Recently, hundreds of thousands of fans were saddened to hear that Adele had once again suffered vocal damage so severe that she had to cancel her tour. This was of particular shock because it was only 6 years ago that she had undergone a very highly specialized, incredibly delicate type of microsurgery on her damaged vocal cords. Adele is just 29 years old, and she is not alone. It is estimated that vocal cord surgery has been performed on thousands of pop, rock, and classical singers, as well as on theatre and stage musical stars. Christian singers are not immune. Many of our most beloved CCM artists and worship leaders have undergone surgery as well. I personally spoke with Phil Wickham just days before he underwent vocal surgery and prayed for him throughout his ordeal, as did thousands of his fans as we followed his progress on Facebook.
For years, vocal cord microsurgery had been considered risky. (Remember how in 1997 an unsuccessful vocal surgery procedure left Julie Andrews’ voice beyond repair?) And yet, more and more, singers dealing with damaged vocal cords, looking for a quick (and hopefully permanent) fix are turning to surgery to solve their vocal problems. But what is the REAL problem? What is the REAL long term fix for such issues, and what can we, who are serving in our local churches, do to ensure that we don’t fall prey to vocal damage that could cut short our ability to continue to serve Him for a lifetime?
What’s been especially hard for me to watch over the last couple of generations is how vocals have evolved. It’s no longer acceptable to only have a pretty tone, ability to deliver a song, good intonation, and great support. Now you have to be the MOST powerful singer with the BEST style and WIDEST range with the most POWERFUL voice. There is a striving, vocally, that seems to have consumed us. We aren’t content with a powerfully executed high note, we have to BELT (aka scream) the note to feel as though we have accomplished something as a singer. We are urged on by what we hear being recorded by our “professional” singers. Even the artists themselves can’t perform these tricks outside of the studio because they have often been digitally ‘enhanced’. And when they DO attempt to tour and sing live, they often end up in vocal trouble.
So, what can YOU do to make sure you’re singing correctly?
First Things First
Here is a good rule of thumb to remember: if you think you have vocal damage – you probably do. We, as singers, need to start paying more attention to the signals our body (and vocal cords specifically) are giving us. So many singers want to believe that the damage that they feel or hear in their voice is simply a passing phase due to some temporary stimuli. In some cases, it’s true. Believe it or not, the body—and our vocal cords specifically—are incredibly resilient if given the opportunity to heal and regroup. But any time you are experiencing long term, consistent hoarseness, pain, loss of range or specific notes, or change in vocal quality, you need to get to and ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat doctor) and get checked out. Don’t delay. You have nothing to gain by waiting and EVERYTHING to gain by early detection. You can’t (or won’t) fix a problem that you don’t know exists
Check List for Proper Singing
- Be willing to lay aside certain notions you have as a singer and readjust your long term goals. Do I want to imitate today’s styles, or can I be content to sing in a more natural and time honored healthy way? One will get you some temporary accolades, the other will allow you to sing for a lifetime. The choice is up to you.
- Get some real vocal training. Learn how to use breath support properly and relax the muscles in the throat and neck area. Master the ability to relax your larynx so that your cords aren’t pushed to strain. You really can’t skip this step if you want to be confident that you are singing correctly.
- Get feedback. Watch yourself sing in a mirror. Get video footage of yourself when you are singing live and carefully review your technique, being careful to look for strain and listening for air in your tone. If you are adding the air to your tone: stop doing that immediately. If you hear air in your tone and you are NOT adding it on purpose, it could be the result of vocal damage. Be honest with yourself about what you are hearing and seeing and address the issues. Sweeping the problems under the carpet will not make them go away.
One of the problems I have with a damaged singer getting surgery is that is does not address the root cause of the surgery in the first place. Adele was told she was healed and her voice was even better. Sadly, she believed this and likely did not take the necessary steps to solve the problems that initially put her voice in peril. I much prefer a more natural approach to vocal cord healing: one that will solve the problem permanently. Too many singers are approaching vocal cord surgery like a fad diet. They achieve their goal quickly but end up with a worse problem in the end. If you have gotten to a place where you have damaged vocal cords, you likely didn’t not get there overnight. True healing will take time.
If you feel you may be struggling with vocal damage, feel free to email me through my website at sherigould.com. I will be happy to help walk you through some potential solutions.
God Bless you as you sing for Him!