So… Your voice isn’t doing the thing it should be doing.
It hurts, it gets tired, it’s unreliable, you feel despondent. Ask most young singers whether their voice is doing the thing it should be doing and you might be surprised at the number of people who have experienced this. Luckily, a lot of the time it is short lived, due to fatigue, sickness or emotional distress, however, what do you do if this is an endemic thing? The answer is manifold, but it can start and be significantly helped along by a visit to a dedicated Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist (ENT) with experience in singers and with access to a laryngeal stroboscope, or to a Speech Pathologist (who may recommend a visit to the ENT anyway) that understands the strain and pressure of singing. This is the route I went down when, after a couple of years of strain and quick fatigue on my voice, I took the plunge and went to see a speech pathologist as recommended by my GP (I had also been referred a couple of years’ prior by my ENT, and I do wish I had gone sooner). This is my experience.
I went to the Speech Pathologist about four months ago and after an initial self-assessment in three different categories, I arrived to the appointment, we had a chat and I was told that luckily a lot of the issue was muscular tension (for which I was very glad as it is fixable). I was given exercises and massage to help reduce tension and improve my understanding of the internal working of the voice. This was followed up by a couple of monthly appointments where I discussed everything from my emotional state to my working arrangements as it was tying into anxiety, which was translating into tension. Tension is always a no-no when singing! It was like having a counsellor as much as it was like having a professional trained in speech disorders. This included a trip to the ENT who also removed my tonsils a couple of months prior, where I had a tube slipped down my nose to view the state of my larynx and vocal cords (not a pretty sight if you’ve never seen it before!). I can highly recommend having this slightly confronting experience though, as it gives you an amazing insight into how you use muscles that you may not even be able to feel and their effect on the voice
The most important thing to be aware of is the psychology of it all. I finally went at the urging of my GP, but I was very anxious about the whole process. Would accepting that there was something wrong make that something seem incredibly real? In fact, it’s the old adage that acceptance is the first step to recovery. If it were something more drastic, like a polyp, cyst or node, wouldn’t you prefer to be able to minimise damage, prevent further exacerbation and get your voice back on track? While your singing teacher may have an excellent technical grasp, and you work diligently to achieve the voice of your dreams, it’s sometimes difficult to hear vocal issues. If you ever think that there is something wrong, speak to your teacher, speak to your GP, get some recommendations for a speech pathologist with experience working with singers, and if they have classical experience that’s even better. Even if they say there is nothing they can necessarily do, they can refer you on to someone who can provide more specific care or treatment. Whether that means getting an ENT, Audiologist, Masseuse, Physio, Occupational Therapist or other professional involved. Take care of your instrument, you’ll regret it if you don’t!
Written by Ry Charleson