocals immortalized the rock anthems, “Dream On” and “Walk This Way.”

The reason? A popped blood vessel on the singer’s right vocal cord.

The cause? Nearly 33 years of repetitive, high-impact vocalizing from Tyler’s trademark, high-pitched belt.


Aerosmith was forced to cancel its remaining tour dates, while Tyler took part in experimental microsurgery, which used a pulsating laser to control bleeding and repair the ruptured cord without further damaging the surrounding membrane.

It was said to revolutionize otherwise irreversible vocal cord injuries by allowing singers to emerge fully recovered.

Tyler gave audiences an up close and personal endoscopic look at the procedure, documented on the National Geographic series, “The Incredible Human Machine.”

Following the surgery, Tyler was ordered to 2-3 weeks of strict vocal rest.

He fully regained the use of his voice, signature cascading squeals and all, and jumped back into headlining one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most dominant and long-reigning bands.

Today, Tyler is at the forefront of yet another vocal spotlight as a co-host of the ever-popular American TV series, “American Idol.”

How Vocal Fold Blood Vessels Pop

According to Steven Zeitels, the surgeon who operated on Tyler and developed the innovative surgery that restored the singer’s voice, extensive and repetitive use of the voice frequently –without proper technique— can lead to this kind of vocal injury.

If not treated, or allowed adequate time to rest and heal, blood vessels within the vocal cords can pop, resulting in bleeding and a hoarse quality in the voice.

“You have a situation where a singer sings extensively, they often rupture small blood vessels from the forces of using their voice in such a high-impact voice,” said Zeitels in a 2006 interview.

“If it happens over and over again, you have abnormal vessels that are predisposed to breaking again. If you get blood into the vocal fold, under the membrane, you are very hoarse.”

How You Can Avoid this Injury?

Vocal experts urge singers to take extra care and caution when singing at a high-impact – to rely on proper singing technique to produce sound in a healthy way rather than pushing or straining the instrument.

They remind singers that there is no substitute for healthy technique:

Avoid Strain. Vocal strain in the absence of good technique, if done repetitively, can result in a cord rupture. Ranges have the potential to extend naturally in time through consistent and healthy practice habits. If a singer continues to vocalize through an injury, nodules can develop. Learn how to make extreme vocalizations in a healthy way.

Develop a healthy technique. A voice teacher or coach can help singers develop healthy singing habits, including learning how to build and sustain the voice over time and singing demanding, high-impact vocal styling correctly, to avoid strain or injury. This includes singing with proper breath support and using correct resonation.

Warm up. Just as an athlete would stretch prior to a game or an event, a singer should slowly warm up the vocal cords, making them agile and ready for singing. Warming up the voice also engages the body through lower breath support, good posture and release of tension.

Drink plenty of water. Staying well-hydrated is important in order to keep the vocal cords supple and free, especially when putting high demands on the voice.

Rest. Allow adequate time for the voice to rest between performances; avoid singing under fatigue, illness and other vocal distress.

More Vocal Injury 101 Articles:

Garfunkel’s Elusive Voice  www.voicecouncil.com/garfunkels-elusive-voice/

The Day Jordin Sparks Stopped Singing  www.voicecouncil.com/the-day-jordin-sparks-stopped-singing/

The Incredible Human Machine

Megan Gloss is a classically trained vocalist based in the United States.

More on Steven Zeitels:Steven Zeitels is an internationally recognized surgeon and patent innovator, specializing in throat, voice and larynx problems. He is the Eugene B. Casey professor of laryngeal surgery at Harvard Medical School and is the director of Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Laryngeal Surgery and Voice Rehabilitation, the most comprehensive facility of its kind worldwide. Additionally, Zeitels serves as a laryngologist to various voice departments throughout Boston, as well as the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard University, the Boston Lyric Opera and the Boston University Huntington Theatre.

  • Kathy

    If Steven Tyler was able to sing that way for 33 years, then there must have been some aspect of his technique that was alright, don’t you think?  33 years is a lot of singing.  Why did his blood vessel pop in 2005 and not in 1990? or 1995?  If his technique was all bad, surely he would have done damage sooner. Or is he just blessed with an ultra-resilient voice box that can take a real beating?  Maybe his technique was working fine all these years, but as the voice ages, it is not able to handle such a vocal load anymore.  Or maybe he had an upper respiratory tract infection that day.  I wonder.

  • Machvox

    It’s amazing that this article and no one is commenting on the years of drug and alcohol abuse, took it’s toll on Tyler’s voice. Unhealthy habits like that, age and hard touring schedules all affect the vocal chords, on top of whatever lack there is with vocal technique for anyone. Let’s be real.