No strain, no pain… so don’t strain!

  • Author:Angie Arsenault

In a singers world, it is best to omit the expression “no pain, no gain” because the last thing you want to feel when singing is pain – at least not in the throat!

The first thing I tell my students is that it should never hurt or feel strenuous to sing; that is a one of the key symptoms that tell us we are doing something wrong.

What could be the problem?

Improper functioning of the singing mechanism causing pain, hoarseness or vocal fatigue can be a result of physiological or mental disorders, or improper vocal technique including misuse or abuse of the voice.

I am no doctor, so I shall stick to elements pertaining to vocal technique, but you should definitely consider seeing an otolaryngologist if the symptoms just mentioned persist, especially if there is no improvement even after efforts to improve vocal technique and correct bad habits, for there may be other underlining problems. However, most often, problems can be rectified by getting the right information and guidance from a knowledgeable voice teacher, and more than not, that is exactly what your doctor will tell you to do.

Common elements a singer will need to address and correct when in vocal rehabilitation (and when learning vocal technique in general) are:

  • poor posture / poor alignment of the body;
  • poor breath management which may include:
  • uncoordinated onset of the voice;
  • excessive air pressure on the vocal cords, leading to vocal fatigue;
  • a lack of air support to keep a continuous stream of air, making the vocal cords slam together or vibrate too often in the vocal fry register, often producing a harsh, distorted vocal sound.
  • poor eating habits
  • poor exercise habits
  • improper use of muscles during singing including excessive tension in the muscles above the larynx, tension in the face for speech articulation and general tension in the body;
  • poor understanding or lack of knowledge towards vocal production and general technique;
  • poor vocal hygiene and habits.

Here are some common abusive vocal behaviours as listed in the book “The Management of Voice Disorders” by Murray Morrison and Linda Rammage):

  • throat clearing and habitual coughing;
  • positive emotional abuse such as cheering;
  • negative emotional overuse such as crying or screaming;
  • talking over noise or in poor acoustic environments;
  • lecturing or singing with poor amplification;
  • voice use with strenuous exercise;
  • nonverbal vocal sounds;
  • imitating voices or stage whisper;
  • excessive singing, talking, yelling.

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