I'm a 22 year old soprano with a light, flexible voice that is even and healthy all the way up to a C#6. Although my teachers don't seem worried, I feel like I've always had range and endurance issues. I've never been able to sing consistently higher than a C#6, besides just a handful of times when I've popped out high E's or F's without meaning to. I can lip trill up to an Eb6, but I don't know why I can't sing those upper notes. Also, just this year I've been able to practice for an hour without getting too tired. Before recently, I'd practice 30 to 40 minutes a day and be done. I've always felt that I have less endurance than other singers my age, as some of my classmates practice 2 hours a day. Also, sometimes when I practice, I'll get about 30 or 40 minutes in and will suddenly have all this phlegm in my throat that gets in the way. By the end of a practice session, I'll often be phlegmy and my range will have dropped about 2 notes, but I won't feel tired at all. In fact, I'll feel dry, despite the phlegm. Sometimes after I practice, I'll be phlegmy all day, and my speaking voice will have a rawer quality to it, even though my voice didn't hurt or feel tired when I practiced. I know I have environmental allergies, and I've been to the ENT a few times because of this, as well as sinus pain and ear blockage. I've been using Nasonex, Patanase and a neti pot for a while, and these seem to have done the trick as far as sinus pain goes, but I still get phlegmy a lot. My vocal coach suggested I might have silent acid reflux, too, but I don't know how I would figure that out; I do wake up with a raw/sore through sometimes. I was also scoped in August and the ENT said my vocal cords looked perfect, so there's obviously nothing seriously wrong with them. I'm listing all these things to see if any combination of them might be partially responsible for my issues. Or is it more attributed to
vocal maturity than anything else? Thank you!
Joanna Lott, M.A., CCC-SLP replies...
Thank you for your question. I would encourage you to be evaluated by a voice team including a laryngologist and speech-language pathologist, both of whom specialize in voice. Problems like those you describe can be caused by a number of factors, including muscle tension, vocal fold lesion, or vocal fold swelling. Your ENT likely used a fiberoptic endoscope (camera through your nose) or a mirror to look at your vocal folds. But video stroboscopy is the only diagnostic tool that allows us to see the vocal folds in motion and, depending on the camera, gives us a clearer, closer picture allowing for more accurate diagnosis and treatment.
Once you have had a video stroboscopy performed by a laryngologist specializing in voice, voice therapy with a singing voice specialist may be recommended to work through any muscle tension and unnecessary vocal effort that might be preventing you from reaching your potential with optimal vocal ease.
Meanwhile, I would make sure you are drinking plenty of water to thin out the thick phlegm you are experiencing. Singers should drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day and should sip at it all day long to keep the vocal folds (as well as the rest of the body) well hydrated. If there is a reflux component to your vocal issues, there are dietary and behavioral changes you can make including reducing caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, fatty foods, and carbonated beverages in your diet, as well as avoiding lying down for a few hours after eating. There are also diagnostic tests for reflux. The most accurate for determining if laryngopharyngeal reflux is present (reflux that would cause vocal issues) is a pH probe.
Video stroboscopy, voice therapy with a singing voice specialist, and pH probe testing are all available at our center. Please feel free to call 443-849-2087 if you would like to set up an appointment. Please let me know if I can be of any further help!
Joanna Lott, M.A., CCC-SLP
Singing Voice Specialist
Johns Hopkins Voice Center at GBMC