Voice and Performance Coach

​Singing and Speaking Voice

MUSCLE TENSION DYSPHONIA AND A HOARSE / DRY VOICE EXPLAINED 



The human voice has a capacity far beyond our imagination.  As we explore it, it reveals new aspects that are distinct to us and moves us to the next level.


I hear it all the time, my voice gets hoarse and sore.  I need to shout to be heard after only a few hours.  What am I doing wrong?  What can I do about it?  How can something as natural to us as the human voice get these unnatural results?


Sadly, this is all too common.  Singers and people who speak in front of large groups, such as a public speaker or business professional often experience this.  Did you know studies show that teachers speak 20% to 30% more than other professions?  It’s no wonder our voices get burned out!


But people are not sure if they have a voice issue or not they tell me.  Here is a reliable guideline to follow.  Does your voice restrict you when you use it or try to develop it?  Does it prevent you from doing what you want at the level you want to do it?  Do you feel tension anywhere, such as in the throat/jaw or chest/shoulders?  Do you sense something may be wrong?  If you answered yes to any of these there is legitimate reason for concern.


WHAT IS MUSCLE TENSION DYSPHONIA?  WHY DOES MY VOICE GET HOARSE & DRY?  Muscle Tension Dysphonia is one of the most common voice problems.  It is caused from excessive or incorrect use of the voice, the muscles around the vocal cords.  I could give you a long clinical sounding explanation with a bunch of fancy medical lingo to make your eyes glaze over but instead I will explain it this way, Muscle Tension Dysphonia is muscle tension which prevents the vocal cords from closing properly.  It often goes undetected in the early stage.


Pitch, difficulty hitting high notes, sound quality diminishes, and holding a note when you sing become more and more difficult as the tension increases.  You may experience things such as hoarseness, vocal fatigue, loss of range on both your high and/or low notes, difficulty controlling volumes on soft and/or loud sounds, lump in the throat, your throat tickles, dry throat and mouth, soreness, a squeaky-tight sound, and the need for long recovery time after use.  Eventually you may not be able to use your voice at all.  If that sounds serious it is because it is.


On the numerous projects I have worked on, when people are turned down for auditions, advancement to higher level opportunities and people it is never because of a lack of hard work, passion, or desire to succeed.  The stopping point has always been related to their voice and limitations they have placed on it, 100% of the time.


When people use their voice to express an idea or feeling without having control over it, problems begin to shape.  We may have developed other skills such as songwriting, presentation skills, playing a musical instrument etc. but the voice is not equal to those other skills and do not meet the challenges of that song or speech.  When we finish our voice is exhausted!


I have worked with hundreds of individuals on their voice so my intention here is to shed some light on things.


PUBLIC SPEAKING AND SINGING IS A LEARNED SKILL.  When we forget that the voice is the “tool” we use to communicate, we overlook giving it the care and respect it needs to get the results we want.  What is your voice saying about you?


WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?  While you are probably doing many things right, I suspect you have developed one or two bad habits throwing everything off track.  Let me explain.  The voice does only two things.  One, it produces the tone that differentiates one sound from another.  This is what makes you sound the way you do and me sound the way I do.  Second, the vocal cords vibrate creating a pitch.  Slower vibrations occur on lower sounding tones with faster vibrations on the higher sounding tones.  When we force the voice to create a volume or expression it is not prepared for, the vocal cords close abruptly cutting off the sound and air.  If done repeatedly, the voice will get tired and sore.  If done on an ongoing basis, it will cause damage.


Serious cases that need treatment such as surgery will require care from a doctor.  Others can work with a Vocal Coach who also has medical training/skills to work with you to eliminate the problem completely.  I have worked with numerous people over the years and the outcome has been incredible.  It is very rewarding for me as a Vocal Coach to take a strained voice that lost the quality of its sound and bring it back to life again.


My passion to help people rehabilitate their voice comes honestly.  Several years ago, when learning a very popular voice training method I began to notice severe voice strain.  The organization downplayed it so I continued.  But I knew deep down I was not making progress and something was wrong.  After persisting to speak to the head, the one who developed the method, I was referred to his top Vocal Coach who quickly assessed that my voice was in trouble.  I spent months and a substantial amount of money trying to correct things but the coach was not able to undo what was done.  Luckily I followed my instincts and got out before voice damage developed.  We are our own best judge.  If something feels odd it is time to stop what you are doing and get an expert opinion just like I did.  You must research anything that involves your fragile vocal instrument.


But remember, not all voice problems, if left too long, can be repaired completely.  The key is to detect what is going on in the foundation of your voice and change and bad habits before the problem turns into something that needs extensive rehabilitation.


ARE THERE OTHER TRIGGERS THAT CAUSE VOICE PROBLEMS?  Most do not like to admit it to people but they have an enormous amount of fear when speaking or singing in front of groups. They worry about what people think and the words/content.  What you need to realize is that only 25% of your voice comes from the gift you have been given.   75% comes from understanding how your specific voice works and how to bring out the best in it.


Knowing how to use your voice to the best of your ability to convey the message you want to your audience will eliminate your voice tension issues and your fears will begin to diminish.  That’s really great!  Developing your voice to produce the best sound quality, strength, and confidence allowing your audience to be “drawn into” your song or presentation is even better!


In short, learn about your specific voice needs and hone the skills to meet the demands you put on it.  There may be a few exceptions out there but I personally have never met anyone who has an accurate understanding of breathing and voice projection.  I think it is well worth the time and effort to understand these critical components to your voice if your goal is to touch people.


Remember, the voice is designed to get stronger and better as it matures rather than deteriorate.  It truly is a miraculous instrument!  What you do will determine the outcome so be sure to do only what is healthy and adds to the strength and longevity of your voice.


MUSCLE TENSION DYSPHONIA AND OTHER DISORDERS CAN BE SCARY.  We are afraid our voice will never return to normal and that we will experience long-term limitations.  When the throat becomes tight and the muscles overpower the way the voice works naturally it may seem to be a dead end road, but it is not.


Our voice responds to what we do to it, good and bad.  Once the bad habits are known you can begin to turn things around.  You can usually build your voice and range back to where it once was.  Often it sounds better than it did before.  Your confidence increases from the deeper understanding you now have.


WHAT CAN I DO IF I HAVE OVERDONE IT?  From time to time, we all push our voices beyond its limits, become ill, or need a little something to sooth the throat.  Consider products without sugar or alcohol.  They will only dry the vocal cords.  Herbal teas such as mint are soothing.  Choose natural products and not products that have artificial flavors.  They will not take the edge off an already overused and tired throat.  Drink lots of water 48 hours before speaking/singing to be sure the vocal cords stay well hydrated, and more if you are ill.  Avoid anything that will coat the day of singing such as dairy products, greasy food, decaffeinated drinks, alcohol, high-carbohydrate foods and smoking.


There are many products on the market targeted to singers and public speakers.  These products are often meant to make money and offer very little, if any benefit at all.  They are often filled with sugar and ingredients that are not good for the voice.  They give you immediate relief so they can be convincing.  Before long the relief is gone and the ingredients take a toll on your voice leaving it worse than before.  Read all the ingredients on the label to be sure it is right for you.


TO WRAP THINGS UP….what I am saying is please stop putting emphasis on the throat when the throat has very little to do with the overall use and health of your voice.  It is the knowledge you have about the way you communicate, the care you give it, the preparation, and the 75% of your voice which you develop that gives the end result you have.  If you do it you get it!  If you don’t you won’t!


Do your research.  Be sure to only work with people who have expertise in all aspects of the human voice.  Sure there are lots of singing lessons that do cool things and give you the impression they are building your voice, but they are not.  That is a short-term gain for a long-term pain.  It is not worth it in the long-run.  There are many community shows, choirs, jamming clubs, and people who want to perform together.  You will build a great network of friends.  As you get better so will the opportunities and people you attract to you.  This could be other singers and musicians, gigs, work, just about anything you wish for is available out there for you.


Think of a vocal coaching session as a place for learning, experiencing, improving, growing, developing, and includes all the things that build a solid foundation for life-long singing.  It’s all about you sounding your personal best!


One last thing….relax, relax, relax.  Being in front of a group was meant to be fun by you and your audience, so don’t take things too seriously.  You would not have been invited on stage in the first place if people did not think you would deliver.  In time, with a little practice and coaching where needed, it will all fall into place.  Trust that you are on the right path and that you will reach your goals.  It’s really that simple!


So until next time live, love, and don’t let anything stand in your way!
 

Donna Flynn
Voice and Performance Coach – The Forefront of Voice Training, Author, Singer, Speaker

Call 416-436-8063 and let’s get started today!