Is Something Wrong With My Voice?!

Sometimes I receive a call from a singer who thinks they have a voice disorder. Thinking something is wrong with the voice can be disconcerting. We live with all sorts of aches and pains, but when something might be wrong with the voice, it’s a big deal. The good news is, sometimes nothing is wrong, which we’ll explore later. But if something in a voice sounds off, what are the possible problems? A voice disorder can be detected when a singer can’t sing on or sustain pitch, when the tone is really, really breathy, or when part of the vocal range disappears out of nowhere. If the sound of a singer’s voice meets these criteria, I wonder if they have one of the following disorders:


Muscle Tension Dysphonia (MTD) is a condition that causes laryngeal muscles to function inappropriately to create sound to overcome hypofunction. MTD often leads to other vocal disorders. Singers with MTD often have breathy, inconsistent, or crackly voices in singing AND speaking. Oftentimes, the extrinsic laryngeal muscles will be obviously active in any vocal production. In the worst cases of MTD I’ve seen, the laryngeal muscles will randomly tense up and cause quite a bit of discomfort to the singer. Treatment for MTD is voice therapy!


Polyps are specific, demarcated masses (lumps don’t automatically mean cancer!) usually occurring midpoint along the vocal folds. Polyps typically occur in males, although not always. A polyp can be challenging to detect, because as it wiggles around on the vocal fold, it doesn’t always disrupt the sound. Treatment for polyps can include voice rest, voice therapy, and/or surgery.


A cyst is a mass of a collection of material (usually mucus) that is surrounded by membrane. Cysts occur within the lamina propria (a thin layer of connective tissue on the top of the vocal folds) and when the vocal folds are irritated. Treatment for cysts include vocal rest and surgery.


Nodules – NOT NODES! – are like calluses and bilateral, meaning they occur on both vocal folds. Nodules are usually caused by hyperfunction, and typically occur in females. Treatment for nodules is voice therapy, NOT surgery, for a minimum of 6-8 weeks, along with amazing vocal hygiene. 


Notice with all disorders listed above, voice therapy is part of treatment. A lot of muscle groups – and I do mean many, many – are involved in vocal production. If these muscle groups are conditioned to work in such a way that got your voice into a mess, these same muscle groups need to be taught something new. That is the work of voice therapy. It’s necessary and really good for your voice.


Sometimes when I get a call from a singer who needs lessons to correct a disorder, nothing is actually wrong. In this case, the voice is often just out of shape and needing a workout. So, voice lessons – or working out of the voice – builds strength, coordination, and stamina, and confidence.


Stay sensitive to your voice, take care of it, and have fun singing! 

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