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How Crying Affects the Voice - updated 2020

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Into every life comes a little rain. And sometimes, a good cry. As I update this post in the stressful pandemic year 2020, the reasons for tears are particularly numerous. For this post, I'm not talking about that little Vocal stylistic 'cry'. No, this one is about the voice and real tears.

Tears can be...

Happy - people getting engaged, finding out they have booked that gig or won that award, finding out the sickness is curable, hearing just the right song at just the right time, singing an emotionally relevant song to yourself, or just Crying from sudden realization of relief and gratitude.
Sad - so many reasons including psychological and/or physical pain, stress overwhelm, hormonal imbalances, loss of something or someone deeply valued, fear and worry of what may come.
Empathetic - seeing others who are hurting can trigger sympathetic sorrow. Sometimes the depth of the pain of compassion can be surprisingly strong.
Healing - tears can help with unblocking pent up feelings and emotions that need to be expressed for well-being. They can also identify hidden unresolved psychological issues that one needs to address. The cathartic release of a good cry can make way for physical and mental health, positivity and solution-finding.

Tears can create vocal problems

If you have an impending singing or speaking performance, crying can affect your voice:
  1. It swells the vocal cords. Swollen vocal cords do not work very effectively, period.
  2. Sinuses also swell. This gives the typical nasal sound, like when you have a cold or sinus infection. 
  3. All kinds of vocal problems present... including limited range and impaired vocal control.
  4. It can lead to vocal damage. If even an infant crys too hard or long, the vocal cords can start to be injured. Long enough, it can turn into the beginning of nodes.
  5. It can take time for the cord swelling to go down. A lengthy period of crying, such as in mourning or from depressions, can cause chronic swelling that needs time to shrink. Voice rest is imperative, not to mention physical rest and psychological peace.

There are ways to control crying

  1. If you have to sing or speak and the subject is intensely personal for you (say singing or speaking at a funeral) you can delay the cry by purposefully focusing outside yourself. This is a rare time when numbing your emotions can work for your voice. Just make sure you release that numbness into feeling again after your performance.
  2. Make sure to give yourself time to center and focus yourself with deep breaths before your performance. This can put you in the control zone.
  3. There are ways to purposefully simulate crying, even producing tears but without tightening and swelling your singing voice. There are ways to 'deconstruct' your vocal technique to simulate being out of control. These acting vocal techniques are often necessary for strong pop, rock and musical theater.
During an interview, I asked international theater star Sidonie Smith about onstage crying. She says:
First of all, I know every performance has to be the same. You never have to cry; stressing yourself to produce an outward sign of whatever emotion you’re feeling is a distraction. But if for whatever reason it is appropriate to cry or you find yourself crying and it makes it hard to sing — I definitely slow my breathing. And I monitor myself, that feeling of observing yourself and knowing whether it’s too far for you to go. It’s a beautiful thing if tears get in the way, but the singing is absolutely part of the job. I know when I’m about to get to the place of no return and I breathe myself out of it. I also keep my larynx down — not pushed down, but the tendency is for it to get way, way up. And then I don’t have any grounding or control if that larynx is in the sky. - Sidonie Smith

Bottom line:

If you need to, go ahead and cry. But try not to push your voice too hard or too long. Cry it out, talk it out, and then give yourself time to rest and heal. DO NOT sing hard with recently cried-out, swollen vocal cords. Be kind to your voice; you are responsible for its well-being. Don't ask or expect it to perform well when it's swollen.

Whatever the reason for tears, I wish you full healing, closure, hope, and peace. Your voice can be even better after it recovers from the release of crying, so do it a favor - wait for it!

This post first appeared on Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal, please read the originial post: here

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How Crying Affects the Voice - updated 2020


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