Friday, June 29, 2007

Vocal Fatigue

Vocal fatigue can affect every singer to varying degrees. In the amateur ranks, the cure is usually painless and very simple. If one is not under the pressure of having to sing in order to keep a chicken in the stew pot, that singer can just stop for a while and rest will allow the fatigue to subside. Even in cases where the fatigue was brought about by bad singing technique, rest usually does the trick. After a short break, the singer can go back to the karaoke bar or the church choir and resume singing, bad technique intact, until fatigue once again dictates a period of inactivity.

But what about the professional singer who has dates on the calendar? There are professional singers who may have less than perfect technique and suffer from vocal fatigue. Indeed, there are a great many professionals whose lack of extensive vocal training can be an integral element of their style. Introducing too much correct technique into the style of a known artist with a characteristic sound can be catastrophic. I know that I'll get heat for that last statement, but only from the academic crowd. But screw you, you know who you are...snobs! Get back in your classroom and shut the door.

I have worked with quite a few pros who suffer from vocal fatigue. The first step in helping such a singer is to provide reassurance. The stress of thinking that one has lost one's voice can be the biggest hurdle to overcome when rehabilitation is required. After a singer buys into the possibility that the voice can and will come back, the real work can begin.

A singer should never think about technique when performing. If proper care is taken to develop exercises which gently heal the overused elements of the vocal mechanism, it will be able to recover sufficiently for the singer to continue performing without changing style or character. When a singer's style includes tension or a tight throat, there is damage done to the mechanism every performance. Consequently, every night's work begins a bit worse off than the last, until fatigue doesn't allow the singer to continue. Certain exercises designed specifically with each particular singer in mind can serve to get back what is lost during performance much like a football player might use water jet treatment or massage to therapeutically loosen fatigued or damaged muscles. This requires patience, trust, thorough knowledge of vocal mechanics and imagination. The sort of thinking that can deal with vocal fatigue in a well-known singer is the sort of creative thinking that may sometimes be frowned upon in academia. But professional singers live and work in the real world and sometimes an academic approach can fall short of success in real world scenarios.

My favorite tube amp technician is a purist. ( Yeah, I know. This is going off on a tangent but stick with me.) You can't pay him enough money to do a modification on a vintage amp. But there is one area where he will fudge the specifications. Say you have a sweet Fender Tweed Deluxe. The thing has been running with the same old capacitors for 30 years and is starting to make rice crispy noises as it warms up. Now, normally, an amp tech would replace the old, tired and leaking capacitors with new ones made to the original manufacturer's specifications. You plug in to the amp and, gosh, doesn't it sound fresh and clean. But wait. What happened to that lovely warmth, that flannel-like fuzzy mantle that surrounded your guitar sound? Aha! This is a case of correctness spoiling character. My guy will tell you that your amp does need capacitors and if you don't replace them, the sound will deteriorate further over time. But the deterioration up to this point has resulted in a sound that you like. So he will measure the value of the capacitors as they are today, and install new ones at the deteriorated value. Now your amp will have that character that you've grown to love without deteriorating. No, the values of the new capacitors are not correct according to the factory schematic. BUT WHO CARES!! The amp performs the way you like it to and it will do so dependably.

Now, I don't know if you'll understand the correlation between my amp rap and the issue of alleviating vocal fatigue. Suffice it to say that creativity is not limited to performers. The creative minds that work in support of creative performers can have a great impact on what you see and hear on the concert stage.

Think "outside." Think of something you do as a result of habit, and just for today, do that one thing differently...but don't hurt yourself!

Next entry, I'll discuss some pertinent vocal exercises and how they came about.


JamesPete said...

Nice article, I completely understand the tube amp comparison.

I played a show last night, and I have minor vocal fatigue... My voice is a tad scratchy and weak when I sing higher up. I've been using good breathing techniques but something must be off... Luckily I don't have a show for a couple of days so I'm just going to rest... I wish I could avoid vocal fatigue all together though. Band practice is today and it will be lame not to sing.

Oh well.. I need a vocal coach. Keep writing man. I enjoyed the article, you have a good "voice".

Anonymous said...

Yeah, likewise James. Did a show and too am suffering fatigue with same symptoms. Vocal coach is my next move.

Great post! Thanks.

Nzinga said...

Thanks so much I really am grateful, I am a singer who teaches and really needs help correcting my speaking technique.

Rosa said...

Yup, same here... I'm a soprano, been practicing a lot and logged a good 9-10 hours today alone on one piece. This, after a couple hours the day before. I think I sound like crap now and I have to sing again tomorrow...bleh! Thankfully I can rest on Saturday before going back to sing with the church choir on Sunday. Then 2-1/2 days of rest, and then one more Sunday Mass, and then a nice long break!