Your Voice’s Early Warning System: Part II

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…

To find out when Dane’s next article in this series is released, sign up here for our free content emails (aka. Monday Morning Vocalist Motivators).

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.

Useful Links

Dane Chalfin & Associates

The 21st Century Singer

The British Voice Association

Beyond Belting It Out with Daniel Bowling

  • What do you mean by reducing “the effort of feeling in the larynx”? Sing softer? Less push? This is quite confusing for me: “locking down”, “lowering my larynx”, “speaking above the pencil”, “feeling waves in my soft palate”… HAHAHAHA!!! I am trying really hard to improve my singing but sometimes I really need to stop thinking in all this tips and relax into the pleasure of singing as I can. The point is that sometimes I do feel a bit hoarse and husky after a hard session, not too much, but realy enough to consider it potentially dangerous. But I just can´t get the voice I like without pushing hard. I feel it in my larynx, but in my bronchial tubes and teeth and nose too. How can I accomplish reducing my feeling in my larynx? Thank you.

  • When we say reduce the effort, we mean just that. Don't change the sound, the volume, etc. Just don't let the voice overwork. Try saying a simple “mm hmm”. Notice how hard (scale of 1-10) the voice has to work to create that sound. Most people say 1-2. Then call out on a “Hey!”. Notice how hard the voice is working on that sound. Most people say a fairly high number to begin with. Try repeating the “Hey!” at the same pitch and volume, but this time see if you can get the voice to work no more than a 2-3 effort level. Most singers find they can reduce laryngeal effort immediately just by monitoring it and refusing to let the voice work harder than absolutely necessary. Make sure your posture is good and you aren't overbreathing as well.


  • When I wake up, I can sing about 3 notes lower than usual, all the way to the last octave on the piano scale. Not only that, but my voice is much richer, thicker, and has a lot more timbre. Why does this happen and how can I harness this morning voice for the rest of the day?

  • I wanna find more info about this, anybody could?

  • Hi, 

    Thanks guys for giving infor mation about Voice’s Early Warning System. 


  • Hey there…I didnt even realzie I had bad reflux but a visit to my ENT comfirmed it and now I take 40mg of Nexium tablets twice a day to deal with it and stop it harming my voice it makes a noticable difference good luck!

  • Poppa Madison

    It’s called “the elastic band effect”. Everything relaxes when you sleep including those oh so delicate vocal folds!
    Then, just like the rest of us, you start talking in your local dialect and vocal pitch that prevails in your community(you do this unconciously– think of how Scottish, Irish and Geordie and Londoners……all mysteriously sound the same!)
    And then your vocal chords tighten and you lose that pitch which you would so dearly love to keep there always. I am right on that score aren’t I ?

    Oh how I just wish I could get to keep the rich deep warm vocal tone I sometimes develop with a cold or ‘flu that means I actually get close to sounding the way I would always like to.

    Sadly, it is but a fleeting encounter always, leaving me with the mewling choking timbreless vacant rasp that I somehow have to convince myself is a voice that maybe someone…….or two? might give a moments pause to listen to!

    The Barry Whites and Bocelli’s of this world seem to make it all so effortless. After 50years, I am still digging deep into my oesophagus trying to find myself!

    And a Very Merry Christmas to you all!


    © ♯♪♫ ♂PM

    Poppa Madison Music ♫ – Woodridge – Queensland – Australia

    Poppa Madison specializes in Composing Music &
    Song for Senior Citizens,Worldwide.

  • Poppa Madison

    Like me Paco I’ll bet you are wishing one could get a vocal chord makeover, with little nip and tuck here and there that transforms you into a clone of your favourite vocalist?

  • Well, that’s not the case. Actually, one of my best (if not the only) strengths is my personality. I am recognizable. But, although this post is 4 yo I am still as confused as then HAHAHAHA