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Acting in Plays, Singing/Am I harming my vocal cords?

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QUESTION: Recently, I've been singing a lot. Almost all the time, in fact. And I've noticed a few things weird about my throat. First, it feels like there is something in there sometimes. Some kind of lump or something. But I don't think anything is there. Second, my throat feels "tight", for lack of a better term, a lot. When I sing, it feels kind of tight sometimes too. Third, when I swallow, I hear/feel this random clicking-like noise. It happened once last year, but went away. Now, it happens a lot. I'm kinda scared that I'm doing damage to my vocal chords, or that I have nodes or something. Am I harming them? My throat doesn't hurt, it just feels weird. Tight almost.

ANSWER: Hi, Meg –

Thank you for the question.

Another way to describe the tightness you are feeling is tension.

What do you mean by "singing a lot"? Are you performing more frequently than ever before? Are you preparing for a performance or perhaps an audition?

I sang professionally for 20 years and have been a private coach to working singers in San Francisco and the Bay Area even longer. Many young singers who come to me for the first time describe sensations similar to yours. Most often, they notice the discomfort when they are suddenly in situations where they are singing more than ever before — for example, in a choir or a voice class at school, being cast in a production of some sort that involves a lot of rehearsals, getting ready for a competition, etc., or simply for their own private enjoyment and nobody else is listening. What they share in common is bursting into a performance level of vocal output, i.e., big volume, intense emotional expression, and singing notes that are higher or lower than anything they've ever sung before. And now they wonder why it hurts.

At the root of problems like these is that their vocal chops are not yet strong enough to sustain prolonged periods of that kind of output. A similar analogy can be applied to someone who suddenly decides to enter a long-distance marathon but has not been in training for it or has never run or biked or swam before. The experienced runner knows that they have to warm-up first or they risk injuring themselves. They have to know how to run around the block before they can run a mile. They have to build up strength to run two miles before attempting five or twenty. In other words, they know how to get into shape and to stay in shape.

A professional singer must be ready to deliver the goods at any hour of the day, any day of the week—no matter what. If they can't or don't, then someone else who CAN will be hired to replace them. Simple.

My job as a professional trainer is to first identify your vocal category, i.e., soprano, alto, etc., and then train you accordingly. That process includes complex scale work that is designed to balance, maximize, and strengthen your vocal range. No matter the genre of music you want to sing, if you want to perform and to perform professionally, then you must learn how to develop and to take care of your vocals. My job is to show you how.

I don't give pharmaceutical advice. But if this discomfort is not getting better or worsens, then you should consider talking to an ENT — an ear, nose, and throat specialist. Maybe it's allergies. Talk to your pharmacist.

Nodes can develop from abusive singing. And there's no set timetable as to how long it takes. It depends on the individual.

I am a vocal coach to working singers in the San Francisco Bay Area. I'm also an entertainment critic for HuffingtonPost.com – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean-martinfield and Classical music reviewer for Examiner.com – http://www.examiner.com/user/4557381/articles. Let me know when you're ready to come to San Francisco for some vocal coaching.

Check out my web site: http://FabulousFilmSongs.com

See my interview with popular TV host, David Perry, on "Ten Percent":
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKeeTYTYMAI

Below are links to my articles and youtubes on the San Francisco Bay Area entertainment and cultural scene:

Nonsemble 6 presents Schoenberg's 'Pierrot Lunaire' – in corsets
http://www.examiner.com/article/nonsemble-6-presents-schoenberg-s-pierrot-lunair

'Onegin' – A Must-See at San Francisco Ballet, Final Performances 3/26—28
http://www.examiner.com/review/onegin-a-must-see-at-san-francisco-ballet-final-p

David Klein and Nick Wooley of 'Billygoat' play at Switchboard Music Festival
http://www.examiner.com/article/david-klein-and-nick-wooley-of-billygoat-at-swit

Tenor Noah Stewart Debuts with Berkeley Symphony in World Premiere of New Work by Steven Stucky
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean-martinfield/noah-stewart_b_2899344.html

Marnie Breckenridege, A Modern Soprano for Contemporary Opera
http://www.examiner.com/article/marnie-breckenridge-a-modern-soprano-for-contemp

A Profile of Choreographer John Neumeier and his "Nijinsky"
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean-martinfield/profile-choreographer-john-neumei

Peggy Cummins Honored at San Francisco's Noir City Film Festival
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean-martinfield/noir-city-film-festival_b_2569333

In Conversation with Peter Gallagher – Coming to the Venetian Room
http://www.examiner.com/article/in-conversation-with-peter-gallagher-coming-sund

Melody Moore steps into Tosca — Opening Night at San Francisco Opera
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean-martinfield/tosca-san-francisco-opera_b_21965

Patricia Racette – A Definitive 'Tosca' at San Francisco Opera
http://www.examiner.com/review/patricia-racette-a-definitive-tosca-at-san-franci

'Moby-Dick' opens at San Francisco Opera: A Conversation with Composer Jake Heggie
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean-martinfield/moby-dick-san-francisco-opera_b_1

'Drama Queens' – A Conversation with Mezzo-Soprano Joyce DiDonato
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean-martinfield/drama-queens-a-conversation_b_214

Vasily Petrenko, BRIT Male Artist of the Year, Conducts SF Symphony, 10/5–6
http://www.examiner.com/node/53741556

Marco Vratogna Is Sensational as Rigoletto at San Francisco Opera
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean-martinfield/marco-vratogna-is-sensati_b_19070

A conversation with Joshua Bell, featured guest artist at opening of SF Symphony, 9/19
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean-martinfield/a-conversation-with-joshu_b_18824

Jazz vocalist Nicole Henry makes San Francisco debut
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean-martinfield/jazz-vocalist-nicole-henr_b_18536

Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford duke it out at The Castro Theatre's 90th Anniversary
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean-martinfield/norma-shearer-and-joan-cr_b_17750

The Wizard of Oz Meets the San Francisco Symphony
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean-martinfield/wizard-of-oz-san-fran-symphony_b_

The "It" Girl, Clara Bow, A Featured Star at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, July 12–15
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean-martinfield/the-it-girl-clara-bow-a-f_b_16613

Jun Kaneko's 'Magic Flute' Is Stunningly Visual
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean-martinfield/magic-flute-jun-kaneko_b_1633445.

Samuel Ramey is Leo the Great in San Francisco Opera's 'Attila'
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean-martinfield/samuel-ramey-attila_b_1586131.htm

'Victor Herbert, Collected Songs' – A Great CD
http://www.examiner.com/review/victor-herbert-collected-songs-a-great-cd-for-mem

Tom Judson Is Making It Big In San Francisco
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean-martinfield/tom-judson-cabaret_b_1498594.html

A Look at Gennadi Nedvigin, Principal Dancer with San Francisco Ballet
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean-martinfield/gennadi-nedvigi-ballet_b_1427319.

Organist Christopher Houlihan Makes A Powerful Debut at Davies Symphony Hall
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean-martinfield/christopher-houlihan_b_1398351.ht

RICHARD WINSOR – An Interview With the Star of 'Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake in 3D'
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean-martinfield/richard-winsor-swan-lake_b_135148

DEANNA DURBIN – The Leading Lady of NOIR CITY, Wednesday at The Castro Theatre
http://www.sanfranciscosentinel.com/?p=166623

KRISTIN CLAYTON– A Conversation with "The Diva" of Teatro ZinZanni
http://www.sanfranciscosentinel.com/?p=166029

DIANE BAKER – Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK
http://www.sanfranciscosentinel.com/?p=32007

CAMERON CARPENTER – An Interview with Seán Martinfield
http://www.sanfranciscosentinel.com/?p=24462

AT LAST! – ANN HAMPTON CALLAWAY – An Interview with Seán Martinfield
http://www.sanfranciscosentinel.com/?p=27122

MARNIE BRECKENRIDGE – An Interview with “La Princesse” of Philip Glass’ Orphée
http://www.sanfranciscosentinel.com/?p=109326

A Conversation with Elza van den Heever
http://www.sanfranciscosentinel.com/?p=99268

CUBAN BALLET – An Interview with Octavio Roca
http://www.sanfranciscosentinel.com/?p=86049

A Look At "Giselle" with Ballerina Lorena Feijóo
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33-a6Oa-0j4

ZUILL BAILEY – A Conversation
http://www.sanfranciscosentinel.com/?p=58241

Best regards,
Sean Martinfield


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks for the advice! By singing a lot, I mean, just around my house. I have auditions coming up soon, so I've been practicing my audition song. Also, at a class I'm taking, we're learning a song, so I've been singing that a lot. I also sing in choir class everyday, but I was on school vacation when the clicking and tension happened, so I wasn't in choir.

There is a song I've been practicing that has a little "growling", for lack of a better term, in it. (It's the song Bring On The Men from Jekyll&Hyde, and there is a growl on the first "bring") Could me attempting to growl like that be causing the discomfort? I try not to growl, but it kind of happens naturally sometimes. It doesn't hurt to growl, but it just sounds weird. Should I try taking a break from singing?

Answer
Hi, Meg –

Thank you for the follow-through question.

"Lucy Harris" in JEKYLL & HYDE is at the top of the list of roles that will turn your voice into hamburger if you don't know what you're doing or, worse, do not have the seasoned vocal chops to sing it.

Have you ever seen a professional production of the show?

Professional audition notices for JEKYLL & HYDE indicate that anyone auditioning for the role of Lucy must have a strong belt and the vocal know-how of a Pop star. Her range extends from G#3 to E5.

Again, you must develop and secure your vocal range first before attempting this kind of material. Singing the song over and over will not provide you those skills.

As you say, what you're doing now sounds "weird". Taking a break is not the answer, because you will go right back to what you were doing before.

Bear in mind that not all vocal coaches teach the same thing the same way. Until you find someone you can work with – if singing "Lucy Harris" is your goal, then you must practice your scales from at least F#3 to F#5 every day. My job is to show you how.

Best regards,
Sean Martinfield
San Francisco, CA

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Sean Martinfield

Expertise

I am a professional vocal coach in San Francisco. I have published over 3300 responses related to vocal training - particularly as it relates to Musical Theatre, Pop/Standard, and Opera. I have 30 years of experience as a personal trainer to working singers and actors in the San Francisco Bay Area. I sang professionally for 20 years and know what it means to live the life of a musician. I can determine your voice category, i.e., Tenor, Baritone, Bass, Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Alto, Alto Belter, etc., and how to broaden and strengthen your range. Need an audition song for a Broadway Musical? I can assist you with your song selections and help you build an audition portfolio that demonstrates your vocal category and meets the requirements specified in the audition notice. I have created a vocal methodology, "The Belter`s Method". It will enable those in Cabaret and Musical Theatre to practice more efficiently because it focuses on the vocal demands of professional performers and will keep you performance-ready. If what you want is a better voice and more control over your career moves and choices, contact me at: BroadwayBelters@yahoo.com I am also a music and cultural critic for HuffingtonPost.com and Examiner.com. I interview internationally recognized musicians, singers, dancers, and recording artists -- particularly those who are now appearing or scheduled to perform in San Francisco.

Experience

As a vocal coach, I work primarily with singers and actors throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. My students range from absolute beginners to working professionals, from kids to senior citizens. The vast majority of my clients come to me through recommendation. I know how to identify any singer's vocal category, i.e., soprano, tenor, alto, baritone, etc. I know how to muscle-up every singer's vocal range and to expand it beyond conventional definitions. I have developed a vocal methodology for those who want to know how to belt, THE BELTER'S METHOD. There are a number of major components to my work as a vocal coach. The first is to identify the client's vocal category and to strengthen and maximize the vocal range accordingly. Then it's about teaching a reliable vocal workout that will enable the client to gain better control of their musicianship. That includes scale work to expand the vocal range and to improve placement, breath control, and diction. Then we work on material for the audition portfolio, the immediate job or assignment, a recording session, etc. My task to is to better equip singers and actors who are hoping to or relying upon their performance skills and vocal endurance to maintain a career in the Performing Arts. My clients regularly appear in cabarets and musical productions throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Some have worked in New York and gone on National Tours. For more information, Contact me at: Broadwaybelters@yahoo.com

Publications
HuffingtonPost.com Examiner.com FabulousFilmSongs.com SanFranciscoSentinel.com

Education/Credentials
San Francisco State University – BA in Theatre Arts; graduate work in Theatre, Philosophy, and Comparative Reiligion. Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley – Graduate work in Ethics

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