Often, new students will come in and tell me that they think they’ve hurt their voices somehow, because when they try to sing it “hurts”.
Of course, there are many reasons that you could be experiencing pain while singing. If you are genuinely concerned about the welfare of your voice, you should absolutely consult your laryngologist. However, I will let you know the common reason for pain while singing (that I continuously see in my studio) and it’s not as scary as you may think.
Let’s start off by debunking a myth. You cannot actually feel your vocal cords. If you’re straining your voice, you won’t feel your actual folds straining. In fact, a vocal injury is detected in singers by changes in vocal quality, not in how your vocal folds “feel”. Those changes in quality of sound should prompt you to see a doctor.
Phew. That’s outta the way. Now onto what is making you feel discomfort.
What you are actually feeling when your “voice hurts” is muscle tension. When we sing incorrectly, we engage the muscles we use for swallowing, which we really don’t need at all for singing. After a time, these muscles get sore and tired from being employed for the wrong job.
“That’s it, Emily? I’m supposed to just… RELAX?”
If you’ve ever had a partner that tells you to “calm down” when you’re stressed out… you know that this “just relax” tactic never works. So, if you’re feeling tension, here’s a couple great ways to tell your hard-working muscles not to work that hard:
Depending on where your tension exists, muscle holds can be some of the most helpful ways to calm your oh-so-sore muscles down. If you’re feeling a SQUEEZING or PINCHING feeling next to your adam’s apple, try taking two fingers on each hand and placing them RIGHT NEXT TO your adam’s apple. Not too far away, and not right on it, but directly next to it. Apply a TINY bit of pressure to that area. Try singing with this hold in place.
Another hold that works? If you are having pain in the big, strong muscles on the sides of your neck, or you’ve noticed that you look like you’re giving birth while singing a song… try this one. Use “karate chop hands” and place them on the sides of your neck, where your big neck muscles stick out. Use the sides of your hands to apply a little pressure to those sternocleidomastoid muscles. Try singing that way.
Most people don’t think about how big our tongue muscle actually is. We see just a part of this powerful muscle. It fills our mouth and lower part of our jaw, and goes all the way to the top of our larynx. Do you feel pain right above your adam’s apple when you sing? Does it ache into the underside of your chin? Well you, my friend, are likely pulling your tongue down while you sing. It’s a tough habit to cure, I would know. I struggled with it for years. What to do? Sing your song with a strong “K” sound at the beginning of every word. This action forces the tongue to stop retracting and do it’s job.
You can also put the top your pointer finger right in the spot where your chin and your throat meet. Not like you’re pointing at it, but like you’re pointing to the wall next to you, with your flat knuckle touching the top of your chin and the side of your finger on your throat. Try singing and not letting the top pull down. You have no idea how much easier this will make your singing.
Need another suggestion? Stick your tongue out as far as it will go with your mouth open and exhale strongly (like a panting dog or a DRAGON!). That helps to stretch that area out.
Think of your voice like a new puppy. You can’t always reason with it… but you CAN train it with consistent actions. It’s muscle memory. Find a great teacher who can diagnose your issues and help you reach your vocal goals.
KEEP SINGING! 😀