The Top 5 Causes & How to Avoid It"
are like many singers who have experienced a dry, gravelly voice
the morning after a hard night of singing. You may not be too
concerned about this vocal roughness if you are able to rest
your voice for a few days, but what if you have to perform again
tonight? What if tonights performance has to be the best
of your life? Now, the state of your voice becomes all consuming.
I fix it? Is there some miracle liquid I can drink? How much
water can I drink before the show?
there are some tactics that will help ease hoarseness, curing
chronic hoarseness permanently begins long before it even happens
and it involves dealing with the number of factors that cause
- Poor Vocal Technique
one cause of hoarseness and vocal fatigue is poor vocal technique.
If you find you get hoarse after performing or rehearsing it
is very likely that you are singing with a high larynx. To make
matters worse, you are probably forcing large amounts of air
through this high larynx by shouting or singing loudly.
goes up when the throat muscles or swallowing muscles engage
and yank it
up in their effort to help you reach those higher notes. When
this occurs the larynx becomes unstable and tension sets in.
Then, in your effort and determination to hit those high notes
you force a lot of air through the larynx, increasing the volume,
and essentially muscling your way through the range of the song.
This sets you up for a prime case of hoarseness. All that pulling
and pushing and forcing of air has fatigued
your vocal cords and they have swollen. When this happens the
cords are no longer able to connect properly, affecting the
quality of your sound and seriously hindering your vocal range.
Seek out competent vocal training. Competent training is key,
since there are
many teachers out there who can do more harm than good. If you
cant afford training, try some practice techniques. Practice
your songs quietly, but dont hold your breath. Breathe
while you sing. You will have more control over your sound if
the vocal cords are able to adjust to the pitches you need without
the extra-added musculature. Try singing other genres of music
and songs that are not like your own. Think of it as cross
training for your voice. A more immediate solution would be
to lower the keys of your songs so as to avoid having to push
and strain for the top notes. If you take time to develop your
instrument you can increase your range and up the key again
Cause #2 - Inadequate or No Vocal Warm-up
It is shocking
to me how many singers come into my studio with the complaint
of chronic hoarseness and when asked if they warm-up before
performing the answer is no! Always, always, always warm up
your instrument! How long would an athlete last if they did
not warm up their body prior to competing? Singing through your
songs ahead of time is not a sufficient warm-up. You need to
vocalize beyond the range of your songs.
Warm up your instrument before any performance, recording or
practice session. If you work with a vocal teacher you should
already have a vocal warm up recorded. Otherwise, find a keyboard
and run through some scales using liprolls or tongue trills
and words such as mum and woof. The
key to a good warm-up is to
make sure you are breathing and not straining. Also include
a physical warm-up. Do some general stretching to loosen up
your limbs. Despite what some people may think going on stage
raw only makes for inconsistent performances. And
in any business, not just music, consistency is what makes for
a successful career.
- Smoking, Alcohol and Coffee
alcohol and coffee all do the same thing to the body, they dehydrate
it. In order to function optimally the vocal cords need a certain
amount of lubrication. When the body is dehydrated the vocal
cords can become irritated. More pecifically with smoking the
heat from the smoke cause the cords to swell, the cords then
become thicker, making it more difficult to hit higher notes.
I have heard horror stories of people who have started smoking
to increase their bottom range - thicker cords produce lower
sounds (because of the swelling) but at what expense to the
longevity of your vocal career, not to mention your overall
health. Competent vocal training can also increase your range
healthfully. Even if you are a non-smoker but sing, reside,
or work in a
smoky environment your vocal health will be compromised.
I know I may not be able to convince the smokers to quit but
my general advice to all is to stay hydrated. Drink water throughout
the day. Drinking only during a performance or recording session
isnt enough; your body needs to be hydrated long before
you start singing. If you drink coffee and alcohol try to match
drink for drink, with an equal amount of water. If you like
to drink tea for your throat, keep it as natural as possible.
I suggest licorice root steeped in hot water and then cooled
to room temperature. Drinking liquids at either end of the extreme
is not good for the voice so keep drinks as close to room temperature
Cause #4 - Excessive Throat Clearing
throat clearing can also cause hoarseness. When you clear your
cords slam together. If done excessively they will swell and
fatigue. The need to clear our throat is usually a result of
excess phlegm or mucous sitting on the cords.
Avoid consuming phlegm-inducing foods such as dairy products,
chocolate and orange juice. Try to avoid eating right before
a erformance or practice session. After eating, extra mucous
is produced making it hard for the vocal cords to perform optimally.
However, it takes a lot of energy to sing, so singing with no
fuel in your body can be equally detrimental. Eat a regular
meal a few hours before you have to perform
and then eat a small snack about 45 minutes before you go on.
If you need to clear your
throat, cough and swallow instead followed by a drink of water.
- Illness and Fatigue
without saying that if you are sick with a cold or the flu you
will not be able to sing at your optimum. In a case of laryngitis
(inflammation of the larynx) your cords are not able to stay
connected due to the excessive swelling caused by a bacteria
infection. If you suffer from chronic sore throats or laryngitis
it is safe to say that you are physically run down. Fatigue
will take a toll on the body and prevent the body from being
able to deal with the stresses faced throughout a day. Our bodies
are exposed to bacteria and viruses on a daily basis and if
we are well rested our body has the ability to fight it off,
if however, we are fatigued, under nourished and dehydrated
the bodys ability to fight off these invaders is diminished
The key to vocal health is overall health. It is imperative
that you take care of yourself. Eat well, drink water, and definitely
get an adequate amount of sleep. Even grabbing a quick nap can
make a big difference in your bodys defense system. If
you find yourself battling with a cold or flu remember to avoid
singing with a sore throat.
Singing with a sore throat is like walking on a sprained ankle.
Give yourself adequate
time to rest and recover.
It is completely
possible to have a vocal career free of hoarseness but it takes
time and care to eradicate it permanently. Take the time to
adjust your vocal habits and you will be able to deliver a consistent
performance every time you sing and if you take care of your
vocal health, it will ultimately take care of you.
with kind permission from Tammy Frederick, columnist for Canadian
Musician Magazine and vocal teacher who offers private lessons
and voice workshops through her studio Tammy Frederick's Voice
Studio in Toronto, Ontario.
Visit her website at: www.tammyfrederick.com