Are you putting your vocal effort in the right places? Dane Chalfin identifies two clues that can lead a singer to some important changes. Click here to see Part I in this series.
Last week I said that it’s time for all singers to recognize that within their body there is an early warning system that can assist them in finding positive ways forward for their voice.
Certainly voices do get tired, but a tired voice is very different from a hoarse, painful or lost voice.
We looked at the first early warning signal: acute pain; this week I am going to introduce you to two more early warning signals that demand an immediate response.
Warning System no. 2: hoarseness or huskiness in either the singing or speaking voice.
Very often singers find that their voice feels hoarse, especially after a gig or recording session.
No matter what sound you are making, you should be able to make those sounds effectively without traumatizing the vocal folds. If you do feel hoarse or husky after singing, it’s a strong indication that you have caused some trauma to the vocal folds.
Here’s the essential theory: the top layer of your vocal folds is called the epithelium. It’s a highly specialized skin, only four cells deep and you can just imagine how easy it is to disrupt that thin layer.
When we feel hoarse or husky it’s a sign that we have caused some kind of disruption to that layer and it has become inflamed.
Very often we simply ask a singer to reduce the effort of feeling in the larynx without changing the tone they are making; this results in immediate and positive change.
Warning System no. 3: Morning Voice
The vocal apparatus is always a bit stiff in the morning. However, watch out for signs of severe morning voice: your upper range is gone, it takes you considerable time to warm-up and your full range only comes back later in the day.
If this is your experience, you may be experiencing acid reflux. Other warning signs for reflux include (but do not always present): waking up with a bitter taste in the mouth; raw or irritated sensation around the larynx and the back of the throat; heartburn.
Reflux is often called the “Silent Killer”, though it is relatively straightforward to treat.
During the sleeping hours, acid that naturally forms in the stomach sometimes creeps up the esophagus, into the larynx, and bathes the vocal folds.
In order to confirm whether you are suffering from reflux or not, you need to have laryngeal imaging; ensure that you do this before taking any anti-reflux medication.
There are also many lifestyle changes that one can make to reduce reflux including diet, eating time and hydration; information on this is widely available on the internet.
Do not think that lozenges, sprays or teas will help with reflux or hoarseness. None of these ‘treatments’ has accepted research attached to them; they contain natural or manufactured anesthetics which actually mask your body’s early warning system.
The only medically accepted form of topical relief for dry or swollen vocal cords is steam inhalation.
Next week I will discuss the last 2 early warning systems – the most extreme symptoms a singer can experience…
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Dane Chalfin is a Director of the British Voice Association, a Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Voice Technique, and one of the UK’s leading professional voice consultants. He is also one of the few official singing rehabilitation consultants for the British National Health Service. His clients include signed recording artists; West End and touring actors; TV, film and radio actors; comedians; soap-stars; universities; TV and radio presenters; worship ministries; recording studios; management and production companies; business people; hospitals and voice-users requiring therapy and rehabilitation.