Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Vocal Abuse or Misuse and its' Consequences: Pop Singer and Average Joe Examples

The vocal cords are something we use and abuse everyday. Whether we speak a lot at our job giving presentations or on the phone or sing, we use the vocal cords a GREAT deal in everyday life.  It becomes more valuable to us when we depend on our voice for our living whether it be as a singer or in a vocation which uses a lot of speech such as being a lawyer, educator, or someone who gives a lot of presentations.

"There's probably no part of the body that sees more trauma in a lifetime", Steven Zeitels, MD, Director of the Center for Laryngeal Surgery and Voice Rehabilitation at Mass. General Hospital. Dr. Zeitels measured Steven Tyler's vocal cords (Aerosmith) during a 2007 concert and they collided 780,000 times! This is an intense amount of use that with the help of an operation and voice therapy has withstood decades!  Steven Tyler openly shares with us how much use his voice has withstood and the changes it has endured as a result of use in this video.

An average woman, Abigail Pogrebin, author from Good Housekeeping, states, "There's a song in my heart-just not in my throat."  Abigail used to be able to sing and loved to sing, but states she cannot sing anymore.  She cannot even cheer or speak above the the din of a restaurant.  Over time her voice just plain become husky to the point that people constantly thought she had a cold. 

Her doctor sent her to an ENT (ear, nose, and throat doctor) who guided a micropscopic video camera up her nostrils and down into her belly.  This showed Abigail the link bewteen the two organs she never understood before.  The resulting diagnosis?  Vocal cysts on both cords as a result of 'vocal abuse'. In other words, talking too much, too vigorously, which made the cords swell and chafe, creating bumps (friction essentially causing a callus on her vocal cords).  She was put on acid reflux medicine and sent to a speech therapist.  This generally doesn't happen to shy, soft-spoken people, but those who are enthusiastic about life both emotionally and vocally!  She was instructed as to how to change her breathing (relax it) and not talk if not necessary in addition to many speech therapy techniques!

Speech therapy generally entails time spent finding your low breath, breathing more often, speech drills that focus on resonance and proper pitch for speech, shorter talks on the phone, among fixing other bad habits the speech therapist may identify.  Through the process, one quickly discovers HOW dependent we are on words and how we deliver them.  (Speaking to fill silence, muttering all the thoughts in our heads, talking on the phone while do a milllion other things).  We are in essence SOUND.  We don't realize it until we are affected by our voice (or lack thereof).

Many people don't realize how strangled their sound has become until they try to do something MORE with it, like sing again! Why is it that I can't sing like I did when I was 17?  Think about the various ways you use your voice in addition to singing.  It all impacts the same body parts. 

"A voice is not a given, but a godsend.  It's the way we connect, emote, present. ourselves."  (Abigail Pogrebin)

Take care of it and it will help you achieve what you were meant to do on this earth.  By spending time identifying the good and the negative habits we inherently have, we help ourselves to improve the best individual commodity we have, our VOICE! (Susan Anders Brizick)

I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Voice is a Delicate Instrument: John Mayer's 2nd Operation for Removal of a Granuloma

The Voice is a Delicate and Abused Instrument- What a medical phenomenon to operate and recover!

Many a singer does not realize the delicate nature of their instrument.  The human voice is a wonderful instrument, but it can be sensitive and needs attention when things don't feel quite right or an illness impedes its' function. 

Everyone is given a different instrument- some can sustain years and years of singing at high intensity, some need more attention to rest time and have food sensitivities, and yet still others do not have as much natural ability to produce a pleasant melody.  The daily use and abuse of the vocal cords is amazing.  Think about it, we use the same instrument when we sing and when we speak.

John Mayer recently withstood his second operation to remove a granuloma from his vocal cords.  Medicine is amazing and doctor's are attempting to restore and improve the pop musician's voice using botox injections, complete silence for 5 months, and then voice therapy. It is not the first time (for him or other vocal greats), but a true example of how the voice can be a wonderful yet finicky instrument.  After scoping his cords a second time, they found that the granuloma removed a few years prior was removed again.  He had to suspend a tour and not sing for 5 months.  A scope of his cords later, revealed that it had almost entirely healed. The botox paralized the muscles so that the cord could not meet at all for a period of time.  His voice is more raspy right now, but with due diligence he can regain and improve his voice. 

This is a humbling experience for him and a reminder that the voice is such a delicate instrument.  How much use and abuse can the voice withstand?  What is he learning from vocal rest? What is he emotionally able to contribute to musical society after this experience?  He wanted everyone to like him and made every sacrifice to get it.  What impact did this have on his vocal situation?  After spending time alone and in silence, who knows what the musical icon may give us now? 

Is this situation NEW to vocal musicians?  Not really, read next week about Steven Tyler and the average person who struggles with their speaking and singing voice. I would love to hear your experiences as well.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Choral Singing vs.Solo Singing and Voice Lessons- When Should You Focus on Your Individual Singing Voice and Cut Back on Choral Singing? Part 3 of 3

Choral Singing vs. Solo Singing and Voice Lessons- When Should You Focus on Your Individual Singing Voice and Cut Back on Choral Singing?  Part 3 of 3

Advanced singing and higher level singing goals may cause you to make a decision- do I keep singing in the choir or do I need to focus on my own voice right now?  First listen to your body and your heart!  Is you voice troubled doing both from potentially too much use or different types of singing?  If not, why not continue both?  It is good to sing in a choir to keep your ears in tune with the whole picture of a piece of music.  How does your voice part fit with the other voices, with the orchestra.  Also, there is a fun social component to singing in a choir.  Why give it up if you don't have to while you develop your individual/solo singing voice?

If you are vocally and physically tired, then you need to look deeper within yourself.  Your voice is telling you something- this is too much or these are two different types of singing and I am having troubles!  In choral singing we are often asked to hold back our sound.  If one cannot do that without adding extra tension, it can cause fatigue.  Solo singing encourages 'letting it all out' and developing the voice as a whole in addition to the musical work.  Some people have no difficulties with this differentiation while other voices do. 

Which is most important to you, solo singing or choral singing? Which do you want to do something with in your future?  If you want to become an operatic singer, you may need to put the choral singing on hold for a little while.  This will allow you to spend time and energy truly developing your voice without anything holding you back.  If on the other hand you adore choral singing and aspire to sing in a professional opera chorus or professional chorus of any type, you may want to keep your toe dabbling in the choral world while you take lessons to prepare solo repertoire for auditions.

 Every person and every voice is different.  Pay attention to your body's signals and what your heart says about which direction you should go.  Ask for advice from your voice teacher and choral director if you are unsure.  It is our job to help guide you, but your job as a student and singer to follow your body's signals and needs.  Maybe you can be a choral singer and solo singer right now in your life, or maybe you need to decide which direction to go.

Have you ever been faced with this dilemna? What did you do? How can your story help others?

Did you miss Part 1 or Part 2 of this discussion?  Visit and to find out all of the reasons to sing in a choir and take voice lessons!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Choral Singing vs. Voice Lessons - When Should You Add Individual Voice Lessons to Choral Singing? (Part 2 of 3)

Choral Singing vs. Voice Lessons - When Should You Add Individual Voice Lessons to Choral Singing? (Part 2 of 3)

The age old question can be answered in many ways and  voice teachers believe many different things.  If you are singing frequently in a chorus as a youth, auditioning for solos, cantoring, musical theater productions and getting roles, or any and all of the above, you should probably begin voice lessons.  Many of these opportunities become available to singers around age 12 or 13.  Study at this point is of course going to be different than if you are starting at 16, but important if you are using your voice this much.  You can be given guidance to proper technique and production.  Individual attention paid to finding your true singing voice and listening to your body's signals is very valuable at this stage. 

If you are in high school and have been singing in school choir and had many of the opportunities listed above, now is the perfect time to begin voice lessons.  Your body has caught up to your interest in singing (puberty) and your voice truly begins to develop.  Spending time on technique, interpretation and delivery of a piece, and sight-singing are important for the many performance opportunities you will be given now and in college.  It most certainly will help you develop your singing voice and achieve any goals you may have regarding district auditions, musical theater productions, church youth choir, and solos at school concerts!

What if you are an adult and have been singing in choirs for years or just started singing in your church or community choir after a break from singing? Voice lessons are an excellent addition to your singing in both cases. 

- To the singer who has faithfully been singing in choirs for years-
Do you want to audition for a solo or for a professional chorus?  How about discover what your solo voice really is like?  Do you feel like you are going through a voice part change?  Find your voice or get help with difficulties with voice lessons.

- To the singer who has taken a break -
Do things feel different?  They should, you are not 16 anymore.  Your physical and mental self are not what they were then. Stresses in your life or things that you do in your job (lots of talking) may be affecting your singing.   You may have just forgotten some of the basics.  Find a good voice teacher to help you maneuver your way back into singing and really hear yourself sing again!

What are your experiences with starting voice lessons in addition to your choral singing?

Now that you are taking singing lessons and developing your individual singing voice, when do you need to watch how much (or what type) of choral singing you are doing?

If you missed the first discussion on Choral Singing vs. Voice Lessons Part 1, go to to read about why it is good to sing in a choir!

Stay tuned next week for Part 3 of Choral Singing vs. Voice Lessons: When might you need to decide?