10 Tips to Tune Out Vocal Fatigue

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From Adele's struggles with hemorrhage during her 2011 tour to Freddie Mercury's legendary vibrato causing vocal nodules, many singers grapple with the challenges of vocal fatigue. When nurtured with proper technique, your voice should last as long as you need it to. For the times your pipes need a tune-up, however, here’s a breakdown of the top 10 causes of vocal fatigue, plus ways to avoid or remedy them so you can get back to belting.

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What is vocal fatigue?

Vocal fatigue takes place when the voice is strained, hoarse, or weakened from overuse or exposure to damaging environments. “Just as it sounds, vocal fatigue results when you’ve overused your voice without proper recovery time,” explained voice teacher Connie de Veer. “The vocal folds are muscles, and just like any other muscle or muscle group, they get tired, sore, and don’t work as well after a strenuous workout. You might have vocal fatigue if you find that along with the hoarseness, you’re running out of breath when speaking or singing, your throat or neck feel tight or tense, you’ve lost facility in your upper and lower parts of your range, your voice feels scratchy, or your mouth feels very dry.”

Most vocal fatigue is caused by improper or insufficient breath support. If a singer does not have stable and consistent support for their sound, then the body will adapt by using other less efficient and often damaging ways of getting the sound out.

Vocal fatigue causes and fixes

Singer

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1. Cause: Belting—pushing too much chest voice too high up in the scale.
Fix: Support the top of your chest voice through steady breathing. Try increasing the sensation of flex in the lower support without interruption as you rise in pitch. Feel your abdominal muscles stiffen when you’re using your chest voice, and keep them flexed as you enter your head voice.

2. Cause: Smoking and/or drinking alcoholic beverages.
Fix: Reduce harmful behavior by stopping smoking and drinking entirely, reducing your consumption, or using less abrasive options—for example, beer instead of liquor. 

3. Cause: Periods of excessive loud talking, such as trying to have a conversation over the DJ at a loud party.
Fix: Avoid speaking loudly whenever possible, especially before an audition or performance. If you must share your music suggestions with the DJ, rest your voice afterward.

4. Cause: Singing with a high larynx, which manifests most often as pushing the larynx up in the throat to “help” the pitch rise.
Fix: Lower your larynx by doing vocal warmups such as “hooty gees,” advised voice educator John Henny. “Using a dopey cartoon voice (think Yogi Bear), say the word ‘gee.’ You should feel your larynx drop. The ‘g’ consonant should also help with cord closure due to the backpressure it creates, so you can experience accessing the upper register with a stable larynx and closed cords.”

5. Cause: Tongue tension, primarily manifesting as a grabbing or bearing down by the base of the tongue onto the larynx while singing to create the perception of a richer tone.
Fix: When trying to reach a lower register, focus on relaxing your throat first, then relax your tongue moving from the back to the front of your mouth. 

6. Cause: Singing without proper soft palate space.
Fix: Expand your palate by yawning and doing the “ng” exercise. “Make the ‘ng’ sound from the word ‘rung,’ Henny explained. “This sound is produced with the tongue and soft palate together. This…provides backpressure, while also making the transition between the lower and upper registers (chest voice and head voice) easier.”

7. Cause: Jaw tension while singing, which does not allow for the proper stretch of the soft palate.
Fix: To create more freedom in your jaw, make a soft smile and allow your jaw hinges to open slightly. Chant “ya-ya-ya” and “la-la-la” on a single pitch as you travel down the scale, allowing your tongue to do the work rather than your jaw.

8. Cause: Pushing too much breath pressure through the larynx.
Fix: Do breath control exercises such as square breathing—breathing in for a count of four, pausing and holding for a count of four, letting the air out for a count of four, and holding for a count of four—until you feel breath traveling through your body effortlessly.

9. Cause: Singing with the head/neck pushed forward, as though the singer were reaching for the notes out or up in front of him.
Fix: Hold your head high, directly over your shoulders, and maintain proper singing posture.

10. Cause: Lack of stable diaphragmatic support for breath so the singer ends up supporting their sound by other detrimental, unintended means.
Fix: Sing from the diaphragm by taking deep, slow breaths from your chest.

Now that you know how to avoid vocal fatigue, look into our musical auditions listings!

The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Author Headshot
Arden Kaywin
Arden Kaywin is voice teacher, vocal coach, and vocal producer in Los Angeles with over 10 years experience working with developing singers and nearly 20 years as a professional singer herself. She holds a master’s degree in music and vocal performance from the Manhattan School of Music in NYC, where she studied classical voice and opera.
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