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How To Assess Your Vocal Health

How To Assess Your Vocal Health
New York City’s Go-To Coach for Working Singers, Joan Lader, shares answers to vocal health questions in this exclusive interview.

Joan Lader, New York City’s most sought after singing teacher, shares her top insights on vocal health with VoiceCouncil readers:

How can a singer tell if something is wrong with their voice?
If you experience changes in your voice that last for more than four days, you should see an ENT (with a specialization in voice).

What changes should a singer look for?

  1. You can’t hit a note softly anymore
  2. It takes increased effort to get your vocal folds to vibrate
  3. 280x200-HealthAssess

    If you experience changes in your voice that last for more than four days, you should see an ENT

  4. Loss of low notes
  5. Loss of high notes
  6. You can’t sing staccato (short, detached notes)
  7. You can’t do a messa di voce (sing louder then softer on one continuous pitch)
  8. You feel like coughing when you sing or you have a tickle in your throat
  9. Your voice sounds hoarse or raspy
  10. Your voice sounds breathy
  11. There is a hole in the middle of your range

Are there other ways singers can tell if something is wrong?
I tell people to have something short and easy that they sing every day. Doing this helps them detect changes in their voice.

How do you assess the vocal condition of a singer?
First, I look for flexibility. I’m interested in a singer’s ability to access different vocal qualities. Then I look for stamina. How long can you keep it up? It’s one thing to sing in a studio for half an hour and another to be on stage for three. Finally, I look at range. Do you lose parts of your range – are there any “holes” in the voice?

What might the ENT say to me?
You may need to be quiet for a day. You may need to pull out of a show. The important thing you and your ENT want to find out is, does your voice get better during that time of doing less?

Can you give an example of a singer you have helped?
Often a singer is in the preview period (of a show) and rehearsals are constant. They start losing their voice or becoming hoarse. My job is to find out what the abusive patterns may be and develop a program for the individual singer that will optimize vocal health as well as creating an exercise program that will be both therapeutic and efficient.

How do singers abuse their voices?
You’d be amazed at the number of students who are up all night, working on three productions at one time, and constantly on the go. They may be drinking tons of coffee and diet sodas (which have just as much caffeine) or not hydrating enough.

So where do you begin?
I have to follow them around for a day to find out what the pattern is. Then, I help them change those patterns.

Why do some singers never struggle with vocal health while others do?
Some people are much stronger than others. It is not just the voice, but it is their whole being – the way they are made up. Some people can have the tiniest bit of inflammation and they are affected by it. Others have a polyp yet are happy with the way they sound.

Why is this?
It depends on what you need to hear in your voice. Maybe you have to be able to sing pianissimo (very softly) with a little vibrato. Another singer in another genre might not need to do that. You don’t have to have perfect vocal folds to sing.

Family dynamics and emotional issues often play a huge part

Is it common that speaking habits are to blame for vocal health problems in singers?
Yes, it’s very common. Some people sing a lot better than they speak. They know they have to support the voice when they sing, so they take some action, but they think they don’t have to do anything to speak well.

Does heredity affect vocal health?
There is a huge hereditary factor. I recently did an evaluation on someone with a voice problem, and when I asked about his family, he said his father loses his voice all the time. Family dynamics and emotional issues often play a huge part. A young woman I worked with had been losing her voice often. She lived with her family, which included two brothers who she was likely competing with all the time!

See Joan’s Article, Vocal Health Solutions for Working Singers


For the past 33 years Joan Lader has been in private practice in New York City working with singers and actors with injured voices as well as training elite Broadway, Opera, Pop and Rock singers. She has been a frequent guest lecturer at Columbia University, The Voice Foundation in Philadelphia, The Pacific Voice Foundation in San Francisco, NYSTA, Berklee College of Music, and The Commercial Voice Conference at Vanderbilt University. Read More About Joan Lader.

Interview by Kathy Alexander. Kathy Alexander is a writer, singer, vocal coach and choir director. She has appeared in Vision TV’s Let’s Sing Again, The Sooke Philharmonic Orchestra and the Victoria International Jazz Festival (main stage). You can see more of Kathy’s work here.