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How I Overcame Muscle Tension Dysphonia

Natalie performing at The Royal Albert Hall, captured by Luke Dyson

Natalie Holmes toured the world with trance legends, Above & Beyond and supported Gabrielle Aplin at the Leeds O2 Academy.

Natalie is also a hard-working independent singer-songwriter who constantly tours and still finds time to upload videos to her successful YouTube channel.

She opens up about how she slowly overcame her vocal troubles and developed a positive outlook on life.

Ongoing symptoms

A couple of years ago, I went on my first headline tour, during which something started playing up voice-wise.

It felt overtired and sore, even just to speak, and I was suddenly super aware of it every second of every day.

My throat would feel really tight, especially if I was talking about something that made me tense up. If someone asked ‘What’s wrong with your voice?’ my throat closed up so much I could barely breathe – probably at the sudden fear and stress coming from the fact that I had no idea.

I just hoped it would be OK after some rest time when I got home. But it didn’t get better, and the worry and fear just cycled round and round making it worse.

No quick fix solution

A couple of months after, Dane Chalfin, a vocal specialist suggested it might be Muscle Tension Dysphonia, and simply knowing it had a name and therefore some way of aiding it made me feel so much better.

I eventually saw Amanda Carr, a speech and language therapist who confirmed it. I had a camera up my nose (not an enjoyable feeling) and down the back of my throat, showing how my vocal folds weren’t quite touching, meaning they were getting irritated and causing a husky sound.

At the end of therapy, my vocal folds were touching when I sang. This was due to exercises that strengthened the muscles either side of the vocal folds and helped them push together, as well as exercises that encouraged a forward placement when I spoke, so that the sound resonated at the front of my face instead of being forced from the back of my throat.

I don’t think I realized just how much singing meant to me until I felt this heart wrenching terror inside me that I might never be able to sing comfortably again.

Daily mindful practice

Looking after my voice is a really big thing for me since my Muscle Tension Dysphonia.

I believe strongly in looking after your body and mind on a day to day basis. Listen to your body and use your common sense. Stretch out your muscles, warm up, and maybe have some fresh ginger & honey in hot water if you do want a physical remedy.

Every day, whether I plan to sing or not, I at least go through various neck exercises and simple vocal trills – to prepare for talking if anything!

I try to include some kind of mindful exercise each day too, often yoga or walking/cycling.

If I’m actually going to sing properly I do a certain vocal warm up that I swear by, which is a little time consuming but SO worth it!

I also try and unclench my jaw and other parts of the body numerous times a day, as your body just tenses up over and over again without you realizing!

I make time for things I love outside of music too, so that I don’t become stressed, as it all contributes to your general working mentality and stamina. Burning out is the opposite of productive!

Don’t worry, be happy with your voice

I try not to attach too many physical ‘conditions’ to my vocal ability, as through my past problems, I know that the main factor is psychological.

The more things you think you need to sing well, the more you tense up and worry if you haven’t had those things.

Live and learn

I think everything in my journey so far has been pretty much how I would’ve wanted it to be.

I mean, my vocal issues were the most traumatic part of it, but without them I’m not sure I ever would’ve really learnt the lesson I did, even if future me had warned past me!

See also: Vocal Problems – Top 5 CausesHow Her Voice Was Saved – Alison Krauss’s Dysphonia and The Source of Many Singing / Vocal Problems?

Photo by Matt Hutchinson

U.K singer/songwriter Natalie Holmes accompanied trance legends ‘Above & Beyond’ as the new female vocalist on their Acoustic II world tour, performing to sold out audiences at the Hollywood Bowl, Royal Albert Hall and Sydney Opera House to name a few. Popular UK TV show ‘Made in Chelsea’ featured Natalie’s song, Backwards in one of their episodes. Shortly after this, leading American ice cream brand ‘Breyers’ chose her cover of The Youngbloods hit Get Together for their national TV commercial. Natalie has also been attracting the attention of BBC Introducing, plus celebrity blogger Perez Hilton who featured her song Safety Net, saying “she’s a real artist!”

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