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Q. I'm in a hardcore band. My mom is a nurse and says I could do permanent damage to my voice from singing this kind of music. What's the 411?

A. You can do damage to your voice singing any kind of music if you do it incorrectly. But let's define "damage." Damage, to me, is not being able to finish the tour, call your girlfriend, order dinner, or express yourself through your music. Damage to a physician who is not so familiar with the music of today may entail any irregularity of the vocal cord. Trust me, some of your favorite singers have experienced a lot of "irregularities" (such as mild "pre-nodular" conditions). Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan probably do not have medically perfect wrists. There is no such thing as perfect vocal cords. If you are TRULY able to get the sound and the expression that you desire, (in other words, if you like sounding like Tom Waits, Bruce Spingsteen, Jamie Josta, or Joe Cocker), and your cords look a little damaged to a physician, what difference does it make? Wear and tear is not damage in my definition. Many hardcore kids ripped their cords to pieces when starting out, and now have perfected their coordination to a point where the thickening of their vocal folds has enabled even more of the sound that they want. However, if such wear and tear prevents you from doing something that you want to do or need to do, that's damage. You need to be honest with yourself, PAY ATTENTION and DO NOT BE IN DENIAL!

There are different kinds of vocal injuries. One common one is the nodule. Scar tissue develops because of repeated trauma of the cords from closing them too hard with too much velocity. This usually happens over some time. The singer continues to vocalize even though the cords are chronically swollen from overuse or abuse.
Normal Vocal Cords

Swollen Vocal Cords
Pre-nodular Vocal Cordss

Pre-nodular Vocal Cords
The swelling causes the performer to hit even harder to get a sound out. This causes a kind of protrusion of scar tissue, which ultimately prevents the cords from closing at all.
Nodules on Vocal Cords

Nodules on Vocal Cords
A similar situation can develop involving a "blister like" fluid-filled kind of protrusion called a POLYP.
Polyps on Vocal Cords

Polyps on Vocal Cords
In both of these situations, conditions will escalate unless there is some medical and behavioral intervention. A proper diagnosis and a follow-up plan are essential. An ear, nose and throat specialist ("ENT") is qualified to make this diagnosis, and a good one will suggest speech therapy to correct the bad habits that caused the injury, as well as any negative compensatory behaviors that supported the injury.

A great deal of vocal injury can occur during illness or infection. Sleep deprivation is also a risk factor. In the case of a viral, bacterial or allergic scenario, the vocal cords are compromised with fluid.
Mucous on Vocal Cords

Mucous on Vocal Cords
On top of that, overall body energy is compromised by infection. A lack of sleep can also cause this fatigue of the breathing mechanism and one is usually not aware of it. Lack of breath support causes overuse of a throat that is already compromised by fatigue, mucous and irritation. This is the perfect breeding ground for an injury! Vocal rest is essential to reduce the swelling. An ENT can give a steroid injection for an acute situation, and prescribe steroid medication (not the kind body-builders use!). These will get you through a show-but nothing works as well as vocal rest.

There are other conditions from which you also may suffer, such as chronic allergies, or reflux laryngitis, for which you need to see a physician-preferably, again, an ENT specialist.

Again, the immediate solution to this problem is SILENCE. The swelling will subside noticeably, as with a sprained ankle, if you stop using your voice. Vocal rest is a very important skill to learn. It's difficult, but it really works. But a word of caution: if you HAVE to speak, DO NOT WHISPER! Whispering squeezes the vocal cords to shape the vowel sounds-without proper breath support-which causes more stress to the larynx.

Your physician will be able to prescribe medication to assist in the healing of an injury. In some instances, surgery may be indicated. As soon as a specialist is consulted and the swelling goes down, you should learn proper technique for speaking and singing to avoid further problems. Check out my speech warm-up in the DVD.

Is there such a thing as screaming correctly?

Screaming CAN be done correctly-that is, without damage. It's all about learning the proper coordination. There are two sets of vocal cords in the larynx-the true cords and the false cords. Using proper breath pressure avoids the over-slamming of the false and true cords. The true cords are the singing cords.
CLICK HERE for sample video showing true chords.
The false cords are the screaming cords.
CLICK HERE for sample video showing false cords.
Problems occur when there is too much velocity placed on the attack of the scream.
A technique using breath pressure can alleviate bad habits. Correcting these bad habits involves changing a body memory or imaging things differently. In The Zen Of Screaming DVD, there are sections called "The Launch" and "Flow," which contain exercises to help correct these problems.

I am at music conservatory studying to be an opera singer. I like extreme metal and I want to sing it. Will I hurt my classical career?

Yes. Don't do it, unless you intend to maintain your actual head resonance in your singing always, not merely the sensation of it. There are certain kinds of wear and tear that are not appropriate for classical performance. You need to maintain traditional vocal practice to preserve the purity of your range, which is required for classical repertoire. Wise hand models don't do construction work on the side; if you aspire to be in the opera, it's just not a good idea to sing in a metalcore band.

Medical Illustrations: Scott Kessler, MD

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"...the Bible for extreme vocals. Don't open your mouth 'til you've watched this DVD." Tom Beaujour, Editor, REVOLVER MAGAZINE > MORE INFO
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