Strained Singing & Cramped Cords
 Vocal Coaching: Train With A Legend | January, 1984 | Updated: June, 2007

Rock is a very demanding field for a singer. There are many problems that must be faced, including bad monitors, inadequate facilities in the dressing room (assuming there is one), extreme changes of temperature from the heat of the stagelights, extensive traveling, lack of sleep and proper nutrition and so on. This month I'd like to focus on two specific problems that are in common to all rock singers: strained singing and cramped vocal cords.

Some conditions can't be controlled and some can. The important thing is to be able to handle all conditions. There are some very positive things that can be done about these very un-positive situations. Unfortunately, one of the changes that can be made costs the band money: making sure you have the best possible PA and especially the best monitors you can afford. The band should invest as much money as possible in its sound equipment.

If you as a singer must perform night after night, unable to hear your own voice, how can you possibly be able to sing properly? When you can't hear yourself, the first thing you usually do is to push harder and to sing louder in an attempt to hear over the band. This is seriously destructive. If the band's finances are such that no better monitors can be provided, then try asking your soundman to turn up your mic as loud as possible. Sometimes even this doesn't help much.

The best course of action in this situation is to trust your voice. Now of course, here is where the trained singer is at an advantage. He can use the technique that he has learned and allow his voice to work automatically. The worst thing to do when you can't hear is to push your voice. This causes swelling of the muscles involved and the straining is very dangerous for the larynx.

One thing you can do is to rehearse wearing hearing protectors, which can be purchased for about $20 in a sporting goods store. They help to simulate the actual performance situation, since wearing them prevents you from hearing with your outer ear. This way you can accustom yourself to listening to what is going on in the inside of your throat. You can then rely on muscle memory rather than on your hearing when you are on stage.

Much damage can be caused to your voice from bad monitors. If you are constantly hurting yourself because you can't hear, pretty soon your voice will be hurting, and then your band stands a chance of losing work. It's in everybody’s best interest to see to it that the lead singer, and the background singers as well, has the best sound equipment you can afford. With better equipment comes other benefits like being able to play the bigger and higher-paying clubs.

Now if your band is in a poor financial situation and new monitors are something in the distant future, then the singers in the band will have to take other precautions.

There are other things you can do to minimize the strain that your voice is enduring. As I have already stressed, don't start pushing! Trust your voice, especially if you are doing material that you have performed many times before. Your muscles have neuron memory, which is independent from the brain. If you are performing a motor function (and singing is a motor function) that you have repeated many times before, your muscles should remember what to do. Your voice will function better if you don't push. Just allow it to do its work.

There are yet other things you can do to prevent damage. One is to apply wet heat to your neck both before and after a set. This will be very soothing to your throat. All you have to do is to bring a washcloth to the gig, run it under hot water and then wrap it around you neck. You will find that the wet heat will be very relaxing. Also make sure that the outside and inside muscles of the neck stay warm. Wear a towel or a scarf or a jacket to keep your neck, shoulders and back warm. You should drink only room temperature or hot fluids when you are singing (in rehearsals as well as in performance).

When you sing, your larynx gets filled up with blood, which of course means temperature and warmth. After strenuous exercise of any kind, hot showers are always recommended. Your voice is muscular in nature. It takes only common sense to realize that if your muscles are filled with blood, icy cold fluids on your larynx will make those muscles cramp. On the other hand, warm fluids will help your larynx to stay lubricated and ready to continue singing.

So many singers come off the stage after the first set, dying for something cold to drink. Then when they begin the second set, their voices are cramped and they can never figure out why. Ice cold drinks are part of the reason. They interfere with your performance and make it even harder to finish the evening. It may take the entire second set to get your voice lubricated again, especially if the club is filled with smoke and your throat is very dry. Observing these precautions will make your job much easier.


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