I was wondering if you might be able to help me. I think I hurt my voice from teaching this past spring semester. My voice feels sore and dry, and I’ve been trying to consistently drink a lot of water. I’m not doing any shows and not singing a lot. I feel really disappointed that I might have damaged my voice – it’s been very important to me that I preserve my instrument so that I might have a chance to sing in an opera or do a full recital sometime in my life. I’d like to have the opportunity to sing really well sometime in my future and perform.
I’m sorry you have had difficulty with your voice. The classroom environment is a big challenge to vocal health. Staying hydrated is a good place to start. I like the formula that recommends we drink half our weight in ounces daily as a minimum. More if we exercise or are in more extreme weather. (hot or cold extremes)
My guess would be that you have irritated the voice to some degree, but most likely have not done any damage. You would definitely benefit from some consistent reinforcement of positive coordination. Overuse issues with the voice are really more a matter of underusing the physical components in a balanced way. Which is to say coordinating and balancing the three main components of the vocal instrument.
For instance, when we use the breath without a balanced relationship from the larynx and/or the resonator the voice will suffer. This is essentially what happens when we talk loudly, as in a classroom. The breath tends to over-power the vibration of the larynx and we don’t get the amplifying benefit of our resonators. This will put extra stress on the larynx and cause irritation.
Another byproduct of this condition is what is often referred to as a “closed throat”. The throat muscles instinctively constrict relative to how loud we talk. This constriction acts as an extra level of resistance to the breath pressure causing the vibration to be louder. It is an almost automatic response in the throat. This is why it is recommended to not think of singing loud but full. A subtle but important difference.
Thinking of singing full helps us accomplish our result with the use of our resonance. Just thinking loud will cause a strong tendency to over-sing and throw off the balance of the instrument. This is one of the biggest challenges of singing. And is important to the long-term health of the voice.
This coordination is just as big of a challenge, if not more, when we are speaking. Especially in a loud environment. One particular aspect of our situation is a major contributor to this problem – The relationship of our tone to our ears. In other words, how we hear ourselves.
This is something we may not even be aware of. Yet it has a huge influence on how we pronounce. How well we hear ourselves has a conscious and unconscious influence on how the larynx, throat and mouth adjust when we sing or speak. The acoustic relationship between the mouth and ears is such that we are influenced to spread the resonance form to hear ourselves better. It is like we “reveal” the sound more to hear it better.
What we don’t realize is we don’t hear ourselves accurately. So what sounds better to our ear often sounds worse to an outside listener. Not only that, but in order to hear ourselves better we have thrown the entire system out of balance. Anytime we do that we are more at risk of irritating the voice, and eventually causing damage.
An example that illustrates how strongly our voices are tied to our hearing is observing someone talking with earphones on or has temporarily lost their hearing from a loud concert. They automatically talk louder even though the environment is not loud. It is just because they can’t hear themselves.
This shows a low degree of sensitivity to the voice. It is actually the basis of a good exercise. Try speaking and/or singing with your ears covered so you can’t hear from the outside. It is an odd experience at first. It forces you to tune into your sensations and your internal hearing. This is beneficial because when we function well we don’t hear ourselves from the outside very well. And that is difficult to get used to. But it is important or we will continue to fall into the trap of listening to our own voice.
I often recommend developing a sense of visualizing the tone. This is a way of using the imagination to “see” the tone and where it is located. It is a way of noticing where the resonance is. The main purpose is to be aware of inefficient resonating adjustments. For example, a very common condition is for the resonating adjustment to be such that if we “see” the tone we will notice it is in front of our mouth. Actually escaping out of the resonators. When this condition exists it a result of the front of the mouth being too open in relation to the back. This reduces the benefit of the pharynx as a resonator and loses the natural amplification that can happen with good resonance.
When we notice this position of the tone it tells us that the pharynx is not open enough or we are not utilizing it enough. The condition I recommend is to “see” the tone stay inside the mouth/throat. This will allow the resonance to ascend along with the pitch to take advantage of “head” resonance, which is critical for easy access to the upper range. An easy way of conceptualizing this is to pronounce with a rounded feel to the mouth. It gives a “shading” effect. Then as we ascend, instead of opening more, we still stretch the jaw but shade with the lips a little more. This makes the effect of “mixing” the form of “o” into all of our vowels.
This resonance is important because it takes the burden off the voice itself. And that is the critical component that makes the difference between vocalizing loud vs. full. It is our own natural amplifier. Acoustic amplification. The key to keeping the voice healthy.