A strained voice is no fun at all.
But there’s good news:
It’s a pretty common issue, and the causes of vocal strain aren’t that difficult to single out. If you run into a major problem, a vocal coach can usually always help.
So there’s definitely hope.
Below I expose the possible reasons why your voice may be straining, before sharing tips you can use to address these issues and start singing beautifully.
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What are the Signs of Vocal Strain?
You wouldn’t want to confuse vocal strain with something it isn’t.
So let’s tackle this first:
Vocal strain is a common affliction for singers and anyone who use their voice professionally.
You will know you have a case of vocal strain when your voice suddenly loses its natural quality.
But the margins on just how much vocal strain should worry you enough to seek help can be rather fine.
Yet, you the singer should be the best judge because, ultimately no one knows your body and voice better than you.
Generally, you would expect to feel some discomfort, hoarseness, and a slight change in tone after a reasonably grueling vocal practice or performance.
But if these signs are particularly severe and persist for up to two weeks, then you may have a problem. You might want to have a professional voice expert check it out.
According an article by the US National Institute of Health, on taking care of your voice, you will know if your voice is strained, or generally unhealthy when:
- You lose the ability to adjust your voice’s tone or pitch
- Your voice suddenly changes to a deeper tone
- Your voice feels achy or raw
- You experience shortness of breath
- You lose control of your voice’s resonance and volume
Causes of Vocal Strain You Should be Aware of
Like most voice disorders, vocal strain is a consequence of poor singing technique, unhealthy lifestyle choices, and a lack of proper voice care.
However, vocal strain can also be due to medical causes like hay fever, sinuses, cancer of the larynx, and vocal fold paralysis, and, in some cases, psychological trauma.
You should seek professional medical help to address vocal strain if you think it’s serious. This is not a medical blog by any means.
A lifestyle cleanse and technical help should fix the other issues.
Yet being a singer, even after cutting all unhealthy habits from your lifestyle, you should probably still get a qualified voice teacher to analyze your technique.
Because, besides the terrible effects of vocal strain on your vocal health, poor technique may be messing up the quality of your singing in general.
Celebrity vocal coach Cari Cole demonstrated, in a YouTube video how poor technique can strain your voice.
In one example, Cari Cole observes that most beginners have a tendency to lean into the microphone when they sing. She advises against this, explaining how it stretches your throat and Adam’s Apple. This strains your vocal folds and causes you to lose control of your voice.
Tips To Prevent Vocal Strain
Sadly, most singers only become aware of vocal strain, and why they should actively seek to prevent it, when they actually experience it.
Prevention would definitely be better than sitting out a couple days’ worth of practice because your voice feels strained and doesn’t sound very well.
Your voice is not that difficult to maintain and keep in perfect working condition. It is, in fact, quite resilient.
But even with such resilience, it has its own breaking point, after which it cannot recover its natural quality. And as a singer, that will have career ending repercussions for you.
Christina Aguilera shares some great tips in her MASTERCLASS singing course.
She has a whole lesson called: Protecting Your Voice
In the lesson Christina talks about 3 things to always avoid, how to adjust to different environments, and she also shares ways to cure a strained voice!
Take action before doing any serious damage to your voice.
1. Some Voice TLC Will Go a Long Way
Everyone, whether a singer or not, should be concerned with their vocal health. So give your voice some tender loving care.
Between the many cases of lung cancer due to smoking and shallow breathing caused by poor nutrition, we are largely aware of the consequences of poor lifestyle choices.
Yet we don’t always show this awareness.
And smoking – a habit singers must avoid – is one such lifestyle choice.
Cigarette smoke irritates your vocal folds and causes larynx and lung cancers, all of which is bad for your voice and entire respiratory system.
Going a step further, monitor what you eat to keep your weight in check. Obese people don’t breathe so well, and as a result, are more likely to suffer breathy vocals.
Drinking lots of water will also help lubricate your vocal folds and stop the incidence of nodules and other effects of vocal folds’ friction.
While you are at it, avoid over-spiced foods and add whole foods, fruits and vegetables to your diet.
As well as adopting a gentle vocal warm-up regimen to prepare your voice before singing, give your vocal folds and body enough rest between practice sessions and performances.
These recommendations are very similar to what we recommend in our article on performance tips for singers.
Before any performance, there is a Three Day Rule where you should drink lots of water, get plenty of sleep, and avoid smoking, alcohol, and dairy products:
2. Work On Your Singing Technique to Avoid Common Mistakes
Perhaps nothing is more damaging for your voice, besides illness and voice abuse, than poor technique.
You need to know how to use your voice properly, including what it can and cannot do.
In the same video we cited above, Cari Cole cited an interesting thing about high notes. She notes a common misconception about high and low notes, explaining that singing higher notes is, in effect, singing faster.
To hit high notes, you need to lower your diaphragm and not necessarily reach higher by raising your body, as our common reasoning would probably lead us to doing.
Her advice on singing technique will likely sound counter-intuitive, and even confusing. It is easy to see how an untrained singer will get that wrong and be more susceptible to vocal strain.
Consider learning proper singing techniques from a qualified professional or online course.
There are certainly many more things to consider than just high notes, and this is why many beginners should definitely get started with some online instruction and introductory courses.
3. Prioritize Your Emotional Wellbeing
High stress levels can cause vocal strain.
According to an article on the British Voice Association website, anxiety and stress will cause muscles in the upper body to constrict.
The resulting muscle tension will disturb the proper function of the entire vocal tract, which reacts to changes in the central nervous system.
Interestingly, stress doesn’t always result from traumatic experiences like physical injury, therefore it can easily go unnoticed.
Pamper yourself with a body massage and good old rest to aid your body’s recovery. A rested body and mind will help you produce more dopamine – your body’s ‘happy hormones’.
4. Choose Quieter Environments To Avoid Forcing Your Voice Levels
Noisy practice and environments will force you to sing over the high noises. Otherwise you won’t even hear yourself.
You have to constantly sing at a high volume, which is tiring for both your voice and body. It is not a good way to sing and is a sure way to strain your voice.
You should change to a quieter place if your house or practice location is in a noisy area.
Working in environments where you have to talk above high noises will also strain, and possibly fatigue your voice.
It probably won’t be easy to change your job. But if your singing is more important to you, then changing your job is something you should seriously consider.
Here Is To Painless and Clear Vocals
Straining when you sing will not permanently affect the quality of your natural voice.
And even if illnesses like cancers of the larynx and lungs can cause vocal strain, they happen very rarely.
This means most of the suggestions above on preventing vocal strain are well within your control.
If the signs persist after taking corrective action, you should consult a professional voice teacher or medical specialist.