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Help with Weak / Unstable voice

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Miki B
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Hi all,

This is my first post in this board so I hope it will go ok.

My main problem is with speaking.   I'm a computer programmer so I don't talk that much during the day, but when I do sometimes it becomes realy difficult and I have to say every sentence twice or three times because people keep asking me "What?", so that's basically why I'm posting this here, in hope someone may enlighten me.

My problem is with speaking, not singing.  As far as singing - after a proper warm up, I can sing songs like "Radio Ga Ga" by Queen or "Man In The Mirror" by Michael Jackson almost easily, and they are using some high notes in them.   My problem is not in the high notes, but in the lower notes where my speech is at.

Now, there are some occasions where my speech suddenly becomes easy and flawless, I noticed that it happends in the following 2 cases:

1. If I went to a night club, or somewhere where I need to talk loudly to be heard.  Then after I get out of it, my voice becomes heard, and easy to speak for about 2 days (after 2 days my voice goes back to the quiet / unheard speech).

2. If I talk on the phone with a friend, then after about 30-40 minutes of speaking my voice will start to connect more easily and then I'll stop struggling.

 

I went to an ENT doctor for diagnosis about 3 years ago and he said I have "bowed vocal cords" and recommended speech therapy, but it didnt realy help me that much: they said that my problem is that I dont have enough "breath support" and gave me all kinds of exercises that work on breath support, which eventually made it even more difficult for me to speak and got me tired even faster.

 

I did some research of my own though, and from what I read and seen I get the feeling that my problem is with cord closure. I have also found one exercise that helped me a little, and that is the "Goog" exercise.

 

Basically I would say that my speaking tone is sometimes breathy and I feel like I have to "push" it to get heard.

and I am looking forward with anticipation to hear any insights, advice and/or exercises from anyone who is familiar with this condition who can help.

 

Thanks!

 

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Well, your doctors are right and you need to revisit what it is that you do to sing or to speak at an elevated volume, like you do in a loud club.

Manage the breath, don't push it all out. goog will help to increase cord closure to counter-act the bowing of your folds. Resonate. Don't speak from the throat. Imagine the sound at the roof of your mouth.

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Thanks for the reply, ronws.

Its kind of difficult for me to pinpoint exactly what happends with my voice when I'm in a loud club, except for the fact that I have to "push" it at the first few minutes, and then once I get the feeling where it is "connected" I just continue from there based on the feeling in my throat of when I'm "heard" or not.

I keep on doing vocal exercises, like I said the "Goog" exercise helps me, also "Kook" which even easier for me to do than 'goog'.

I also do Lip Rolls and Tongue Trills which also help me a little, and also today I have discovered that if I do a gliding scale using "oo" vowel from the highest note I can reach effortlessly to the lowest note, two things happend: 1. my larynx stays "in position" (when I tried doing the same using "ah" I noticed that my larynx moved down), and 2. my voice suddenly became much more stable and low notes can be accessed easily.

I actually did the last paragraph as a morning "warm up" because when I wake up my voice is realy crackled (vocal fry?) that doing humming and/or lip rolls are difficult, so I tried using the vocal fry and ended up in doing this glide that I said in last paragraph - easily and effortless, as all vocal exercises state they should be done.

and I also make sure not to over-use, I don't do more than 10-20 minutes each time or if I start to feel that my muscles start to tense I back up and rest for a while.

So there is some progress.. but not in a realy linear way.

Is this the way it supposed to be?

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Each person is different and if what you are doing is helping and not wearing you out, then stay with that. Too many people, even those with healthy voices, go too far. I am not saying that you won't ever strain or want to get a strained sound. Just saying that it sounds like you are doing the right things.

Have you been tested for allergies? Especially ones that might cause you to create phlegm or excess mucus?

 

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Regarding the phlegm and excess mucus allergies, I haven't done tests for that.  

I don't know of any allergies like that I have, as I barely have those things and am usually maintain a quite healthy life style of eating right & drinking alot of water.

I did experience some strains when I first started doing some of the exercises.  Especially with the Humming.  But then I realized that I was trying to "push too quick" for results and after I realized that the strain was also created by improper use of the voice (tried to "push" to get to the high notes instead of just letting go and dropping the larynx using a "dopey" sound), but then I changed my practicing habbits to always be in my "comfort" range and trying to gently expand it each time, paying attention to when I start to do too much, and then I stop and rest.

One other thing that I noticed is that sometimes when I finish a day of work (sitting all day) and I get back home, I must do tension release exercises, especially for the muscles in my neck and the top of my back, which are very stiff after a day of sitting so much in front of a computer screen.   I'm not sure if it happends because of my sitting infront of a screen most of the day, or because of me trying to "push" through my (sometimes) breathy voice.

Another thing that I do is I make sure not to cough too much, in fact I used to cough a lot in the past and I managed to stop it almost entirely.  I also make sure to maintain a hydrated vocal fold by both drinking water and also sometimes breathing steams made when I'm boiling water for hot drinks.

I do drink alot of coffee though, although I make sure to always keep a glass of water nearby or drink water afterwards.  I drink tea also once or twice per day, and I read that tea is good for the vocal folds.

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Sounds like you are doing all the right things. And you are not the only one to drink coffee and have the world NOT end. It is my opinion that, absent some odd food allergy that I have never heard of, drinking coffee or tea is not going to adversely affect you. Tea can sometimes dry me out but I don't tea as often as I drink Diet Coke. The preservatives keep me looking younger than I am.

:4:

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  • Administrator

Sounds like you are doing all the right things. And you are not the only one to drink coffee and have the world NOT end. It is my opinion that, absent some odd food allergy that I have never heard of, drinking coffee or tea is not going to adversely affect you. Tea can sometimes dry me out but I don't tea as often as I drink Diet Coke. The preservatives keep me looking younger than I am.

:4:

Same here, Ron. I noticed that SOME teas dry me out as well. But, adding Xylitol or a bit of honey seems to negate that.....

@ Miki : Over the years, I've tried many, many teas. But may I suggest that you try the "Singer's Tea" and the "Vocal Inhaler" ? IMO, they are the best teas for singers. You can find these products right here on the forum.

Here's a link for your convenience :

http://singerstea.com/

Adolph

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Thank you Robert for the detailed practical advice.

I have tried adding nasal consonants to my routine, and surprisingly it seems to work: I have tried doing a glide from the top most note to the down most note using both "N" and "NG" (nasal "nasty" sounding), and whenever I do it, I find my voice to becomes easier to speak and more loudly heard without me having to push it as before.

Sometimes I even add a gliding humming ("M"), and then my voice becomes even more clear and loud.

But sometimes my voice goes back to the "unheard" behaviour.. although I guess its because of old habbits that will change with time the more I practice?

 

P.S: Thanks Adolph for the tea recommendation as well.

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Thank you Robert for the detailed practical advice.

I have tried adding nasal consonants to my routine, and surprisingly it seems to work: I have tried doing a glide from the top most note to the down most note using both "N" and "NG" (nasal "nasty" sounding), and whenever I do it, I find my voice to becomes easier to speak and more loudly heard.

Sometimes I even add a gliding humming ("M"), and then my voice becomes even more clear and loud.

But sometimes my voice goes back to the "unheard" behaviour.. although I guess its because of old habbits that will change with time the more I practice?

 

P.S: Thanks Adolph for the tea recommendation as well.

My pleasure, Miki ! Be sure to check out the "Vocal Inhaler" as well ;)

 

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  • 4 weeks later...

Hi guys,

I haven't posted here in a while because I have been working on my voice and I have achived some big improvement with my speaking voice, and wanted to share what I did and what helped me, so here goes:

1. The whole "When I go to a club I sound great the other day, but then after that my voice goes back to the breathy mode".   It turns out, as expected, that I was straining my voice when I go to a club, and the "sounds better the next day" is only due to swelling in my vocal cords.  It felt like I completely lost my vocal cords ability to vibrate, as well as range 2 days after the event.  In fact, I realized that I'm not using my voice properly not only in a club but any time I need to raise my voice very loud.  And I have had this habbit of doing it for years.   Maybe that's one of the reasons why I got breathy.  So for the moment I try to avoid these "shouting" activies as much as possible until I improve my voice consistency, and taking this break helped in keeping them more healthy.

2. Larynx position.  Big issue that I realized was getting in the way of my voice.  I guess its because of years of having to "push" in order to be heard, that I have developed a of habbit of raising my larynx up to reach low notes, which was causing me strain.  So at first I started to practice "dopey" speaking to lower the larynx which realy helped alot, and then got to practice dopey "mums" scales. Big help here.

3. Breath Management.  I use lip rolls almost always as a warm up when I wake up in the morning to get my voice started, doing the lip rolls on a daily basis sometimes even several times a day on my speaking range realy helped me in terms of balancing my voice.

4. Cord Closure.   This is also achieved with the lip rolls, but I also started practing "YA" scales, and continuing with the "GUG".   And after I get to the point where I get the "vocal fry" I use that in order to practice some scales.

5. Onsets.   I saw a video on Youtube by Robert Lunte where he explained the importance on the onsets, maybe one of the only videos out there that realy talks about the importance of the onsets when initiating the sound, and this is kind of the latest addition I added to my daily practicing which also helped ALOT since I also didnt have a consistent "start" for my voice.

Besides that, I practice daily about 10-15 minutes of just talking out in my room, imagining that there is an audience, and talking to them.   Every time I feel like I need to do some correction (for example: voice balance gets lost - I do lip rolls, larynx gets up - I do dopey moms, resonate isn't good - I do humming, etc) and then continue speaking.   and slowly but gradually I feel that my voice is improving and that the "breaks" I have to take to correct it gets less and less.. and also making sure all the time that I'm no straining at all.

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That is awesome to read. I have also heard of professional speakers using singer training to condition their voice and allow them to speak for whatever length of time without wearing out. They follow exactly what you were talking about doing. I really am glad you got if figured out and solved the problem. And if you keep that as a basic regimen, you will sound like you are in your twenties for the rest of your life.

 

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  • 1 month later...

Hi again,

So after trying and learning some techniques on my own, and not quite getting the progress or consistency that I search for in my speaking voice, I decided to get more serious about fixing my speaking problems, and I talked with Robert on the phone and had a good and positive session of working on my voice, more specifically on my speaking range.

Other than the fact that at some points I realized how loud and strong my voice was (and probably my neighbours heard it too :)), it was realy good, fun and educational, I learned alot from it mostly on how to workout correctly.

I'll keep adding my progress to this post.

So, after explaining to Rob my problem we started to work on the Quack & Release onset.  At first, we worked on how to do it right and more important - how to do it without pushing it, so we worked on each element of making this onset - doing the Resonant Track properly (using an "M" sound, maintaining a relaxed position but focusing the sound towards the mask), maintaining the resonant track while slowly opening the embouchure to a horizontal one, doing the "Quack" (mee mee..) and then slowly opening to an more "EH" vowel, while still maintaining the horizontal embouchure, and the quack compression, using a visualization of a laser-beam for the quacking.

We tried at first with a low note, C3.   it was difficult for me to do this under this note, so we started a bit higher, in a G3, and also G#3.    After doing a few mistakes of mostly trying to "push" in order to make the sound, as Robert was correcting me as I did it, we finally succeeding doing this whole sequence properly on a G3, and also on G#3.    We then started to descend one semi note, to F#3, it was a bit difficult at first, but after a few tries it went ok.

From there, we tried doing a descending siren on G#3 - D#3, at first it was difficult and I again had to push a little, but thanks to Robert correcting me and me slowly starting to notice when I'm pushing and when I'm not, I succeeded doing the siren correctly.    So top - bottom, so far.

Then we tried doing the siren in the opposite direction - from D#3 to G#3 , went difficult at first try, and again I had to push.    after noticing and working on just letting go.. and also using a good visualization tip from Robert on how to position the frequencies differently in my mind - instead of up and down, using the forward and backward visualization - I managed to do the siren from bottom - up.

So we concluded the session by Robert giving me this next workout for the next week:

1. Going to work on the C3 - A3 scale.    Going to start top - A3, and do 3 notes sirens.   A3-F3 top to bottom, and bottom to up.   using the Quack & Release onset.   taking care of making sure I do it right, with the visualiztion tips regarding and without pushing.

2. Going to do this workout for 1 hour every day.   My goal is to start with the top note, and working my down, all the way towards C3.   I don't know how easy that will be, considering that I kind of struggled for even doing the G#3 to D#3 siren.   But I guess I'll have to work on it.

3. After doing this session and reaching C3 (which I hopefully will get to the more I practice this correctly), I will be practicing on reading something outloud.

 

So that's it for now, going to start working this out now!

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Miki,

It was a pleasure to help you this morning. Below are my notes and steps to your vocal health routine. Do let us know how it is going... I would encourage you to post links as well in here. It is absolutely critical that you keep these phonations light, floaty, thin, and forward in the mask. I want to be able to hear them, to confirm that is what you are doing. 

Lets see what happens after you work this routine for 1 or 2 weeks... :39:

Therapy Routine:
 
Observations:
 
- Attractor state of voice tends to settle at C#3 and resonance is throaty.
 
- Speech phonations tend to be heavy and grind at the glottis.
 
- Previous ENT consultations revealed a “bowed” left vocal fold.
 

Vocal cord bowing occurs when one or both of the vocal folds become atrophied or weak and a gap forms between the vocal cords, which prevents them from closing completely and vibrating normally.

 

Causes or Contributing Factors:

Vocal fold bowing is usually a result of aging of the vocal folds. Sometimes viral infections can lead to weakness and atrophy of one or both of the vocal folds.

 

Symptoms:

  • Weakness and breathiness of the voice
  • Hoarseness
  • Strained voice

 

TVS Therapy Routine:
 
  • Phonate Quack & Release Onsets at the optimum pitch where the onset package is balanced and healthy. Based on our session together that would seem to be approximately G3 - A3. Repeat Q&R until you have the best result.
    • The Q&R Onset Work Flow:
      • Establish Pitch
      • Semi-Occluded Phonation (Resonant Tracking) into the nasal consonant, /m/.
      • Modify to a highly compressed, quack vocal mode, “Meee”.
        • Light and Thin.
        • Do not lean into the phonation or ad any weight.
        • Maintain resonance behind the nasal cavities and forward mask.
        • Allow the phonation to “float” on a healthy amount of respiration to take pressure off the glottal compression, which has been grinding.
      • Shape the Embouchure into a highly compressed, quacky “Eh” vowel.
        • Drop jaw to horizontal position.
        • Life the upper lip to reveal a bite/canines/upper teeth
        • Leverage the tongue against the back of the bottom teeth
        • Maintain resonance amplification behind the top teeth, at the hard palette.
        • Sustain.
  • After achieving great Q&R onsets, begin to lightly siren from the top note to a lower note, using a piano. Phonate the following intervals; 2nd, 3rd, 4th & 5th.
    • Make sure you do this procedure both top > down and then down > up.
      • When moving from the bottom up… practice visualizing the the movement of frequency as forward and back, NOT up/down & low/high. This helps the body to stop pushing and dumping the resonation to the throat.
    • Train this routine from approximately A3 down to C3.
  • Repeat Q&R onsets throughout your daily routine, in addition to quality focused time.
    • shower, car, walking to work, etc...
    • Always, always be mindful of a light, floaty, nasal, forward masking, thin and delicate onset… NO throat, NO push, NO weight, NO grind… ride on the wind, not on your glottis!
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This is my first attempt on A3 Q&R onset, did 2 days ago:

 

 

And this is from yesterday, me doing A3-G3 siren:

 

 

I have continued to practice this and can now gradually do A3-G3 siren in both direction more easily, I can also do A3-F3 siren from top to down , but bottom to up I'm still having some difficulty with it, so I'll keep working on it.

Although today I managed to do this: G#3-F#3 top to down, and bottom to up (Although in bottom to up I'm not sure if the start isn't too weak):

 

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Miki,

- The First video is good... at least its a good Q&R onsets... but once you release.. sustain it... you need to feel the forward resonance and hold that position to get stronger.

- The second video also seems ok. You are definitely getting some nice hyper compression there. But again, you are not releasing into your resonance... release that thing... and let it ring...

- The 3rd video.... I thought this was promising!  I think this is helping you... but what you need to do is really work it in more... how many of these sirens are you doing. Im assuming that you are doing this for a meaningful amount of time and these are just short samples for us.

... Also, do the Q&R onset and then begin to speak in a forward position. Not necessarily quacky, but with the strong glottal compression and forward resonance, AFTER you do the onset... Q&R Onset > Recite some text... 

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Miki,

- The First video is good... at least its a good Q&R onsets... but once you release.. sustain it... you need to feel the forward resonance and hold that position to get stronger.

- The second video also seems ok. You are definitely getting some nice hyper compression there. But again, you are not releasing into your resonance... release that thing... and let it ring...

- The 3rd video.... I thought this was promising!  I think this is helping you... but what you need to do is really work it in more... how many of these sirens are you doing. Im assuming that you are doing this for a meaningful amount of time and these are just short samples for us.

... Also, do the Q&R onset and then begin to speak in a forward position. Not necessarily quacky, but with the strong glottal compression and forward resonance, AFTER you do the onset... Q&R Onset > Recite some text... 

Thanks for the review Robert,

Yes you are right in your assumption I am practicing this alot, everyday for like 20-30 minutes at least twice a day, sometimes more.   On the first day after we talked I did it I think for almost 2 hours, not in a row but combined.

After reading your reply I think that I'm starting to do this even better.   Today after I woke up and read this, I did a 20-30 minutes session and I was able to sustain the A3 for close to 10 seconds without losing the compression, and also first time I succeeded to do a siren down all the way to D#3 both bottom and up.   I think what made the difference is that I now remembered to use the "forward/backward" positioning, which I wasn't mindful of in these first videos.

I'll try to post another video of my progress later today or tommorow, and I'll start to also try to read some text afterwards as I'm forgetting about this.

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It's been couple of days since my last video, and I continue to work on this routine all the time.

Slowly and gradually I am able to get lower and lower on my range.   I'm still working on these lower notes, and today I'm posting a video of me successfully doing a siren from G3 to D#3 both top down, and bottom up.    I'm trying as much as I can not to push at all, but instead to play with the placement (forward / backwards) and I find that it does help.

I also succeeded doing today a siren from F3 down to C#3 top down only, the bottom up didn't go so good.. but I'll continue to work on it.

So anyways, today's video: Q&R onset on G3, and siren G3-D#3 top down, and bottom up.  (On the bottom up I lost that placement when I went up.. which is why I use my hands to gesture where I want to go.. its kinda easy for me when going top down, but I needa work the bottom up more)

 

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