Vocal Fatigue

Vocal fatigue is multi-factorial and it is cumulative. That means it has taken several elements combining to make your voice tired and those elements probably happened over the course of many days before they caught up with you.

I’m writing this on a Friday and I noticed this morning as I read a story to my son that my voice is tired. It took me a moment to track back through the week, but here’s how I ended up this way:

  1. We turned the clocks ahead, losing an hour of sleep.
  2. Early in the week I gave a workshop in a large cavernous room where there was no microphone.
  3. I learned a new vocal exercise and while continuing to work on mastering it, I am doing it less than skillfully and have expended more vocal effort than I will ultimately.
  4. I have not slept enough (see number 1 above coupled with small children and a restless husband).
  5. I have not adequately hydrated my body.
  6. I have over-used my voice through teaching, reading, talking over ambient noise at a concert and singing.
  7. I strayed from my morning vocal warm up routine.

If you are a professional voice user (meaning you need your voice to succeed at your job….lawyer, teacher, minister, podcaster, coach, singer, actor) you may find that you end up feeling vocally tired, hoarse or with achy, tight neck/throat muscles, by the end of your work week.

The answer isn’t total voice rest  – in part because that usually isn’t realistic and because totally resting a muscle isn’t the best way to help it function more efficiently.  Yes, your voice is a muscle and it needs to be treated as such. In fact, I’m going to go so far as to say your whole body is your instrument (the voice) so you need to look at the whole body when you encounter vocal fatigue.

When you find yourself vocally tired here’s what you can do:

  1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. The outer layer of your vocal cords is a mucousal coating that is water based. As you talk your vocal cords bang into each other and wear away that protective coating. Without the coating, the heat and friction caused by talking cause the cords to swell (think about what would happen if you clapped your hands together hundreds of times per second – they would get a bit red, swollen and hurt). Your body needs to be systemically hydrated to be able to replace that coating – that means what you drank a day or two ago is impacting your voice today. Pee pale, we say in the singing world. Then you know you are hydrated.
  2. Speak at an appropriate pitch. We all have an optimal pitch for our voice. For women it is usually around middle C – we don’t want a monotone voice, but if we average your pitches out, we want it to be somewhere around there. Often we speak too low and that is putting one of the muscles of your voice in hyperfunction and tight muscles mean tired muscles.
  3. Sleep more. Vocal fatigue is about your whole body being tired. Sleep is also part of what helps that protective coating I mentioned above to regenerate. Cellular regeneration happens when we sleep.
  4. Be smart about your voice use – don’t try to talk above ambient noise in crowded areas, at concerts, on subways and at cocktail parties. You will subconsciously strain to be loud enough. Use a microphone if you are in a large space needing to be heard by lots of people. Don’t imitate voices. Don’t take that phone call from your friend with whom you end up chatting for hours.
  5. Massage the muscles in your neck and shoulders. They are often tight if you are straining to produce your voice. Stretching your whole body is very valuable too. If your voice muscles are tight, the rest of you probably is too.
  6. Work with a voice coach/teacher to establish a 10-15 minute routine you can use daily to connect to your breath, find your optimal pitch and warm the voice up. That way you are set up for optimal voice use all day long and all week long.

I’m going to go make myself a cup of tea and do some yoga to help my voice start to function better!




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