20 Singing Lessons to Improve Your Voice
Before You Start – Assessing Your Vocal Health
This may sound a bit unusual, but some of you may need to seek a doctor’s advice before beginning this course of vocal training, just as you might if you were beginning an exercise program at the gym. If you are having vocal problems and have turned to this book as a means for improving your voice, you still should determine the underlying cause. A trip to a knowledgeable, experienced laryngologist should be your first order of business. If possible, try to find a doctor who specializes in treating singers or public speakers.
During your appointment, be prepared for a full examination of your vocal cords. If there is physical problem, the doctor will be able to make that determination and explain it to you. The next step is to ascertain whether the problem(s) was due to illness, or caused by vocal abuse. That’s a rather strong term for sure, but it’s aptly descriptive, as vocal abuse is simply using your voice in such a way that it causes damage to the voice. The diagnosis might also indicate the need for some medical attention or speech therapy.
Always carefully consider the diagnoses and recommendations of medical experts. Laryngologists and speech therapists have training and experience, and they know the inner workings of the voice well. They can determine when, if, or how you should be using your voice. Please understand that if you suffer from vocal problems, a laryngologist must clear you for singing before you embark on any course of vocal training.
Once I had a student whose laryngologist told her she should take some voice lessons to improve her singing, in order to retrain her vocal habits to avoid incurring the same vocal problems. She immediately contacted me and arrived for her first lesson. Through the course of her lesson, I became more and more concerned, as her voice sounded very rough and she was having great difficulty reaching certain notes or producing any kind of a clear, free tone. It did not make sense to me, as she had said that the doctor had recommended the lessons.
A few days later, she went for a follow-up visit at her laryngologist’s office, and they told her that she should not start voice lessons until she had finished her work with a speech therapist. Apparently, she had not understood from the initial appointment that the doctor had not cleared her to sing, but was suggesting the pursuit of proper vocal training subsequent to her recovery from the current state of vocal problems.
Could you hurt your voice if you are singing when you should not? In short, the answer is yes. That is why it is so important to make sure that you are completely healthy when you begin your vocal training. If you are not careful, there is the potential to cause short-term or even permanent damage to your vocal cords by using them when they are not up to the job.
Some speech therapists recommend that singers should consider having a baseline examination and imaging done of their vocal cords. Imaging your cords gives medical professionals a record they can compare to if you are sick or have vocal trouble in the future. Your doctor or speech therapist can help you determine if this is a good medical decision for your vocal health. These tests can be expensive, but if you are a professional singer, it might be something to consider. Some music schools regularly assess the vocal health of their incoming freshmen, in order to have this information available while they are in school.
The scope of vocal health is too broad for a discussion here, and so I prefer to leave that advice to those licensed, experienced physicians who specialize in the voice. When in doubt about a student’s health, I always refer them to a professional laryngologist if there is any indication of vocal problems.