How to Talk to Your Voice Teacher about Correcting Common Voice Problems

A functioning larynx (this person is breathing in and allowing air to pass freely through the vocal cords).
A functioning larynx (this person is breathing in and allowing air to pass freely through the vocal cords). | Source

Voice teachers are there not only to teach you how to sing; they can improve the quality of your speaking voice, too. There are a number of common voice problems: you may have a crackly sound in your voice, called "glottal fry", which sounds like something is frying in your vocal cords; you may have a breathy, an immature-sounding, a squeaky, or a nasal voice. Any of these conditions can affect not only your career but also your health. The good news is that all of these problems can be easily corrected by a trained voice teacher. If you have any of these conditions, you should see a teacher to correct your problems. Long-term misuse of your vocal cords can lead to edema, nodes, nodules, or polyps on your vocal cords, sometimes requiring painful and expensive surgery. You can even abuse your vocal cords so much that you may end up with uncontrollable bleeding from your vocal cords, such as happened to Adele, Jordin Sparks, and Steve Tyler. In that case, you will require extended hospitalization, a ridiculously long period of complete vocal rest, and you may permanently damage your voice. A few thousand dollars spent studying with an expert voice teacher over the course of a year or two can prevent surgery, or even the loss of your job, and improvements in your voice may also affect your personal life, so this is an investment that may pay for itself many times over.

A Woman Speaks in a Phone in a Room with Models of Voice Patterns, by Willard Culver
A Woman Speaks in a Phone in a Room with Models of Voice Patterns, by Willard Culver | Source

Who Can Benefit from Vocal Training?

Many people, when pressed, can name singers and public speakers as people who might need voice training. However, if you use your voice for your job, you may also benefit from vocal retraining. Here are just some of the careers where a healthy voice is essential:

  • Call center employees
  • Sales
  • Managers (having a certain voice quality has been proven to improve compliance)
  • Teachers
  • Receptionists
  • Personal assistants
  • Ministers
  • Corporate presenters
  • Corporate trainers
  • Workers whose primary job is speaking on the telephone

Acland's DVD Atlas of Human Anatomy, DVD 4: The Head and Neck, Part 1
Acland's DVD Atlas of Human Anatomy, DVD 4: The Head and Neck, Part 1

This video is essential for really understanding how the muscles in the body control laryngeal function!

 
Acland's DVD Atlas of Human Anatomy, DVD 3: The Trunk
Acland's DVD Atlas of Human Anatomy, DVD 3: The Trunk

Essential for understanding how the muscles of the trunk work to control breathing.

 
Freeing the Natural Voice: Imagery and Art in the Practice of Voice and Language
Freeing the Natural Voice: Imagery and Art in the Practice of Voice and Language

There is absolutely no substitute for a qualified teacher. However, if you want to get a feel for the kinds of things a qualified teacher would have you do, this book is a must to help you weed out teachers that do not understand how the body works to produce sound.

 

Common Symptoms of Vocal Dysfunction

  • Nasality is caused most often by a lowered soft palate. To correct this, you need to retrain your breathing so that your soft palate is automatically lifted and held in the correct position by the act of breathing. If your teacher does not understand how to use breathing to retrain the soft palate, it's time to look for another teacher.
  • A "hooty" voice is caused by a too-high soft palate. Again, this involves retraining your breathing to encourage proper placement of the soft palate.
  • A tight, choked-up sound is caused by tension in the muscles surrounding the larynx. Your teacher should work with you to help you relax these muscles as they are being used. You can also find a massage therapist who specializes in laryngeal muscles.
  • A breathy voice is caused by the vocal cords not meeting properly. There are a number of exercises your teacher will give you to correct this problem, but this depends largely on the individual and the right exercises for you cannot be explained over the internet. Find a teacher that deals with correcting speaking problems.
  • An immature-sounding, or a voice that is too deep, is caused by an imbalance of laryngeal muscles. Your teacher can help you bring these into balance so that both sets of muscles work together in a coordinated way.
  • Glottal fry (the "creaky" voice") is caused by the muscles compressing the larynx in the wrong way, which does not allow the vocal cords to vibrate properly. This is a specialized condition which can be corrected by your teacher.

Interior of the Neck
Interior of the Neck | Source

Things to Remember

  • The most important thing is to find a qualified teacher who understands biomechanics and how the use of muscles affects the voice. The throat is packed with numerous muscles that control the function of the larynx, and any inefficiency in the use of these muscles will negatively affect your voice.
  • If your voice teacher talks about "projection," "using the diaphragm," or "supporting the tone," she or he does not really understand the role of functional muscle anatomy and physics in the production of sound. The way opera singers can sing softly, and be heard over the orchestra in the third balcony has to do with the reflective properties of sound (think of an echo). By encouraging certain qualities in the voice, sound will be reflected in every direction off of every hard surface (just like light off a disco ball!). (For a moment, think about projecting a light. Does the light work harder? Sound shares many of the same properties with light, and they work in very similar ways.)
  • Your teacher may work with both your singing and speaking voice. Since you use the same process to produce both speech and song, your teacher may use either or both to retrain your muscles.
  • Be wary of anyone who professes to give specific advice on singing or specific vocal exercises over the internet or by CD or DVD. Such one-way instruction never works because the teacher is not there to listen to you and make any corrections if you should make a mistake.
  • Practicing the wrong exercises, or the right exercises in the wrong way, will damage your vocal cords, not help them.
  • Do not attempt to change anything about the way you produce sound without the help and supervision of a qualified teacher--otherwise you may cause a lot of damage to your vocal cords, which may be permanent.

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