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  • Rachael Messer

Vocal Damage: What it is and How to Avoid it



Vocal Damage is one of the main concerns for people in the voice over industry (Or performance industry in general but many performers in other fields dont think about the uses of their voice)

Vocal damage is scary because its:

1. Painful

2. Normally Permanent

3. Can be Career Ending

These are three really big concerns with voice and why I stress that PROPER vocal health is imperative. I recommend to each and everyone one of you, looking into a vocal health specialist or getting vocal training from a singing coach. I, as a person on the internet, can only do so much. Not to mention the caviout that there are normally 2 ways to make sounds, the wrong way that causes vocal damage, and the correct way that is safe. But from a listening standpoint, they can sound close to, if not identical.

So rarely will I be able to HEAR when you are doing damage.

I've spoken in lessons before that my sister in law is a Speech Pathologists. I still want to bring her in for a vocal health class sometime soon. She's far more qualified than myself to give advise in this area.

However, I can let you know some ways to SPOT when you might be doing vocal damage as well as ways you can avoid it from the get go.


What is Vocal Damage?

Well our vocal cords are two folds that vibrate to produce sound. Normally very close together. On occasion, when one (or several of the factors I'll go on to list below) happen, it can cause these folds to rub or bang together. Similar to if you took your hands and rubbed them together

Eventually, your hands will develop calluses on them and the same thing can happen to our vocal cords. These are called vocal nods or vocal nodules. Now something that can help lessen or slow the damage is removing some of the friction. Just like you can rub your hands together longer under water, your voice can go longer with the folds rubbing together with liquid to keep them from creating that friction. This is part of why its so important to stay hydrated when we are recording. That lubrication helps the voice. Now its much better to stay AWAY from the damage and the rubbing together than it is to get mileage out of it. So use the water as a back up IN CASE they rub together, not as an excuse to let them.


Vocal Damage Can Be Caused By:

-Over Use of the Voice

-Incorrect Use of the Voice

- Incorrect screaming

-Incorrect Breathing

-Bad/No Vocal Warmups

-Poor Body Position

Over use of the Voice: Just like with any muscle, your voice can get tired and fatigued. When this happens, it becomes easier to do damage. Similar to if youve been lifting boxes all day and your arms are tired, its easier to tear or pull an arm muscle. Its important to notice when you may be speaking with vocal fry (covered later) or you may have a lot of tension in your throat muscles. These can be signs your voice has been pushed to the limit and needs to rest. You also never want to push through a cold or sickness. If your voice isnt ready to go back to work, DONT! Please give your voice the proper time to recover and rest. Forcing it will cause strain and can do damage.


Incorrect use of the Voice: Vocal fry is speaking with the vocal cords rubbing together. It creates aa frog like croaking sound. The video blow sums it up better and faster than I can here so I'll source that. But please note that incorrect use of the voice like speaking with vocak fry can easily create voice damage.


Incorrect Screaming:

Screaming is an easy one to cause damage as well for 2 reasons. The first is incorrect relaxation or lack there of with the throat and voice muscles. A scream is a guttural instinct reaction. When done correctly, the throat should be completely opened and relaxed. When forced or strained, the second reason, thats when vocal damage is caused. By straining any throat muscles, we restrict and limit the area allowed, increasing the tension and decreasing the distance between vocal folds, increasing odds of them rubbing together.


Incorrect Breathing: Youve heard me shout from the mountain tops (Safely) that a good voice and every voice, should start with a supported breath from the diaphragm. I cover this more in most of my vocal performance classes or my 6 week bootcamp. Any singing coach should also walk you through breathing from your diaphragm as well. I'll include a few videos below. They dont cover EVERYTHING I'd like to, but they will start to introduce the idea to you and you can start to practice it on your own. IMPORTANT NOTE: When you start breathing from your diaphragm, you will increase the amount of oxygen in your blood. This can cause you to become light headed. If you don't breath from you diaphragm already, dont worry. Its easy to switch back to breathing from there like you once did (Because we all naturally breath from there, but some of use switch to chest movement only breathing at some point in time). But when you start to practice this, dont do so while driving, or walking

. I recommend setting a timer for 5-10 minutes, laying on your bed, and practicing that way first.



-Bad/No Vocal Warmups

With the internet being... The internet. Anyone can hop online and say whatever they want. With that, please make sure you look for multiple sources and that those sources work for you. I cant tell you HOW many videos I have found trying to source the CORRECT way to do a vocal technique, only to find videos of people teaching the things that CAUSE vocal damage. If a person had just come across the video, they might take that as the "correct" way to do things and then end up hurting their voice.

I've created a video of my favorite vocal warm ups, but that doesnt mean they all may work for you. Search around and find ones that work best for you that DONT HURT! They should never hurt.


-Poor Body Position

Our chest, throat, neck, and shoulder muscles all can have an effect on our voice. The image below is just a quick examples of how many muscles run next to your throat and vocal cords. If any of these muscles are tighten, it can lead to vocal strain or damage.

Another way to think about it is like a garden hose. When the garden hose is all straight, the water flows evenly through it. But when its knotted and bent, water may have trouble. The water in this scenario is your voice and air. You want everything to be relaxed so that your vocal cords can be pushed apart properly and air flow supported and even.




Notes: My rule of thumb with ANY and ALL voices: If it HURTS, DONT do it! If it hurts, something is wrong and you need to consult with a vocal coach to address WHERE things are going wrong.

Please also know there is always a right way and wrong way to achieve each sound. So just because you hear another actor doing something doesnt mean emulating that sound will be producing it correctly.

When in doubt, please seek out professional training and coaching from a speech pathologist.

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