Jump to content

How much smoking does it take to ruin your singing voice, falsetto?

Rate this topic


AboveTenor
 Share

Recommended Posts

Hey guys, I am new to the Modern Vocalist. But I'm in no way new to singing at all. I have been at it for 5 long years now haha. I've been through SLS, SS, RYV, 4 Pillars, and How to Sing a HIGH C. I have also trained with Rob for an 8 hour Weekend Intensive in Seattle at The Vocalist Studio. So I know that smoking is a stupid idea LOL.

But I do smoke occassionally once every few months, so a few times a year. I was just wondering how long does it take until damage takes it's toll on the vocal folds harming the tone and range? I'm hoping I haven't already done damage. I know it's bad for lung capacity and breathing. But otherwise, I think it's more a long-term thing as far as having an effect. I'm not saying I'm still going to smoke. It's not good for my voice, as it always takes me a few days to recover, especially my falsetto.

The only reason I'm asking is because I'm a countertenor and currently a junior in college. I used to be able to sing up to an Eb6 in falsetto in high school. Now I can only sing up to an E5 in falsetto, but up to an A5-B5 (C6 on a good day) in full head voice through the use of twang by really having the resonant tract established and warmed-up for awhile.

You see my vocal folds won't adduct in falsetto around A5-C6 anymore. I can feel them wanting to get the notes out but they won't come together to make the sound. Now I know some of you are probably saying..why care if you can sing those notes in full head voice? Well in classical singing I can't go in there and sing like a rock/metal singer LOL. It has to be a reinforced falsetto. I suppose I could lighten up the head voice a little, maybe?

I asked the doctors at the Emory Voice Center (one of the best in the country) here in Atlanta and they said everything looks good (my nodules form overuse went away which was a miracle!). I asked them why my falsetto won't go as high anymore, and they said males shouldn't be singing that high anyway LOL.

My thinking is it is related to puberty and my voice lowered. I now have to kinda strain (as the throat tightens and air just comes out) when I try to hit those notes. I also kinda get a clicking/popping sound in my throat which turns out to be the larynx rubbing on the back of the spinal cord (sounds horrible but the doctors said it's normal and not a big deal at all).

Maybe it's related to my whistle voice, as the cords won't adduct that high (throat clenching). I can only do it occasionally, very rarily. My vocal cords have to be swollen from smoking, being sick etc.

So in conclusion, I guess my questions are how much smoking does it take to ruin the singing voice? And is it normal to have extreme difficulty singing that high in falsetto (A5-C6 area) and E6 and above in whistle because the folds won't adduct to make sound If not, is it related to the smoking?

Any help would be very appreciated, thanks guys!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The irony of smoking is that the sooner you quit, the less damage is done and most of the damage repairs itself. So, you're a young 20-something and in college singing classical and possibly in musicals or at least some arias. And you think you might be losing the upper end of your range, at least in a classical style of singing. Well, as I was saying, at your age, if one quits smoking, most any damage would be gone in a year, possibly less. For example, lung tissue regenerates almost as easily as skin cells. In fact, that's why it's easy to get lung cancer.

If you are able to hold your smoking down to being that infrequent, just give it up, if you can. It won't get any easier the older you get.

You may lose some of the very top of the upper range as you age. For one thing, you don't actually stop growing until about 25 years of age. And some things never stop growing, such as the nose and the ears. Second, ossification of body parts. Third, you just wear it out or your muscles get tired. And I am here to tell you as a total and bona fide fact of life, the older you get, the longer your body takes to heal.

Those are just my layman's opinions. Steven, here, would have better descriptions than what I have.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It differs from person to person, smoking does not nessecarly have that big impact on your voice. I dont want you consider your voice as a baby, it takes quite much to put it off.

By falsetto you mean a breathy sound? Cause in my personal experience a twanged falsetto is headvoice, and to get a classical soundcolor just imagine the sound being more hooty.

But the best is post clips of your highrange so we can hear your "falsetto" coordination and your head "coordination, I can give you a more accurate answear by then :P

Link to comment
Share on other sites

AboveTenor: By your description, you only smoke a few times a year. Based on that, I don't think the issues with your loss of upper notes are caused by that.

However, you make some interesting comments about 'clenching' and other things in your post... these are aspects of technique or constricting tension that you can do something about, and which can have a direct effect on your range.

To start, here are some general questions:

1) What is your total range, bottom to top, that you would include in a performance? Use middle C as a reference. What is your best octave?

2) What exercises do you do for

- lower range

- middle range

- upper range

- connecting everything together

3) Can you siren softly on ee and oo, from the very bottom of your voice to the very top, without blips or breaks?

4) Where do you form your vowels. at the lips, with the tongue, combination?

I look forward to your responses. As we get into this, we will be discussing particular techniques to address the vocal situation, as well as approaches specific for the countertenor voice.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Erm... How old are you ? Your voice may still be lowering from puberty. I strongly doubt so little smoking could have damaged your voice. I'd check the puberty and overuse over some smoking every other month actually. And as Mr Fraser suggested, you may be doing something not as right as you could.

Regarding your recovery time, I think smoking as little as you do disbalances your biological processes more than if you either didn't smoke at all or were more of a regular smoker. As in the throat and lungs are not used to it and respond to this aggression (ie lots of mucus, some irritation) strongly.

I'm not a smoker and I avoid smoke as much as possible. If I happen to be in a room with a lot of smoke, I quickly become irritated, making speaking harder. When I was younger everyone except me would smoke in my family, so I couldn't avoid smoke as much and wasn't experiencing this degree of annoyance. I was more used to smoke back then than I am now, and my body has a stronger reaction.

I'm not saying you should smoke more eh :P

edit : I hope that it's clear. :D

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for all the responses guys, it means a lot! Glad to hear I haven't done any damage. I am definitely stopping.

Jens, when I say falsetto I don't mean the breathy sound that Brett Manning demonstrates on SS. I've never really done that for some reason. When I say falsetto, I mean pure head voice. In fact, when I first learned what falsetto was in Chorus it turned out to be my head voice. For the first few months, I actually had like two or three different pitches come out of my mouth and they would try to blend and end up cracking into a fry all the time. Maybe that was falsetto then haha! Since then though, I have always had connection in the upper register. Btw I will try and post something soon. I need to figure out the best way of doing that LOL.

Steven, I just wanted to let you know that I have never really been able to figure out what I am. I can sing really low bass notes, go down to a C2, and even lower with vocal fry. It's not that loud in the 2nd octave (but I hear it can't be since the folds are vibrating so slow). It's not a rich, booming sound either. Most teachers tell me that I'm a baritone, but I usually sing Tenor II in Chorus because my chest voice breaks at F4. It starts to hurt if I I sing chest voice up there around the C4-F4 area for too long (I think it's the swallowing msucles around the larynx). I feel most free singing in my falsetto since it goes higher than most males, or used to. I love singing up there with the girls, especially sopranos (used to have that Eb6). I also can not shout in my chest as loud as other males at sporting events, so I use my head voice to do this instead. I also laugh like that too. But my speaking voice is low since it just feels comfortable sitting down there. The reason I think I'm a countertenor is my voice is pretty strong up until the passagio where it becomes weak (like most men, I know) but then it becomes EVEN powerful beyond C5. Also most countertenors are baritones. I think I'm slowly becoming a tenor though (which I want to be, but I know I can't force it) but my voice teacher won't let me try it since my voice doesn't break around G4. I am mostly a rock singer but I do a lot of chorus stuff too so that's why I'm asking about classical. I know it's a total laryngeal configuration ;)

1) My range is usually about A1-C6. My best octave as far as colorful, brilliant tones is the alto/mezzo-soprano range (5th octave) and my second one is the baritone/tenor II range (3rd, 4th octave).

2) I usually don't have to worry about the lower range, but vocal fry helps a lot in connecting everything together. I always try to establish the resonant tract via twang as Robert Lunte says. It takes awhile to find it everytime, but it's so worth it. I actually discovered it (my true singing voice) that way a few months ago. I don't have to worry about breaks in my voice anymore, it sounds perfect except I never could do whistle register :o Btw, lip rolls/bubbles/trills hurt my voice for some reason. I never can go as high when doing them as singing either. Maybe I use too much breath pressure?

3) Yes, I can siren without breaks in my range. But near the very top (where it doesn't go as high anymore) my larynx rises and it feels like the sound is narrowing kinda like a choking sensation. It doesn't hurt btw LOL. Using the swallowing msucles perhaps? My range in falsetto/pure head voice won't go any further. It wants to do it, but no sound will come out. The folds won't adduct that high anymore. Maybe I need to learn how to flip into the next register, whistle? The only way for me to hit those notes is through twang in full head voice.

4) I form my vowels mostly with my lips, my tongue always curls up and gets in the way (blocking the sound) :P

Thanks again so much, I look forward to hearing your response!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just wanted to throw this in the fray. Falsetto is not a range, it is a timbre or vocal effect. Therefore, falsetto is not head voice, though it is mostly used and accessible in the part of the range called head voice. And it's possible to have a well connected head voice is that is light in tone or weight and it's not falsetto, though some may have interpreted it that way, as I have also done, in the past. Falsetto is an airy quality from what I think is large amounts of air passing through incompletely adducted folds.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Steven, I just wanted to let you know that I have never really been able to figure out what I am. I can sing really low bass notes, go down to a C2, and even lower with vocal fry. It's not that loud in the 2nd octave (but I hear it can't be since the folds are vibrating so slow). It's not a rich, booming sound either. Most teachers tell me that I'm a baritone, but I usually sing Tenor II in Chorus because my chest voice breaks at F4. It starts to hurt if I I sing chest voice up there around the C4-F4 area for too long (I think it's the swallowing msucles around the larynx). I feel most free singing in my falsetto since it goes higher than most males, or used to. I love singing up there with the girls, especially sopranos (used to have that Eb6). I also can not shout in my chest as loud as other males at sporting events, so I use my head voice to do this instead. I also laugh like that too. But my speaking voice is low since it just feels comfortable sitting down there. The reason I think I'm a countertenor is my voice is pretty strong up until the passagio where it becomes weak (like most men, I know) but then it becomes EVEN powerful beyond C5. Also most countertenors are baritones. I think I'm slowly becoming a tenor though (which I want to be, but I know I can't force it) but my voice teacher won't let me try it since my voice doesn't break around G4. I am mostly a rock singer but I do a lot of chorus stuff too so that's why I'm asking about classical. I know it's a total laryngeal configuration ;)

1) My range is usually about A1-C6. My best octave as far as colorful, brilliant tones is the alto/mezzo-soprano range (5th octave) and my second one is the baritone/tenor II range (3rd, 4th octave).

2) I usually don't have to worry about the lower range, but vocal fry helps a lot in connecting everything together. I always try to establish the resonant tract via twang as Robert Lunte says. It takes awhile to find it everytime, but it's so worth it. I actually discovered it (my true singing voice) that way a few months ago. I don't have to worry about breaks in my voice anymore, it sounds perfect except I never could do whistle register :o Btw, lip rolls/bubbles/trills hurt my voice for some reason. I never can go as high when doing them as singing either. Maybe I use too much breath pressure?

3) Yes, I can siren without breaks in my range. But near the very top (where it doesn't go as high anymore) my larynx rises and it feels like the sound is narrowing kinda like a choking sensation. It doesn't hurt btw LOL. Using the swallowing msucles perhaps? My range in falsetto/pure head voice won't go any further. It wants to do it, but no sound will come out. The folds won't adduct that high anymore. Maybe I need to learn how to flip into the next register, whistle? The only way for me to hit those notes is through twang in full head voice.

4) I form my vowels mostly with my lips, my tongue always curls up and gets in the way (blocking the sound) :P

AboveTenor: Thanks for the very complete response. I think the clues to addressing your vocal issues are contained within them.

Lets start with #4, the method for forming vowels. Except for 'final finishing' or 'fine tuning', most of the vowel formation is best done by positioning of the tongue, and can be understandably with almost any lip position. Its been my experience that tongue tension (which causes stiffness and lack of mobility there) often hides behind a vowel formation approach which over-involves the lips.

The exercise to determine if this is the case is quite direct, and can be done in the privacy of your practice room. Pick a note in any of your comfortable ranges, and sing all the long and short vowels with three different lip positions: puckered (as if singing oo), neutral (as if singing ah) and wide (as if singing a smiling ee). Overdo the pucker and the wide embouchures, so that the pucker is really quite forward, and the smile is a big grin.

The vowel series to sing includes all the vowels which occur in most English or Italian Songs:

EE

AY

AH

OH

OO

(breathe)

IH

EH

A (as in Cat)

UH

OE (as in foot)

Whatever position your lips happen to be in for a go-through, do not move them during the course of the vowel series. However, focus your attention on the distinctiveness of each vowel, and do not proceed to the next embouchure until you can make each of the 10 vowels distinctly recognizable, if a bit funny-sounding. The purpose of the exercise is to get the tongue to do the work.

If you are like I was in my younger singing days, the puckered and neutral positions will be easy, but the smiling version will present some problems. If there is tongue-clutch tension in the tongue root, the attempt to sing the oo vowel with a big grin will reveal that the tongue resists going to the place it should. When that happens, regardless of vowel or embouchure, go slowly and explore with your senses the location of the tension, and then determine how to release it.

Now, on to the registration issues from Middle C to the F above.

When I was 18 to 20, I had that same sort of big gap, with a whale of a falsettist alto tone, which went all the way to soprano high Ab. I had the low C as well every day I wanted it. On a good day, or while on choir tour... Ab1 was pretty dependable and accurate.

What was bigtime missing from that style of vocalism was the coordination which is pretty much essential to make the two voices connect together in the middle. The key to this area is what you have been exposed to through Robert... adjustments to resonance and phonation. For the voice to be fully connected, note-to-note changes must occur in this region.

A key element of this is twang. In some pedagogies, its considered essential. Its benefits are clear, efficient phonation, less work, less stress and more sound... a winning combination.

The second element is to sing the most resonant vowels in the problem area.

The third element is to allow the phonation to lighten slightly, and to learn the sensations of 'lighter but still full' that go with this.

Its on this element that I would like to offer some very practical exercises that don't require much thought, and certainly are not too challenging: The use of voiced, semi-occluded consonants.

Research has shown that putting just a little back-pressure on the voice, the muscles which control phonation adjust automatically to rebalance registration and adduction. The sounds which do the least of this are the consonants N, M and NG, and they are sufficient for voices which are 'close' to being balanced, and which don't have much of a discontinuity in the C to G range.

However, for voices which have more of a separation between the lower phonation adjustment and the upper phonation adjustment (for you, for example), additional back-pressure can be gained from using voiced consonants that provide that resistance automatically. The very best are TH (as in Thee), V, Z, and J (as in the French word 'Je').

The exercise is direct. In the mid voice (i.e., F below middle C), onset and sustain a medium-volume voiced TH or one of the others you prefer. Find the softest you can do it keeping the tone steady. Then, allow the jaw to drop slowly so that an EE vowel results. Repeat a few times, and then raise the pitch 1/2 step. After you get to middle C, stop and relax for a few minutes, then transpose the exercise up 1/2 step (Ab-Db). Transpose until your top note is Eb.

As you approach and pass middle C with this, you will likely feel distinctly different sensations in your throat, of some sort of intermediate phonation, not as heavy as your lower voice, but not as light as your high. That is what we are looking for.

Practice this for 15 or 20 minutes each morning and afternoon. After you have done it a week that way, you can proceed to add 1/2 step to the top. So, 2nd week, the top note will be Enatural. The next week F. If you sense strain for these notes, back down the transpositions for a week or two, until they become more secure, and then re-try the higher keys.

I think within a month or 6 weeks, you will get a sense of what this region can start to become.

Let us know how things proceed, your experiences, etc.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Abovetenor,

Lots of guys on this forum sing C6 and very much enjoy doing so. It is something you should definitely want to protect and keep doing. (It is cool!)

I am not an expert at singing, just a student, but I know a little about smoking.

Its impact on your voice is the least of its risks. The good news is that damage to the heart and blood vessels is fairly reversable and people's risk of heart attack goes down to relatively normal levels not too long after they quit. The same is not true for damage to the lungs. Lung damage is cumulative, and it is hard to sing if you can't breath... and of course the risk of cancer is cumulative too.

People argue a lot about how dangerous smoking is but, many good arguments can be made that smoking kills about half the people that smoke. That is a big deal.

Do yourself a favor and quit, so you can stick around and enjoy singing high.

Doug

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Again, as others have mentioned, a couple of cigarettes a year is not harming the voice. In fact, you could get a drier throat hanging around a campfire. Just the same, if you're only having a couple per year, go ahead and drop those couple to zero.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Jens, can we switch sometime haha? I can do whistle occasionally, but I usually end up straining. I would like to have a C7 in my bag of tricks. A total of six octaves from C1-C7 would be awesome! But I am much more concerned about consistently having Soprano High C. I know it doesn't get any easier when getting older :P

Thanks Steven, I tried that today with my voice teacher and it worked! The vowel modification definitely helps me get through the passagio area. My problem always seems to be the E-F area. She taught me to use less space because I open up my mouth too much like swallowing a golfball. For some reason in this area, I always let the sound resonate in the back of the throat almost like covering/yawning. I need to bring it more forward into the mask with a bright forward 'ah'. She said men usually need less space and women need more space, the direct opposite.

I think I finally figured out my problem though. According to her, I use too much breath pressure when approaching it. The reason my larynx starts to hurt is I don't keep the breath going when I sing. The air gets stuck in there, and the swallowing muscles choke up. This causes a 'glottal' attack, especially on the onset. I think this may have caused my vocal nodules since the sound is coming from the throat.

I'm going to try and incorporate all of these techniques including vowel modification, using less space, decreasing breath pressure, and letting the breath flow in the falsetto/pure head voice. I'm going to start at around E5 where I have trouble and see if I can get up to Soprano High C and hopefully Eb6 again like I did in high school.

Guys, I can't even tell you how important it is to truly understand what singers mean about how important breathing is. It doesn't just mean that instead of raising your shoulders for a clavicular breath, you need to take a good diaphramatic one to fill up your lungs to capacity. You also have to learn how to keep the breath going through every phrase. Start it early and use all of the air that you have up, before you take another breath in. Otherwise, you will be using a 'glottal attack.' Note: This doesn't mean to use more air, since high notes require less!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

AboveTenor: Responses interspersed.

Thanks Steven, I tried that today with my voice teacher and it worked! The vowel modification definitely helps me get through the passagio area. My problem always seems to be the E-F area. She taught me to use less space because I open up my mouth too much like swallowing a golfball. For some reason in this area, I always let the sound resonate in the back of the throat almost like covering/yawning. I need to bring it more forward into the mask with a bright forward 'ah'. She said men usually need less space and women need more space, the direct opposite.

Glad to hear of your success. E-F is a challenge for many younger singers.

Its quite common for guys to over-open as you describe, especially if someone has impressed them earlier in their lives that they need to 'open the throat'. Its very easy to overdo.

Keep in mind that twanging automatically adds ping to the tone quality, and will help with your desire to sing brighter vowels.

As to the amount of throat space required, that depends on how you are pronouncing your vowels. For the throat, the men=small space, women=large space approach IMO leaves out important details. For me, it all comes down to tuning the resonances to accomplish the sound you want in the range. That is why getting the tongue to do the vowel formations is key. Its the thing that will help you tune the vocal tract so that the resonances align with the harmonics of the sung tone.

I think I finally figured out my problem though. According to her, I use too much breath pressure when approaching it. The reason my larynx starts to hurt is I don't keep the breath going when I sing. The air gets stuck in there, and the swallowing muscles choke up. This causes a 'glottal' attack, especially on the onset. I think this may have caused my vocal nodules since the sound is coming from the throat.

This is a very important insight, one to which I would like to add some clarifications:

Breath pressure is produced when there is both exhalation force, and resistance to that force. The reason the clench and choking motions happen are because the laryngeal muscles cannot cope with the high exhalation force, so the throat brings in some help.

However, that help is self-limiting. It prevents proper function of the laryngeal muscles by denying the freedom and appropriate amounts of breath energy. So, the correct balance of adduction and registration action never are learned... like always walking with a crutch prevents somebody from learning the coodinations needed to run.

The remediation for this is to learn how to re-balance the exhalation force, with what is historically called 'support'. While there are many paths and metaphors to help, the basic idea is to learn how to balance the exhalation force with continued activity of the diaphragm. See the discussion at this thread, and scroll down to post #25 (numbers on the right) for some explanation of what all this means and how to do it. It also has a reference to another thread (and its own post) for a full description of exercises that can be used.

http://www.punbb-hosting.com/forums/themodernvocalist/viewtopic.php?id=1152

I'm going to try and incorporate all of these techniques including vowel modification, using less space, decreasing breath pressure, and letting the breath flow in the falsetto/pure head voice. I'm going to start at around E5 where I have trouble and see if I can get up to Soprano High C and hopefully Eb6 again like I did in high school.

Guys, I can't even tell you how important it is to truly understand what singers mean about how important breathing is. It doesn't just mean that instead of raising your shoulders for a clavicular breath, you need to take a good diaphramatic one to fill up your lungs to capacity. You also have to learn how to keep the breath going through every phrase. Start it early and use all of the air that you have up, before you take another breath in. Otherwise, you will be using a 'glottal attack.' Note: This doesn't mean to use more air, since high notes require less!

On you comment about filling up your lungs... that actually makes learning breath balance harder, because it stores more energy in your body which you must then manage. Its far more useful initially to take the _absolute minimum_ breath, what some call the 'teacup breath' (a little sip of air) or a 'micro-breath'. Try it. you'll see that you can sing a 5-second phrase with almost NO AIR.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

We sometimes get baritones in here and a few basses. And some tenors who can also sing baritone and modify down to upper bass at times.

But mostly, with the styles of music represented most often here, we work in the tenor range.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am a low baritone. :-)

I'm pretty sure, most of the time, that I am a tenor. Though I can hit some low notes, now and then. And I feel confident in most of the baritone range. What's funny is that the lower I go, the more some people like it, which may have to do more with the response curve of my little mic, than anything, but there you go. I think I can get some wicked tone in the lower end, at times.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I wonder what the criterias of it are in the end. It can't be range, or only lower range, as basses can go high up to tenor C...

Ronron: In classical singing, vocal categories are mostly about tone quality, vocal weight and sustainable tessitura. Range is only a secondary consideration, as many voice types overlap in range.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...