Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Vocal Damage

Well, I have a somewhat long and complicated history with vocal health, and I was hoping I could obtain some advice on it. I used to be a singer, and when I was eighteen I got the nodes, (I'm 21 now), but recovered from them after four weeks of vocal rest. The problem was I didn't have money for a good coach and I really didn't feel like my voice was quite what it was before, not even in terms of range but in terms of fatigue. Ironically, I sort of abandoned music and playing in bands for a time in pursuit of philosophy and poetry. What these fields brought me to was my true calling all along, which is rap. Now this may seem strange that a rapper is seeking consultation on the matter of vocal health, but I assure you I am in need of aid. I've been very careful with my voice, anytime I've overdone it performing at a show I always made sure to give it rest and proper hydration. I quit smoking which also helped. The main problem is that after a show in the summer, I experienced a bad bout of vocal fatigue, something that hadn't really bothered me in quite sometime. I gave it weeks of rest, and went to an ENT who told me my vocal cords look great. The problem is they don't feel "great" and get worn out super easily making it impossible to pursue my career. I tried doing some of the vocal warm ups I was taught in vocal therapy when I originally had the nodes, but those end up hurting a day or two later. That's the strange problem with my cords, I don't feel pain from "abuse" if you want to categorize it as that, although I'm pretty careful about my vocal habits, until two days after the fact. I never fully mastered using my head voice and diaphragm, as much as I tried, so I'm sure I'm guilty to some degree of improper use, but I also feel like I've been quite generous and kind to my cords in terms of rest and over usage. This has been going on for months, and has taken a toll on my social life and performing abilities. Any thoughts you can give me would be greatly appreciated. I just pray there's hope I'll recover.

Melissa Kim, MS, CCC-SLP replies... 
Thank you for the detailed history! In it, I think you have answered your own question. The symptoms you describe sound very much like supraglottic hyperfunction, or excessive tension of laryngeal muscles with speaking or singing. This is not something that you would "realize" you were doing, but can result in vocal fatigue/ effort, pain, hoarseness, and limited pitch range. I would suggest that you see a laryngologist - an Ear, Nose, and Throat physician who specializes in the voice, and ask for a referral to a speech pathologist specializing in the treatment of voice disorders. This is a condition that can improve dramatically with voice therapy.

Best of luck to you!