Detecting & Dealing with Vocal Strain

  • Warming up
  • Rest and Relax
  • Don’t push it
  • Learn your limits
  • Identify personal triggers
  • Water!

Toward the end of a long week of performing, my voice starts to get weary. Particularly since I am also using my voice in other ways like teaching, socializing and practicing so that I may still progress and prepare for upcoming roles. Over time, I’ve become sensitive to any changes in my instrument and how it is reacting to the physical and emotional stressors (of life or performing). An important part of every singer’s journey is the ability to monitor their stamina so they can know their boundaries. You must be able to balance rest with practice so that you can gain stamina without damaging your instrument. Fatigue happens but if you know yourself well enough, you can identify it early and prevent further stress from bringing your performance to a screeching halt

Warming up

Warming up before practice or performance is as essential as stretching for athletes. Much like other instruments, warming up involves ‘fine tuning’ and ‘tuning into’ what’s going on in your instrument, aka your body. I suggest beginning your warm up in generally the same way each time you practice. This will allow you to get to know your voice so that you can detect day to day differences and adjust accordingly. Whatever you do, don’t skip this vital step when you’re tired.

Rest and Relax

Rest your voice when you are able (don’t speak, sing or whisper). Practice inhaling in a way that relaxes your neck muscles and opens your throat. This can do wonders for your stamina on days when you are fatigued. Unnecessary tension in the neck, throat, or tongue can make producing sound much more difficult than it needs to be.

Don’t push it

It is easy to try to compensate for feeling weak by overpressurizing. Pushing more air through the cords than the instrument is used to is counterproductive to stamina. It causes tension and extra stress. Rather than “do more” physically, “do more” mentally. Sing smarter, not harder. Maintain the technique that gives you the healthiest sound possible on a normal day. Those in voice lessons have probably discussed the different vocal registers with their teacher. The two most commonly known and consciously used by singers are “head voice” and “chest voice”. There is a strong tendency for singers to carry the “chest” sound up into higher notes to feel more powerful. This only adds extra stress. So when I am beginning to feel like my voice has worn down, I “lift” my sound into a more “heady” space so that it resonates healthily and gently. This applies to both my singing voice and my speaking voice, and especially “belt” songs. It would be better to sing with a headier mixture for one performance than to push and lose steam halfway through (or worse, cause lasting damage).

Learn your limits

The first step to knowing your limits is to note how big a toll the performance takes on you. If it leaves you feeling vocally tired then you should limit your usage to that and only that. But if you’re feeling good then you can add some practice time at some other point in your day. Start small, gradually increasing the time from day to day so you don’t overexert yourself and leave your performance lacking. If you’re feeling tight, scratchy, raspy, tinny, thin, or weak then back off. Rest, reset, and realize that you’ve reached your limit.

Identifying personal triggers

Always be aware of your body’s reaction to what you do with it and what you put in it. Some common things that could cause trouble are caffeine, alcohol, dairy, lack of sleep, stress, and, of course, dehydration. Everyone’s body is different so you’ll need to trust and listen to yours. Also, observe those things that make you feel stronger. Cough drops, tea with lemon and/or honey, gargling salt water, personal steamers could all be helpful!


It cannot be stressed enough that hydration is vital to vocal health.  Dehydrated vocal folds irritate more quickly. If I am off-balance vocally, the most common culprit is dehydration. Hydrating is especially important in the hours before you begin practicing as it takes time for your cells to absorb the water. However, keeping a glass with you while you practice is also beneficial so that your mouth, throat, and mucus don’t dry out from the extra air passing through, it is also useful to know that room temperature water is best while you’re singing. Icy-cold water will cool down your throat which needs to be warm to function most effectively (it’s not called “warming up” for nothing!). I have taken to inhaling steam before a performance so an extra kick of warmth and moisture can penetrate my instrument.

Knowing and learning about your voice can take time. If you’re having trouble recognizing patterns, a journal might be helpful. Try not to look at fatigue as a giant setback but rather as a learning experience. You learned a little more about the intricacies of your unique instrument, and you were smart enough to recognize what it means.

To learn more about Sarah and her studio, please visit her page Here