Yelling (Strength Training) for Vocal Health

"Strength training" the voice is a term I have such mixed feelings about yet I still cannot deny the power of the idea. One one hand I HATE when singers take the analogy of the voice working like a muscle to the point where they are trying to apply all of exercise science knowledge to it.

For example this idea of "stretching" out the folds. Firstly... the idea that you should "stretch" out any muscle group before training is very much debated and well beyond the scope of a layman's understanding. Some muscle groups in some activities respond well to it, some do not. That we should be or that there is even any benefit to "stretching" the vocal folds... I'm skeptical. And there are many more reasons I won't bore you with right now.

But this idea that it builds strength and power. God this is so true for me. And even with beginning singers. I mean today I can go from yelling half of the day (aka practice) to voice lessons where I'm speaking, demonstrating (aka yelling), etc. And no it doesn't always go perfectly. Yes sometimes I'm tired. But it's so easy now. And I recover so freaking fast.

I mean say what you want about all of the times I've blown out my voice (I no longer do because I'm more respectful of my limits.) They pushed me to the brink of what I could do. And now... I mean I can go 8+ hours belting my brains out and yeah I'm hoarse after. But 2 years ago that would have blown my voice out after 4 hours. And now... I mean I wake up the next day BOOM ready to go.

I mean is hoarseness really even that bad of a thing? So long as it's managed properly? I don't know! It certainly seems like it's helping me with no ill effects reported from my ENT in the last year. Do I just have super resilient folds? Or is the way we are approaching vocal health completely backward?

It used to be that I had to speak with a very light tone to "save" my voice. Now I'm finding that I can just GO and speak however I want and my voice can keep up. It's crazy! I think the idea of "saving" your voice or babying it actually causes a lot of vocal issues... it doesn't fix them it just puts a band aid on the problem.

If your left leg wasn't strong enough to support your weight for some reason (completely hypothetical) and you kept falling down when you were walking. The solution to this problem isn't to give the guy a wheelchair and tell him to stop using his leg. The solution to the problem would be for him to develop the strength and coordination needed so that he could walk properly. But, again, that's another aside and not something I am an expert on.

Sure some days the guy might overwork his leg muscle and he might injure it and have to take a few days off. Minor sprain, no big deal. Or maybe he overworks it and it's a bit sore the next day. But is that enough of a reason to stop him from training his leg?

Now I can just talk talk talk all day. I can shout all day. I can speak at each intensity from soft to quiet. I have access to the full range of human expression... and isn't that the point?

Do you know how often I have students who are incapable of yelling? They literally could not yell to save their lives. LITERALLY! If they were ever in a life threatening situation their voice would crack, flip, and have zero carrying power. Or, likewise, they go to ONE football game and they are completely debilitated vocally for the entire week. Think about that!

I, on the other hand, could yell through a football game and sing the next day. Perfectly? Probably not. But hell, football games put a lot of people completely out of commission for days. If yelling is so bad for you, why have I received so many vocal health benefits from it?

So here's my theory as a layman with a laughably insignificant understanding of voice science. My theory is that when the voice is properly strength trained and conditioned that it will begin to function as it was intended to. That is.... when I give my voice the command to get loud using a full sound it engages the most efficient set of muscles and resonances to accomplish that task. When I ask for it to transition across the passagio into the right coordination, it will do that. Not neccisarily because I have good technique but because my voice is strong enough to handle that transition with enough weight, fullness, etc. neccisarily for the task I request of it.

Similar to bench pressing 300 lbs. Am I able to bench 300 lbs because I have a complex understanding of exercise science? Sure, that's part of it. Is it because I am strong enough to bench 300 lbs? My guess is that the ladder bears far more significance than the former.

I'm not at all qualified to say this... but I really do feel that yelling is going to start making it's way into speech pathology training. It's just a matter of time!