Vocal Load Management Part 1: Technique or Capacity?

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Good Technique Does Not Exempt You from Voice Injuries

I came across this comment online recently: “If you have good vocal technique then you won’t have voice injuries”and I wholeheartedly disagree. Good technique is critical for voice health, that is for certain, but there is something equally as important as technique and that is vocal capacity.

Why is vocal capacity so important? Because no amount of technique can protect a voice user from the ill effects of overuse and overuse happens when your voice use exceeds your vocal capacity.

Why isn’t good technique enough? Because your voice is a living musculoskeletal instrument, which means it is subjected to the same biological convention like the rest of your body. If the most elite of sports people with the best technique can fall victim to overuse injury, so too voice users with the best technique fall victim to overuse injury.

No amount of technique can protect a voice user from the ill effects of overuse.
Know Your Capacity

Your body is robust, strong, incredibly adaptable and can be trained to do amazing things, that being said, there is also a maximum to your capacity at any given point in time:

  • Even the strongest and technically great weightlifters have a limit to how much weight they can lift.
  • Even the strongest, fittest runners with the best technique will run out of legs after a finite distance.
  • Even the top tennis players with the best technique will fatigue and start missing their shots after hours of battle. Remember that epic match between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal at the 2012 Australian Open Final? It went on for 5 hours and 53 minutes! Both players were so spent they had to bring out chairs on court for them to sit on during the post-match interview!

Just as athletes have a limit to their athletic capacity, voice users also have a limit to their vocal capacity. You can and should strive to improve your overall capacity, which takes time and consistent effort. Right now as you are reading this today, you have a certain amount of capacity in you to carry out all your vocal tasks. If you push past your current capacity, and keep pushing and pushing, you are going to max out. Continued voice use beyond your capacity is how you set yourself up for overuse issues.

What is Overuse Injury?

What is overuse anyway? That’s when you use your body in a way that exceeds your current capacity and your tissue begins to change on a cellular level. If you continue to push beyond your current capacity, your tissue can eventually fail. A callous is a great example of tissue change in response to an unaccustomed load. Callouses are generally harmless and can even be helpful for grip, however, too much unaccustomed load can cause your callous to rip and bleed and puts you out of action! The tricky thing about overuse is that ill effects are not immediately noticeable and they are not always symptomatic. By the time you realise something is awry, the overuse has typically been going on for weeks.

Good Technique Does Not Equal to Good Capacity

Good technique is absolutely paramount in voice use. However, good technique does not equate to good vocal capacity. Even when you have great technique your voice will eventually fatigue with too much use. This is why learning how to manage your vocal load and how to safely improve your capacity are important for vocal health.

Technique is not just important for singers, it is essential for non-singing voice users, too! Tony Robbins has openly talked about how he damaged his voice from excessive speaking, doing multiple seminars a day for years on end. This is where there is tremendous value working with a good voice coach. Also, there should never ever be any discomfort or pain when you use your voice, should this be the case, you need to go see a speech language pathologist immediately.

Good vocal technique does not equate to good vocal capacity.
Famous Voices with Overuse Voice Injuries

Here’re some examples of famous singers who have had overuse voice injuries. From the vocal coaches I’ve spoken with, some of them have good technique, some don’t. I’m not surprised this list includes those with good technique because technique is only one half of the equation.

  • Adele
  • Dame Julie Andrews
  • Björk
  • Whitney Houston
  • Sir Elton John
  • John Mayer
  • Freddie Mercury
  • Luciano Pavarotti
  • Frank Sinatra
  • Rod Stewart
  • Joss Stone
  • Justin Timberlake
Key Contributors to Your Vocal Load

So how does one manage vocal load? What does it encompass? Here’re some of what contributes to your vocal load:

  • Frequency of voice use – How often do you use your voice? How much voice rest do you get?
  • Duration of voice use – How long for? Continuous or intermittent?
  • Intensity/ Effort – How hard are you working? Rehearsal vs Performance.
  • Volume – Are you shouting? Are you voicing in a noisy environment e.g. a noisy classroom. Are you whispering?
  • Style/ Genre – Belting, distortion, character… etc.

Vocal load management is about striking a balance between demand and capacity, knowing how to progress your capacity safely, and smart planning. In the next post I’ll show you a nifty method to quantify and monitor vocal load.

’Til next time, Be Free In Your Movement™.

B. Phty
This information is not medical advice. Got health concerns? Consult a real-life health professional.
Views are my own

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