Episode 25 – Vocal Fatigue | Speech Level Singing | Reflux


Matt Butler brought us in with his wonderful single, Ride Again. Free download available here!!
ut for now, here’s a nice live version of it!


Let’s not waste any time getting in to the questions!! First, we are talking…


John Norman: Love the podcast, keep up the good work. A little bit of background; I’m a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, and after I got back from music school in 2010 I got very interested in becoming a competent vocalist to be able to perform my own music. Having a wife, brother and sister who all sing professionally helps to correctly guide my progress. I’m planning on taking lessons next year, but there’s tight finances with 1 year old twins.

How can you tell, if at all, between vocal fatigue that points to long term stamina and improvement, and fatigue that points towards bad habits and long term problems? I’ve never lost my voice or been unable to sing but since I’ve been singing without strict instruction I’d like to get more insight on my singing progress. Thanks so much.

You must be doing something right if you’ve never lost your voice. But, we need to know how often you use your voice to get a good understanding of where the fatigue is coming from. Singing once a week with incorrect technique is an easier situation to manage than singing more regularly, so if you’re getting fairly ragged in one session per week then there’s things to address.

But how do you build stamina in the voice to avoid tiring? The vocal cords are muscle, but they are different to other muscles in the body. They can’t bear weight, so they aren’t responsive to the same stimulus as the biceps, for instance. You can’t push past the point of pain to get an eventual improvement like skeletal muscle, because the vocal cords are more delicate than that and can’t hypertrophy. Instead, they crash and burn!! So you have to teach them to be coordinated in order to increase stamina, on one level.

Stamina is also a full body experience for a singer. You can crash and burn just as easy by not having enough fuel in the tank and burning up energy through dancing, thinking, applying technique, respiratory muscles and external muscles in the neck used for belting, stylistic purposes or through straining. We notice you have one year old twins, so you must be knackered from the outset too!!!

So back to how can you tell if you’re building up stamina or hurting yourself? Well, the first indicator would be that your voice is slowly but steadily improving without fatigue. There will be some circumstances where fatigue is going to be present, especially when working on things like cord closure, which is easy to overdo. If you are feeling fatigue routinely, and for fairly substantial periods then stamina is probably not being built. You’ll need the input of professionals to guide your practice in the right direction, as training in isolation is a difficult thing to get right. It’s inevitable that you’ll develop some bad habits that way!

Another test for vocal fatigue and it’s impact is to see how you are after a period of time. It’s common for singers to experience a little bit of roughness the next morning, but if you’re fine by lunchtime then you’re probably out of the danger zone. If it’s past that and your voice is still fatigued then you could be damaging your voice.

Best advice is to get a teacher to work with you and guide you through the steps for an efficient voice!

Reflux and SLS

Acid reflux in singers

Angel Sanchez: I’ve been a performer for a very long time, and a vocal coach for about five years. Recently I’ve had a bout of acid reflux that damaged my oesophagus and I’ve been on vocal rest for 3 or 4 months. It’s been very difficult to get myself back to the place I was before the reflux. I’ve found that during singing my voice feels good but the power isn’t there. I realise it’s going to take a while to get my full power back, but my issue isn’t as much with my singing voice, but rather with my speaking voice. I find that after long periods of singing my voice isn’t weakened or tired, but after long bouts of speaking my voice goes down the toilet. I recently found a book on Speech Level Singing. I’m always a little sceptical when I see books written by ‘teachers of the stars’ but I gave it a chance and it’s ok. I don’t think it’s going to overtake my teaching style but I’d like to borrow some ideas. What do you guys personally think about it?

Let’s start with Speech Level Singing, or SLS for short. We at The Naked Vocalist spent some time training in SLS, which is system of voice training developed by Seth Riggs (Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Barbara Streisand, and so many more). It’s much like any other technique. Strange sounds and weird exercises, all with the aim of trying to get voices working better! SLS used sounds in a certain way, and if you feel you would like to borrow some ideas then great! There’s value in every technique out there, but equally there is no one way of doing something and no technique has all of the answers. Although SLS served us well and gave us a good grounding, looking back it’s clear that they also didn’t have all the answers, which leads you to look elsewhere to find them. Keeping the mind open as a vocal coach is a great ethos going forward in any case!

Aaaanyway, reflux. Simply, acid reflux is where stomach acid burns the oesophagus, and also the vocal cords, which damages the tissues in those areas. This means that over time acid can impair the vocal cords ability to vibrate, specifically the mucosal layer. To get a better idea of what has happened you would need to consider getting a rigid scope done to view the cords and see if there’s any damage there. That will direct your voice training better and help you decide what to do.

Another question is “Has it cleared up fully?”. If it hasn’t, then puffiness on the cords might remain and may be impairing your ability to coordinate your voice into a powerful spot. This means you would need to take a much lighter approach up top. This puffiness could easily be translated into your speaking voice, sucking out energy and tempting you to overdrive it a bit, which makes it more tired.

The fact of having 3 or 4 months of voice rest was also a key point, because it may have pointed towards a potential period for learning less than ideal speech patterns. This is purely because the vocal cords were impaired, and it’s common for people to force their voice or speak abnormally in that. Only problem is, when the inflammation is gone you’re left in that new and problematic speech pattern.

So our advice is to seek guidance from a vocal coach, or maybe also a speech therapist, to get your speaking voice and singing habits back on track. One tip for the speaking voice however is to say ‘mmm mmmmm’, as if you really like a dish that’s about to be served. Say it excitedly, with energy. That is one way to find your optimum speaking pitch, and many find that they are talking too deeply! Good luck Angel…. keep in touch!!

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