How to Sing with Voice Problems

I'm sure at one time or another, everyone has woken up in the morning to find that his or her voice is hoarse, gravelly and/or sore. No problem for most of the population, as with some voice rest, it probably goes away within a day or two, or maybe a week. However, for those of us that use our voices constantly in our everyday life such as Singers, Teachers, Presenters and Drill Sergeants, this can turn into a bigger problem. Without proper care, this hoarseness and soreness does not go away and, in fact, it remains present often making it difficult to speak and sing clearly for long periods of time. Singers have the added frustration in that their vocal range may become reduced, a nightmare for any singer. This happened to me during the middle part of the year while recording the Half Life CD.

I started noticing a problem at work. I am a Preschool teacher and my room had just changed over from the older children to the newer younger children. Anyone with young children will tell you that you need to be prepared to use your voice a lot as they need lots of vocal instruction, prompting and repetition. And repetition. Add to the fact that there was between 16 and 24 children at one time all acting and playing the way young children do, noisily. At times the decibel reading would be over 100. Of course, getting their attention often meant raising ones voice, there would be no other way. Add to this the fact that I was rehearsing and recording every weekend with my band and one can see where this was heading.

I started to notice a mild hoarseness to my voice and would often jokingly think that "perhaps I could sing heavy metal after all". The tipping point must have been at a weekend show for the rock band Marillion in April. Bear in mind that up until that point, Marillion had rarely stepped on Canadian soil, so this show was very meaningful for us Canucks. As you can imagine, there was loads of cheering and singing along and I too got carried away with the vocal yelling and sing-alongs. It wasn't until the following day that I noticed a more than mild hoarseness in my voice. And yet, I still went ahead and played an hour-long acoustic gig that day.
From that point on my voice was on extremely shaky ground with some days being pretty good, and other days being extremely gravelly. But did I give it a rest? No! During the guitar recording for Half Life, I had guitarist Chris Reid in another room and most of the time, rather then use the talk back microphone, I would shout directions to him. Pretty stupid, huh? As you can guess things didn't get better. I was starting to get concerned and thought that perhaps my week-long cruise vacation would clear things up. As time went on I started to get mildly depressed about the whole situation. The weekend before departure, I thought screw it, and I decided to lay down some vocals. With a lot of water, a lot of positive thought and a lot of takes, I was able to complete a song. Sure I had a bit of raunch in my tone, and my tone was a little thicker then usual, but it still sounded pretty good.

I went for my week's vacation and when I returned, my voice sounded almost better. I was even able to record more tracks for the CD. That was until I went back to work with the children and my voice became hoarse again. I started drinking loads and loads of water, getting a good nights sleep and not raising my voice and things became manageable. In the end. With a lot of breaks and water, I was able to complete the vocals for the whole CD and they sounded fine.
Afterwards, I got myself an appointment with ENT Dr. Brian Hands at Voxcura who specialize in voice disorders in singers. It turned out I had a very small Vocal Polyp and Muscle Tension Dysphonia. Vocal Polyps, I learned, are a result of a ruptured blood vessel in the vocal chords which form a lump on the vocal chords. Muscle Tension Dysphonia is when the vocal chords do not close properly during speaking and/or singing. In both cases, the results may be similar such as raspy and sore voice and/or the in ability to sing or talk for extended periods of time. I was also informed that vocal rest would NOT make this problem go away as the damage had already been done and the symptoms would return as soon as I started using my voice for extended periods. I was informed that I would need about 4 to 6 appointments with their speech therapist Aaron Low.

The first appointment with Mr. Low consisted of having a scope down my throat with me saying and singing various things so he could get a good look at my vocals chords and how they were functioning. The following appointments consisted of being taught vocal warm ups (lip trills), exercises (humming, lick back), breathing techniques (keep stomach area expanded during singing), and having my neck and voice box physically massaged. You read that right, my voice box physically massaged. Basically this involved Mr. Low putting his fingers on my Adam's Apple (which is where the voice box is) and squeeze, pull, and massage it. Not the most comfortable thing. After 4 sessions, I could feel a difference and didn't seem to be having trouble with my voice. For the last session, a scope was put down my throat again and the Polyp was gone and my vocal chords where touching. It appeared that all was well again.
Since then I've been; careful with my voice, doing morning lip trill warm ups, breathing and singing with an expanded stomach area, and keeping my speaking voice at a reasonable volume, and everything is sounding fine. A big thank you to Brian Hands and Aaron Low at Voxcura for their help.
So over all, voice problems can be fixed if seen to in a reasonable amount of time. So if you're someone who uses their voice a lot and you've been experiencing difficulties that won't go away, see a voice specialist and get it dealt with. You'll be happy you did.

Wilton Said... and band play their CD Release Show

in support of their recent release
Half Life
Saturday November 26th 2011
Holy Trinity Eastern Orthodox Church
201 Monarch Park Ave. Toronto, Ontario
(1 Street west of Coxwell, 3 Streets north of Danforth)
Parking and Entrance off of Glebholme Blvd.

$10 Cover includes CD at Show.
$6 Advance tickets includes CD at Show.

Wilton and his band will perform two sets of original Art Rock Music from "Half Life", along with older favorites.
Put on your 5/8 time dancing shoes and swing on by.

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