This is something that every singer can relate to. Whether it’s legitimate illness, or hayfever, bad night sleep, excess revelry the night before, or something else entirely, we have ALL suffered from bad voice days. Worse still, we are all going to continue to experience bad voice days in the future. With that in mind, consider the following:
Think about guitars…
If you have ever played guitar for any length of time, you’ll know that guitars experience physical changes throughout the year. This is because heat and humidity affects the porous and organic nature of the wood that guitars are typically made from. Often when the guitar is set-up just right for playing through winter, come summer the whole guitar set-up shifts from the increase in heat and humidity, and the playability suffers. Sometimes it’s so bad it’s left utterly unplayable. Going from summer to winter there can be equivalent issues. This means that the guitar in question requires setting up afresh to match the playability it previously had in the last season.
Now if that’s the case for dead organic matter (i.e. cut and dried wood), how much more true would it be for your voice? Your voice is made of 100% organic living tissue. It gets tired when you get tired. It experiences illness as you experience illness. If you’re dehydrated, your instrument is dehydrated. It’s just like a guitar that experiences dimensional change from winter going into summer that requires it to be re-set to feel the same.
For a guitar, setting it up properly involves measuring the string to fretboard distance and returning it to the right height for a given player’s preference. It means measuring the curvature (bow) in the neck and adjusting it similarly, plus a variety of other small to big adjustments. Guitars are built to be easily adjustable with the right tools. The guitar has changed, but the playability can be adjusted to negate the otherwise detrimental effect of such changes. That said, the guitarist needs to know their instrument well enough to be able to say what it should/shouldn’t feel like. The guitarist also needs to know which specific adjustments need to be made from its current state in order to improve it (or they can visit a guitar technician who specialises in such set-ups).
The voice is much the same, except with one BIG difference. Whereas the guitar changes seasonally, the voice and body can change fairly radically from one day to the next, morning to evening, or even hour to hour depending on the circumstance. On top of that, there are no easily adjustable nuts, screws or bolts for the voice that we can just tweak and play around with.
What we need to fix these issues
Just like the guitar example, to fix these issues in our voices we need both a general understanding of what someone’s voice SHOULD be doing, and then a workout regime that generally gets them there, but that can also be tweaked and dialled in for specific issues. For example, if someone has been coughing lots or their voice feels very heavy, there are certain exercises (lip bubbles, dopey variations, etc) that can help relax the larynx and abate some of that heavyness. If someone feels like they can’t get any weight into their voice, there are similarly other exercises that can help elicit that specific function from someone’s voice… but I’m not looking to get into all that in this article.
The point of today’s article is not primarily to tell you that all problems are solveable (although most are very, very solveable), it’s to tell you that you WILL encounter rough days for your voice, and that’s frustrating but also 100% normal. Guitarists simply have to accept the kind of organic shifting issues that wood suffers from. In turn, vocalists must also accept a similar fate… but multiplied by a big factor. The challenge lies in knowing what your voice should feel like when it deviates from optimal setup, and being equipped with at least some tools to help return your voice to that state.
Bad voice days are part and parcel of being a singer. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Just get back on it, and get your voice dialled back in. If you need help with creating that kind of maintenance routine, just let me know.