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