During my time as a teacher it has concerned me how many singers run into vocal trouble; particularly contemporary singers (however, as the scope of singers I work with are only contemporary- I have to plead ignorance to the reality of vocal problems with classical singers). Unlike the classical musical genre there has not been a substantial tradition of training the rock/ pop ‘voice’, I feel that this is largely due to the fact that the popular music industry is so much newer in comparison to the classical or operatic world. Also, the demands of the contemporary singer are different to the classical singer- particularly as there are so many styles and so many different vocal qualities from one genre to the next (this is not a personal aesthetic preference/ validation of either style but something that I feel is a reality). This is particularly evident when one looks at the difference in vocal qualities and tone needed from folk, pop, gospel, rock to country- it is huge. You can not use a ‘one size fits all’ vocal quality for every contemporary genre.
Many of the singers birthed from the pop music industry are considered ‘natural’ singers through the very fact that they have taught themselves to sing through listening to others who inspire them and (as is normal) to varying degrees there is mimicry involved. Alternatively, they may come from a family of musicians and thus music is as much a part of everyday life as is sitting down and eating dinner together. In these situations a singers ear may be well developed, as is there kinesthetic awareness of what feels ‘right’ as they sing.
However, I still continuously come across many singers who appear to be doing everything ‘right’ whilst singing and who have a sound vocal ability who still develop a vocal difficulty of one sort or another over the course of a year. On the odd occasion it can be that the singer has sang whilst sick and the vocal folds which are already dehydrated and swollen become even more so after singing (leading to huskiness or voice loss). However, sickness aside, oftentimes many of these singers are not doing anything wrong whilst singing but it is the absence of what is happening after that leads to the vocal problems. So what is this problem or absence that I am referring to? It is the lack of a vocal cool down. Singing is muscular; it involves coordinating a variety of different muscles. An athlete never runs to warm up the body- they always stretch, as should a singer stretch the vocal folds through warming up as opposed to launching into a song to warm up. After a fitness workout it is also strongly recommended that you stretch AGAIN- the reason being is that through exercise the specific muscles you have been using have contracted/tightened and through stretching it releases those muscles back to their natural resting posture so that you do not injure yourself. Despite the fact that singing IS muscular and your instrument IS your body this same theory has not translated into the world of singing and this is particularly where it is needed.
Muscular effort in contemporary singing is often felt through maintaining fold mass or ‘core’; as is seen in belt and speech quality (or a middle mix) and through the larynx having to rise and the great deal of support that other muscles give to stabilize the larynx and maintain this level of effort; namely the tensor palatini (one of the soft palate muscles) and the sternocleidomastoids- and a host of other muscles. This is fundamentally where the problem lies after singing; these support muscles remain contracted and the larynx becomes ‘fixed’ quite high in comparison to its normal resting posture and once an individual begins talking without ‘resetting’ or cooling down the voice it becomes incredibly tiring on the vocal folds (which have also contracted significantly in order to sing high pitches). Consequently these muscles become even more tense the longer they are in this position, which then leads to vocal fatigue, huskiness, neck pain, headaches, jaw pain and general physical fatigue. Trying to counteract this by talking at a lower pitch will not solve the problem- you actually need to get the muscles back to their original resting posture.
The sternocleidomastoids (which as stated above are part of the larynxes support network) are a group of muscles which are incredibly strong. Theses muscles which wrap around the neck (from the mastoid process-just behind the ear- to the front of the larynx; sternum) form a V shape and can be felt if you turn your head from one side, to the next. Once these muscles get into a state of rigidity (because of a lack of a cool down/ or just general over-use) they influence the mobility of the larynx and impact on the muscles that help a singer to move higher in pitch thus resulting in an inability to ascend into the upper part of the voice, resulting in a loss of range. Once these muscles are overworked they are also the ones primarily responsible for headaches (and neck pain).
There are specific things you can do to re-set the larynx and bring it back to the level which is your normal resting posture but this must be done immediately after singing. However, sometimes the muscles become so fixed and tight through frequent voice use that you may need a manual therapist to get in there ‘unlock’ everything. There are several osteopaths and physical therapists (who are in high demand) and who specialize in voice related massage techniques but unfortunately they’re all in the UK.
So if your voice is your livelihood remember that although a warm up IS important so is a vocal cool down.