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Is Vocal Fatigue Inevitable?

Vocal fold muscles really can’t be compared to biceps and quads -says Lisa Popeil

It’s very tempting to compare vocal training with working out in a gym.

Years ago, I trained with a famous voice coach and at the end of each 30-minute lesson, I felt decidedly tired and was ever-so-slightly hoarser than when I had begun.

I rationalized that the vocal fatigue was just a sign of a ‘good vocal workout’. But I was wrong.

Muscles and Muscles

After several decades of experience and exploration, I noticed a pattern: support-based vocal pedagogies result in less fatigue and hoarseness compared to vocal-closure but non-support orientations.

So back to the ‘work-out’ analogy.

It’s so appealing to imagine that vocal fold muscles are just like biceps and quads which can be worked out in an intense way and create visible results.

But there are numerous differences between the vocalis muscle (inside the vocal fold) and the arm’s bicep, for example. Size for one.

The vocalis muscle is extremely small and sits within both the left and right vocal folds.

The average size of the vocal folds is only about the size of a – in sopranos, the coin size is smaller, more like the size of a dime!

A Vocal Fold is Not A Bicep

Another hugely important difference between a bicep and a vocal fold is that the muscle in the vocal fold is covered in mucous membrane.

This spongy material collides every time the vocal folds open and close and they do so hundreds of times a second.

If a singer sings high pitches at a loud volume, the folds slam together many hundreds of times each second and the mucous membrane can swell and begin to create callus-like tissue leading to vocal nodules.

Singing Shouldn’t Hurt

When the emphasis is on ‘vocal fold closure’ as the main tool for singing technique, you too may experience a subtle but real over-squeezing of the vocal folds which can lead to frequent fatigue and hoarseness.

Adequate closure, meaning clean closure, is the ideal goal, not pressed closure.

If you feel your cords pressing, it’s time to use a proven, clear and understandable support method which enables the vocal cords to work easily at all pitches and volumes.

Hoarseness is a sign of a problem…it should not be used as a gauge of ‘a really good vocal workout’!

-Lisa Popeil

Reactions to Our Peer Review Vids from Gina Latimerlo

Jenny Scott – What I Wouldn’t Do (Original)

Jenny, you’ve got a lovely lilt and lightness to your voice. You are also able to use your voice powerfully, and when you do, it really grabs the attention of the audience. Your sound is still pretty mainstream pop for jazz music, so I would suggest puckering your lips and widening your pharynx while you sing to add more jazz flavor to your vocals. To find how to widen your pharynx, pretend you are silently laughing and feel how your throat widens. Also, try looking up so we have chance to connect with you – audiences crave connection.

Colin Rowe –Queen of California (Cover)

Colin, your guitar and vocals sound great and look effortless. Your look, your playing, and your voice all match really well, too. Your face creates a natural focus on your eyes, so use them to communicate the meaning of the piece (like at 1:22-23). If I close my eyes and listen, the emotion comes through, but I want to see you feel the emotion on your face as much it comes through your voice. Watch yourself perform in a mirror to make sure your expression shows the emotions you feel – especially in the short music breaks where you aren’t singing.

Jazmine Jones –Janglin (Cover)

Jasmine, you’ve got a cool, laid-back sound. You play with your voice well, as you alternate between a more airy sound and a more powerful one at all the appropriate times. The song has a 70s folk/rock feel, and your vocals have an R&B feel. It’d be cool to add the R&B flavoring to the instrumentation so as to create a cohesive package. Also, along those lines, the camera position gives an intimate ambiance, but since you never look directly at us, the result is a disjointed experience of intimacy and distance, so play with the performance a bit. Sounds beautiful!

Lisa Popeil, MFA in Voice, is a top LA voice coach, voice scientist and researcher, contributor to the ‘Oxford Handbook of Singing’, is a voting member of NARAS (Grammys®), creator of the Voiceworks® Method, the ‘Total Singer’ DVD and a new book ‘Sing Anything-Mastering Vocal Styles’ and has taught voice professionally for over 35 years. www.popeil.com





Co-author with Lisa Popeil of Sing Anything: Mastering Vocal Styles is Gina Latimerlo. Gina will be commenting on our Peer Review Videos for the next 8 weeks.

Gina Latimerlo is a polished performer of over 20 years. Teaching and directing since 1995, she opened The Latimerlo Studio in 1998. Her students have performed on Broadway, in touring companies, and have signed with talent agents and record labels. In addition to the main studio, The Latimerlo Studio oversees private voice teachers in over a dozen cities in the San Francisco Bay Area. www.latimerlo.com

  • “Hoarseness is a sign of a problem…”
    Yep. Hoarseness is when you go for instant gratification without understanding where to stop. With good training, it takes 30 seconds.

    “at the end of each 30-minute lesson”

    Then I’m properly warmed up, and ready to go for a good 2 hours. Without any fatigue. Mind you I’ve had a few 30-minute lessons…