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Therapy/Training for Singer with One Non-Functioning Vocal Cord

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I developed a tumor growing off of my right vocal cord hinge (the official term was a criccoid chondroma), which was removed a little over a month ago. The tumor rendered the vocal cord non-functioning (even before the surgery), and the vocal cord will not come back. Relatively speaking, I have come out of this quite well. The non-functioning vocal cord is frozen in a good medial position for the functioning vocal cord to work off of, and I have a workable speaking voice and a diminished but workable singing voice, too (I am not a professional singer - mostly just for my church choir).

Since I only have one functioning vocal cord, I do find my voice getting tired and hoarse after an hour or so of continual speech or singing. I am very concerned that I not mess up the vocal cord I have left by using my voice incorrectly, either in speaking and singing, since I would like to continue doing both.

What I was wondering is whether any of you have experience with and/or advice about vocal therapy, training, exercises, or an approach that I should look into to best take care of what vocal production I do have given this situation. I was taking voice lessons up until the diagnosis, but this situation is out of my voice teacher's experience. It would be great if I can strengthen what I have, but my first priority is to treat my remaining vocal cord right. Thanks in advance.

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Hi -

Very sorry to hear of your troubles.

Most often with conditions like yours, the fatigue is due to two factors:

- even though the cords meet well enough for speech, there may be slight irregularity and air-leakage, so effort to get a singing tone means you squeeze a little harder to get complete closure. Neighboring neck and throat muscles can tighten up and try to help, so the sensation is of fatigue in the whole area.

- There is also an instinct to push extra breath through, to strengthen the sound and make up for what might be "leaking" through. Unfortunately this puts more pressure into the larynx than cords can easily handle, and so the result is increased tension & fatigue rather than increased ease & flow.

Best option would be for you to work with a speech pathologist who specializes in voice problems, and can work with you to identify such imbalances, design an exercise program for you, and then help you transition back to singing lessons. If your doctors can't refer someone in your area, please contact me directly & I may be able to help, through my professional networks.

Meantime, Try this:

Do very quiet pitch glides (sirens) through your comfortable range. Quiet means NO extra air pressure; tolerate a breathy or rough sound rather than pushing or squeezing anything. Use what you've learned about "placement" to keep the sound as resonant as possible in the face. MMM, OOO, MMooo or Eeee/ MMeee might be good syllables, but experiment for what gives you the clearest/ most comfortable sound at a quiet level. Pitch glides offer the best chance of stretching out scar tissue, and when done quietly they balance all the voice muscles quite nicely.

When you feel confident with that tone production, lie on your back on the floor, and roll your head slowly from side to side while doing the pitch glides. (ear towards floor, not a stretch, just roll as far as comfortable on each side). You'll notice quite a lot of asymmetry -- voice probably best rolling away from the affected side, & roughest or crackly or weak Toward the affected side. Just tolerate that difference. The purpose of exercise is to release neck muscles that might over-engage, and to help the two cords "track" together. Some people like to use "Zzzzzz" for this too, it hides some of the distortion & gives jaw & skull a little vibration massage.

spend 10 minutes with these exercises, or (even better) 5 minutes twice a day. After a week or so you may find tone easier & more consistent, range extending. The simpler non-pressured production should help you get through choir rehearsals too.

please let me know how you're doing.

let me know if it helps

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Thank you very much for the detailed reply. Since posting, I have also emailed my surgeon for a referral, and more may come out of that. If so, I will post what I learn to add to the helpful advice that you have already provided.

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