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John Mayer’s Vocal Challenge

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

Case: John Mayer
Diagnosis: Granuloma

Vocal injuries aren’t always the result of poor singing technique, strain or fatigue.

In some cases, they can be brought on by trauma, irritation or result from other illnesses.

Such was the case when rocker John Mayer was forced to cancel two concerts in September 2011 and postpone the release of his album, “Born and Raised.” The cause: Doctors had discovered a growth near his vocal cords called a granuloma.

Mayer was set to perform with legendary jazz crooner Tony Bennett at a Los Angeles show, as well as at the iHeartRadio Music Festival, in Las Vegas.

In a message on Tumblr.com, Mayer wrote to fans, “I know there were people depending on me to be there (at the concerts), and I’m sorry that I can’t be on those stages. After several months of going week to week, monitoring and hoping to correct the condition, I am forced to cancel my upcoming singing engagements due to something next to my vocal cords called a granuloma.

Mayer called his condition a “temporary setback,” but admitted he was not sure how long his recovery would take.

What is a Granuloma?

According to Lucian Sulica, M.D., a granuloma is a benign growth caused by irritation or trauma to the vocal cords. It’s found at the back of the cord, on top of a thin cartilage, which sits beneath the membrane covering the larynx.

Because there is minimal tissue acting as a cushion to this area, it’s more susceptible to trauma resulting from habitual loud speaking, throat-clearing or coughing and high-impact singing.

Studies also have shown that laryngopharyngeal reflux – acid reflux – is a common source of irritation.

What are the Symptoms?

A granuloma causes the feeling that something is stuck in the throat, making throat-clearing, coughing or loud speaking to increase volume and reduce breathiness even more of a temptation in guilty offenders. This increases vocal trauma and worsens the irritation, Sulica said.

Breathiness, hoarseness, breaks in the voice and loss of volume also are common symptoms, as the nature of the growth prevents the vocal cords to close and vibrate properly for normal voice production.

A granuloma also is one of the few vocal injuries that can be painful, usually resulting from coughing, throat-clearing and swallowing.

Treatment and Avoidance

Granulomas continue to grow until the cause of the irritation is resolved and the growth has had the opportunity to recede on its own.

Removing a granuloma without correcting the cause of the irritation will, in most cases, result in re-growth due to not altering the habitual behavior that likely caused it in the first place. Surgery is not recommended and is used as a last resort or in cases of large growths that have trouble receding on their own.

Voice therapy to help correct habitual behaviors that cause vocal trauma are helpful, Sulica said. And, in cases resulting from acid reflux, implementing changes in diet, eating habits and anti-acid medication also are recommended.

As always in the case of singers, high-impact vocalizing through the use of proper vocal technique and adequate rest between singing engagements is necessary in order to reduce trauma to the vocal cords and maintain voice health.

“I’ve got the best doctors in the country looking after me, and I will be singing and touring again as soon as I get the all-clear. Until then, I’ll be spending time writing and composing more music,” Mayer said.

Megan Gloss is a classically trained singer and writer based in the United States.

Useful Links

Adele’s Vocal Challenge

Dream On – Switched Off. (on Stephen Tyler)

Garfunkel’s Elusive Voice

The Day Jordin Sparks Stopped Singing

Lucian Sulica

  • Zoe Hank

    I’ve been listening to john Mayers wonderfull voice, but has always wondered..isn’t he singing with a lot of air on his voice? I know that to put air on the voice (unless you sing with a very low volume, like 1-4 on a scale from 1-10) can be very straining on the vocalchords and damaging in the long run! Could that be the case with him?

  • Megan Gloss

    Generally, vocal production the sounds airy could either mean a vocal injury that is preventing the vocal folds from coming together and vibrating to produce phonation correctly. Or, the voice is not connected to the singer’s breath support correctly, thus allowing excess air to escape and weakening the volume of the voice.