Q&A - Losing My Voice
I’d love to ask a question. I’m a soprano, hedging towards full lyric with coloratura. I always lose my voice after singing. It feels like my cords get swollen and my voice goes up in pitch and gets scratchy and I lose my tone and lower end; and it takes about 6 hrs for it to settle down. I can’t sing for longer than 10-20 mins before this starts to happen. I know it’s bc I’m squeezing and applying pressure or “trying” to make my voice happen, and I also know that doing that is counterproductive but it’s such a habit I can’t seem to stop doing it, and just talk when I sing. Do you have any suggestions for fixing that problem?
Thanks for your question.
What you describe sounds to me like the symptoms of too much unvocalized breath escaping through the glottis. Which is a very common problem. There are many reasons it can happen, but the underlying factor is insufficient participation of the larynx.
The mainstream teaching we have access to as a developing singer generally overlooks the responsibility the larynx has in the singing coordination. We often hear statements such as “the breath is everything”, or some variation of that.
This attitude neglects the natural partnership of the breath and the larynx. Without the larynx the breath serves no purpose. And like the majority of singers you are experiencing the effects of neglecting the role the larynx plays in our vocal gesture.
As I said, there are many possible reasons for this condition. One might be a mis-identification of your true instrument. This usually exists when a singer under-sings because of thinking of their voice as lighter than the natural weight of the instrument.
I am intimately familiar with this particular condition because I faced it myself. It is quite common for singers to under-sing. Especially coming from University training with the typical “everybody is a lyric something” attitude.
For naturally larger voices this can be terribly unhealthy because we unconsciously try to sound like what we think we are. So if we think we are a lyric, or worse a light-lyric, when we are actually a Spinto or Dramatic we will create a lot of problems by not connecting fully to the full capacity of our natural voice.
(Now, I’m not saying necessarily that this is definitely the case for you. But it is so common I am comfortable presenting it as a possibility. Perhaps with some discussion and experimenting together we could find out if it is accurate.)
See, in order to make ourselves sound like a lighter voice than we naturally are we de-vitalize the source vibration by allowing unvocalized breath through the glottis. This immediately disconnects the voice from the strength of the body and breathing creating an incomplete phonation.
Because of the incomplete phonation there is subsequently an incomplete resonance and loss of acoustic energy. So even if you aren’t a fuller voice, you definitely have more fullness that is going untapped. It is just a matter of learning how to coordinate your instrument to realize it.
The thing to know about the squeezing and applying pressure is that they aren’t actually the problem. They are also symptoms of the under usage. And there is nothing you can do to correct them directly. The body compensates automatically to make up for what is lacking.
And like I said above, your other symptoms point to a lack of activity of the larynx. When the larynx is not providing a stable counter-balance to the air pressure the throat will squeeze, and often so will the body, which creates the uncomfortable pressure. This is where breath coordination comes in as being critical as I discuss in my “#1 Mistake” article.
One myth that we have been led to believe is that we should be relaxed when we sing. It is not really relaxation that makes the act of singing enjoyable. It is coordinated action. We do want freedom of action, but relaxation tends to be too passive. When the parts are working together there is teamwork and there is no opposition to cause effort. But it can’t be accomplished by trying to be effortless. It only appears when all of the systems are working together in a balanced way.
If we try to be relaxed or sing effortlessly we will let some part, or all parts, be under-activated. The body responds to that with compensation, which we experience as tension and uncomfortable interference. Basically your body has to “try to make the voice happen” because it is no longer able to function spontaneously. This is because of the impairment that sets in as a result of the swelling you correctly observe.
This is a good example of why we need the reflex actions I talk about. There is a great deal of physical activity involved, we truly are athletes. But the activity must be a reflexive response of the nervous system to our desire to express vocally. Otherwise we end up trying because it is our only recourse.
I hope this gives you some ideas to consider.
- Q&A – Vocal Abuse in Modern Society (vocalwisdom.com)
- Q&A – Freely Accessing Upper Register (vocalwisdom.com)
- The Importance of Fach (vocalwisdom.com)
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