Hello, one of my students gets a hoarse voice after even short bouts of singing and it appears she has a good technique. what do you suggest? She’s been to the ENT and that showed nothing.
Thanks for sharing your question with me. Obviously I can’t give you a definite answer without hearing her. But there are some likely things that could be part of the problem.
If you have read much of my writing you probably have noticed that I talk a lot about function. This is because function of the voice is more basic than technique. There is a lot of attention on technique, but technique tends to be concerned with how you sound. Function is an issue of how the sound is produced. These may seem like the same thing on the surface, but they have a very important difference that needs to be recognized if we are to keep our voice not only sounding good, but feeling good for our whole life.
The difference between technique and function can be defined in another way as well. Technique is what you do, or try to do, with your instrument to make the sounds you want. Function is what is actually happening with the parts of the body. This is important because many aspects of technique involve imagery that may or may not be accurate. Many are led to think they are doing something with their technique that is completely out of line with what is possible with the body. This situation then leaves the singer believing the opinion of the technique instead of understanding the reality of how the body is designed to function.
Another aspect to this situation is a person can sing with seemingly good technique, but if the underlying condition of the instrument is not optimal it will have a negative affect on the function. Ideally technique matches the principles of good function, but this is not always the case. And if the normal, habitual condition of the voice is not optimal this will cause the technique to not be as effective.
For instance, in the situation you described. Hoarseness tends to be a symptom of excess breath escaping through the vibration of the folds. This can be a result of faulty technique or a poor condition of the voice. One or the other is affecting the function of the voice. If it seems like the technique is good then it could be the condition of the voice is such that the glottis is not appropriately closing to create a complete vibration.
The leaking of unvocalized breath will irritate the surface of the fold tissue. This irritation can lead to inflammation of the tissue which results in hoarseness. The irritation impairs the natural vibration of the folds.
If she is a younger singer in her teens then she may be suffering from the common, normal lack of closure in the glottis. It is a part of the development of the larynx. The glottal chink doesn’t completely close until later in the teens for some girls.
As a result there is air leakage that we can’t do very much about. So it is important to not exacerbate the situation by allowing her to sing too loudly or for too long of a duration.
But these can only be educated guesses. I welcome you to send me a recording. From that I can give a more definite assessment. Hope this helps.
Thank you so much for your wonderful answer. I have been thinking a lot about it and am pretty sure you hit the nail on the head with the excessive air flow. I think she has been confusing breath energy with pushing more air and not using her abdominal muscles correctly. So after all, it was both function and technique! Have you got some suggestions about how to get proper closure at larynx?
Thanks for your help. I’ve got heaps more questions so you’re sure to hear from me again!