New York City’s Go-To Voice Expert, Joan Lader, shares top vocal health solutions.
Joan Lader is New York’s most sought after singing teacher and has helped countless singers overcome vocal health problems.
Most evenings she is out watching her students performing in Broadway shows and other New York City music events.
During the day, she gives master classes at various colleges and universities and teaches private voice lessons. VoiceCouncil was lucky enough to catch up with her on a rare break between students.
Should singers wait until they have a voice problem to see an ENT?
Not necessarily. I think it’s a good idea to establish a relationship with an ENT who works with singers and ask for a baseline scope. As a matter of fact, it’s a good idea to have a whole team in place.
Who should be on a singer’s team?
Your team is made up of your singing teacher, your repertoire coach, your ENT and, if you have had problems in the past, a speech-language therapist (SLT or SLP). Remember, not all ENTs and SLTs know the voice – you have to find ones who specialize in the voice.
How long does it take usually for a singer to overcome a serious voice problem with the help of their team?
If it is going to work, it usually takes about three months.
Do you ever recommend voice rest?
I don’t believe in complete vocal silence, unless a singer has hemorrhaged, but when I’m working with singers who are experiencing a voice problem, I often recommend vocal naps.
What is a vocal nap?
A vocal nap is just what it implies… a nap! In other words, no speaking or singing. It’s during this time (about 30 minutes) that the student should be able to identify behaviors that might be contributing to their vocal fatigue. These naps should be taken throughout the day. It is more beneficial for students to identify patterns of vocal misuse and muscle tension rather than having these patterns pointed out to them repeatedly.
What do singers realize during a vocal nap?
During a vocal nap, a singer may realize, “Oh, that was tiring, what was I doing? I was talking in a noisy restaurant” or, “Oh, I was dehydrated”.
Why do singers ignore symptoms such as hoarseness or loss of range and just keep performing?
They think, “I’ll be better tomorrow” or “I’ve always sounded a little raspy”. They are a little cocky. Also, they are fearful they will lose their job or someone will think they are not quite as adept as they think they are. They become defensive. I once had a singer who came to me saying, “Doctor so-and-so said I should come and see you. I don’t know why this is happening – I know my technique is fine”.
No, not for what he was being asked to do!
But isn’t it hard for singers to back out of a show because they will let down the guys in their band?
I have a student coming in an hour who is in just that situation. Sometimes it is foolish to perform, because if your vocal issue keeps getting worse, you’ll get to the point where you’ll really be out. Not only will you be disappointing cast members or band members, there will be a loss of income and doctor fees.
Is there a compromise between backing out and damaging your voice?
If you perform your own shows with your own band, you could incorporate more breaks, rearrange the set list or change the keys of a few songs so the show is less taxing on your voice. You would make these decisions in consultation with your team (ENT, teacher etc.) If you are a Broadway performer or an opera singer, you don’t really have this option.
Why do so many singers suffer voice problems? Are the college music programs not giving them enough vocal health knowledge?
I think college programs are giving singers enough knowledge, but they can’t always hear it and take it in at that age. They just don’t think about vocal health. It is very hard to say, “no.”
So, does that mean part of good vocal hygiene is learning to say “no” sometimes?
It is important to learn how to advocate for yourself. If you never complain, people will just keep pushing you.
Do you have a closing message to send out to singers everywhere?
The voice is a very vulnerable instrument. Beauty of sound may be a very subjective matter, but vocal health is not subjective. It is entirely objective. You are not going to be able to become an artist unless you pay attention to vocal health first. Learn your craft. Protect your gift.
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.