Therapy for an overused, abused, or exhausted voice

Weekly Teaching Tip – Aug. 14, 2017
by Mary Walkley

As I began to contemplate my first teaching tip, a vocally exhausted student showed up for a lesson. We spent the entire hour doing vocal therapy and discussing vocal health. While this is on my mind, I think it appropriate to make my teaching tip about providing therapy for an overused, abused, or exhausted instrument.

I begin the therapy lesson by discussing vocal health, and trying to discern what abusive behavior the student was engaging in. In today’s case, my student was yelling over loud music in a bar on South Beach in Miami for several hours. Although she hadn’t completely lost her voice, she was very breathy and unable to close her vocal folds. I do know a teacher in New York who won’t take students who work in noisy bars, and I told her why. We made a plan whereby she promised me not to yell up in her chest voice for hours at a time…..progress!!

I began the therapy lesson with an octave and a half lip trill. I moved from chest voice up through the student’s third bridge, and left the fourth bridge and higher to a more vocally healthy day. I might have shortened the exercise if I had heard the student pushing too hard or forcing the top. If I hear that the cords start closing better on the way down, as they usually do, because the lip trill occludes the air, I may repeat the exercise to gain its full benefit.

Secondly, I continue with a tongue trill on 1- 5-3-5-8-5-3-1 which is repeated once at each pitch level, ascending by half steps. As we enter the first bridge area, which is usually the most abused area, I ask the student to “lighten up,” and to try to feel the sound going back when in the bridge area and then going forward in the chest voice. This helps the student “feel” the resonance moving back and forth in the vocal tract. Mistakes students often make here are pushing too hard on the top. I give them my “triangle” idea: Think of your voice like a triangle. The bottom is your chest voice: wide, easily produced, not breathy. As you ascend in pitch, you get lighter and narrower. Nearly all students can do this exercise, except those with extremely tight tongues, which will be discussed another day.

The third therapy exercise I do for a tired voice is a low larynx exercise. I like “guh” on a descending 5 note scale, 5-4-3-2-1, starting with the top chest note, and then repeating while descending by half steps. I ask the student to say a big “g”, and to put his/her fingers on the top of the larynx. They can easily feel how the “g” sound pushes down on the larynx, and can easily to this exercise. Often, if the student has been singing incorrectly, the larynx is still up from the night before….this exercise can usually get it back down. Also, a really “woofy” “nuh” works to push the larynx down also. These exercises worked extremely well today; the larynx came back down, and the cords closed much better after doing these exercises.

Another exercise that works for an abused voice is the much-discussed straw exercise. Because it severely limits the amount of air, therefore the larynx stays down and the cords stretch and thin, and everything works in a healthy way. Other exercises that work with a tired or abused voice are the “squeaky door” exercises, the “ng” exercise, and the vocal “fry” exercise.

We can discuss these in future vocal tips. They are also excellent exercises to encourage closure and begin building strength in the first bridge.

I hope this was helpful.

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