Vocal Strain - What is it and How to Fix it

For aspiring singers and seasoned vocalists alike, hitting those high notes can be an exhilarating experience. However, it is not uncommon to encounter challenges while attempting to reach those lofty pitches. One of the most common obstacles faced by singers is vocal strain, which can be a frustrating and limiting factor in their vocal journey. 

As a vocal coach in Kelowna, I have seen this problem many times and there are specific techniques and exercises that can help to overcome it.

In this blog, we will explore the causes of straining when trying to sing high notes and provide valuable insights and techniques to help singers overcome this hurdle.

Understanding the Causes of Straining
Vocal strain typically occurs when attempting to sing notes outside of your natural vocal range or when you lack proper vocal technique. It can manifest as tightness or tension in the throat, a strained or forced sound, and sometimes even pain. Several factors contribute to this issue:
1)    Lack of Breath Support: Adequate breath support is essential for singing high notes. When we strain, we often rely on shallow breathing, causing tension in the throat and vocal cords.
2)    Inappropriate Placement of Sound: Incorrect vocal placement can lead to straining. High notes require a different resonance than lower ones, and if the sound isn't directed properly, strain can result.
3)    Tension in Neck and Jaw Muscles: Tension in the neck and jaw can affect vocal production. When singing high notes, some singers unknowingly tense up these muscles, leading to strain.
4)    Forcing the Sound: Trying too hard to reach high notes can lead to pushing the voice beyond its limits, causing strain.

Techniques to Overcome Vocal Straining
Now that we understand the root causes of vocal strain, let's explore some effective techniques to help overcome this challenge:
1)    Proper Warm-up and Vocal Exercises: Always warm up your voice before attempting higher notes. Engage in gentle vocal exercises that gradually expand your range and promote relaxation in the throat.
2)    Breath Control: Work on developing strong breath support. Practice deep diaphragmatic breathing to ensure you have enough air to sustain high notes without strain.
3)    Vocal Placement: Learn proper vocal placement for high notes. Focus on directing the sound towards the front of your face or the mask, rather than pushing it from the throat.
4)    Relaxation Techniques: Practice relaxation exercises to release tension in the neck, jaw, and shoulder muscles. Yoga, meditation, and gentle neck stretches can be beneficial.
5)    Vocal Training and Coaching: Consider working with a vocal coach or trainer who can identify any technical flaws and provide personalized guidance. They can also help you build a strong foundation for your singing technique.
6)    Avoid Over-Singing: Be mindful not to overuse your voice, especially when you're already experiencing strain. Allow your vocal cords sufficient rest and recovery time.

Patience and Persistence
It's important to remember that overcoming vocal strain and mastering high notes takes time and dedication. While it’s tempting to listen to other singers and believe that singing just comes natural them, don’t be fooled… chances are they have done a lot of work to get their voices to that point. Be patient with yourself and avoid getting discouraged if progress seems slow. Keep in mind that every singer's journey is unique, and it's crucial to focus on improvement rather than perfection.

Straining when attempting to sing high notes is a common obstacle faced by many singers and I have many voice students who experience noticeable improvement after only a few voice lessons . However, with the right techniques and consistent practice, it is a challenge that can be conquered. By improving breath control, vocal placement, and releasing tension, you can unlock your true vocal potential and achieve those soaring high notes with ease. Remember to approach your vocal journey with patience, persistence, and a passion for growth. 

Happy singing!