Voice Therapy for Singers: How to Know When to Get Help


As a singer, your instrument–your voice–requires special care and precautions to avoid injuries. But what if the damage is already done? What symptoms should you watch out for, and when is it time to look into voice therapy? Learn more in this guest post by Corona, CA teacher Milton J...


As singers, we understand that the voice is an instrument all of its own. Furthermore, we should also understand that our voice is a muscle that requires its own workout, and is subject to injury much like other muscles in our body. So, what can we do to prevent these injuries from happening? Read on to learn more about vocal health and vocal therapy.

What is Vocal Trauma?

Vocal trauma is an acute form of stress that comes from the misuse or overuse of the vocal folds within the larynx, or voice box. The vocal folds are thin strips of smooth muscle tissue with a mucous membrane positioned opposite from each other within the larynx. It is the vocal folds that move and vibrate when air passes by them which, when resonated through our vocal cavities (throat, mouth, and nose), creates our vocal tone. When we’re being silent, those vocal folds are open so that we can inhale and exhale more freely. When we begin to speak, our brain sends the neural signal to the vocal folds to snap together in conjunction with the air passing by them to vibrate and create speech.

What Can Vocal Trauma Lead To?

When damage is done to these vocal folds, it can lead to possible bleeding and the formation of blisters known as nodes (paired growths on both sides) or polyps (one growth on one side). These growths restrict the pliability of the vocal folds, keeping them from vibrating and oscillating properly. Ergo, you will not be able to sing.

The most common reason why nodes or polyps form is due to bad singing habits. Failing to properly warm up and continuing to sing when ill or vocally fatigued are the biggest contributors. Hoarseness–when the voice sounds breathy, raspy, or strained and feels scratchy–usually accompanies vocal trauma. If you feel you have been practicing these bad habits, let your vocal teacher know quickly.

When Should I See My Doctor?

If you’ve had vocal or throat discomfort for more than three weeks, especially if you haven’t been sick, make an appointment with your doctor. Additionally, if you’ve been coughing up blood, a feeling of a lump in your throat, difficulty swallowing or breathing, experience pain when speaking, or have a loss of voice for more than a few days, place an urgent call to your physician. If your vocal trauma has been prolonged, your doctor may refer you to an otolaryngologist, or an ENT (Ears, Nose, and Throat) doctor. This doctor will most likely used an endoscope–a thin tube with an attached camera–to get a better look at your throat, larynx, and vocal folds. They may also put you through vocal exercises to determine voice irregularities. Your doctor is the only one who should be diagnosing you, and will let you know how to proceed. Voice therapy can include relearning healthy vocal techniques (and eliminating bad habits), specific vocal exercises, or even vocal rest for a designated period.

Remember–don’t ignore any discomfort. If you continue to sing while exhibiting the symptoms listed above, you risk doing further damage to your vocal folds.

What Can Be Done to Minimize the Risk of Vocal Trauma?

I cannot stress enough the importance and necessary usage of proper vocal warm-ups. You should not use your voice for singing without having warmed up your voice beforehand. Think of it as stretching before a run or workout; your vocal folds are muscles that must be warmed up for them to operate at peak capacity.

Additionally, in your vocal lessons, your teacher should properly assign your voice type and range so you can operate within your voice capacity, in addition to working on exercises and repertoire that can expand your vocal range safely. A lack of or wrong assignment of your voice type and vocal range could lead to hoarseness and subsequent vocal trauma as outlined above. If your voice teacher has not done so, please let them know you would like to have this information available to you.

I hope this information helps you in your vocal training. Happy singing!

MiltonJMilton J. teaches guitar, piano, singing, music recording, music theory, opera voice, songwriting, speaking voice, and acting lessons in Corona, CA. He specializes in classical, R&B, soul, pop, rock, jazz, and opera styles. Learn more about Milton here!



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Photo by archer10 (Dennis)

1 reply
  1. Lourdes
    Lourdes says:

    I work as a vocal therapist with singers to repair vocal chord damage and to assist in post-surgery recovery, as well as with non-singers who have suffered loss of voice due to injury or illness, including post-stroke aphasics and those recovering from tracheotomies. I just want to say that this is an excellent article which I will share with my own students.


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