Singers: 5 Ways To Stop Shredding Your Vocal Cords


by Cari Cole

Do you ever wonder why singers get vocal problems and how to avoid them for yourself? Who wants to lose their voice and worse, end up having surgery? Does it happen to everyone eventually or can it be avoided? And doesn’t that just freak the bejesus out of you? It should.

It’s not so easy to be out on the road singing for a living and keeping your voice in great shape. Matter of fact, touring will pretty much deteriorate your voice over time. I often meet with touring singers who have blown out their voices from years on the road. It’s way more common than you think. But most of those singers never trained or didn’t get the right training or guidance. They just kept going until they burned out.

It’s not inevitable, but it’s highly probable that you could develop vocal problems if you don’t learn how to use and care for your voice. Your voice is an instrument inside your body and how you treat it and your body greatly affects your voice. There is a way to stay vocally healthy and free from strain with the right techniques and wellness adjustments to lifestyle and diet.

Your voice is not an instrument you can replace when a string when it breaks. Your vocal cords are irreplaceable. You only have one set, so you can either care for them or go down the road of deterioration that befalls so many singers.  My vote is that you take the high road of prevention, preservation, and health for a long successful career. Stick with me, and you’ll learn exactly how.

I am often struck by how many stars suffer, and sometimes needlessly. Mostly it’s a matter of technique (or lack of), health, lifestyle, diet and daily care and hygiene.

You can pick up a ton of tips on my holistic recommendations to stay healthy or get your voice back in my Vocal Road Warrior Formula, but today I want to talk about vocal technique and preserving your voice while you sing. I want to teach you how to master your instrument and the key things to do to ensure that you never have to experience vocal problems of this magnitude. Of course, there is MUCH more than what I can present in this article, but I picked out the biggest contenders that cause issues as it relates to the technical voice.

Let’s take a quick peek at what some of these vocal problems are and how they develop.

Vocal abuse or misuse, such as excessive use of the voice when singing, talking, smoking, coughing, yelling, or inhaling irritants can cause abnormalities of the vocal cords, such as nodules, granulomas, polyps, or cysts. The difference between these abnormalities is mostly a function of what kind of tissue is involved. Symptoms of throat granuloma (and nodules & cysts) can be hoarseness, chronic throat clearing, throat pain, cough (sometimes with a little blood), and the feeling of having a lump in your throat. Surgery is a less optimal treatment for throat granuloma than vocal therapy, although “granulomas are often slow to regress,” according to NYU Voice Center’s Website.

Most disorders of vocal abuse and misuse are reversible. The best treatment is to identify and eliminate the vocal behavior that created the voice disorder. In many cases, a brief period of voice therapy is helpful so the individual can learn good vocal techniques, such as proper breath support for speech or eliminating high pressure at the vocal mechanism.

5 Ways to Stop Shredding Your Vocal Cords


1. Avoid coughing

Coughing shreds your vocal cords. When you have an infection, the body will naturally cough to get rid of it. The best remedy for this on the market is Bronchial Soothe with ivy leaf (available at Whole Foods). It’s the only remedy I’ve ever found that actually stops a vicious cough.


2. Stop using glottal attacks

Glottals’ happen when the edges of the vocal cords bang together in over-closure. This results from poor vocal technique. The way to avoid it is to add a soft “h” to the onset of words that begin with vowels, i.e.; “hh-everyone”, “hh-“I”; “hh-always”. It can happen in the middle of a word too: “st-ay”. A really good vocal coach can teach you more about how not to glottal, however, the operative word is “really good” vocal coach – most mid-level coaches do not have this kind of expertise and can even cause vocal problems like these.


3. Get your voice out of your throat

Speaking low in your throat can cause nodules and granuloma. Associate your voice with less pressure and move it higher into your mouth or head cavity. Speak higher in pitch and raise the soft palate to move out of the throat (Learn how to raise your soft palate in my Singers Gift Warmups and free your voice).




4. Stop talking so loud! Don’t yell or talk excessively for long periods of time

Yelling and speaking for a long time (especially over loud music) is an immediate burnout and can ruin your singing voice. But whispering is just as bad. If you know your speaking voice is a problem, find a speech therapist, or vocal coach that understands speech therapy to help you get back on track. Sometimes just stop talking until you feel better. Especially on tour.


5. How to have a healthy voice 

To keep your voice in great shape and free from strain, the best solution is to find a great (not just a good) professional vocal coach who specializes in vocal health and recovery from strain (Cari Cole ;)),. You’ll want to find one who knows a thing or two about holistic approaches to speed you back to health. Make it non-negotiable to keep your speaking and singing voice healthy for life.

Keep your voice free of strain! Register at and get your FREE GIFT: The Vocal Road Warrior:  3 part audio series on how to stay healthy on and off the road! We need you and your music!

  • Love your articles. They address isues I battle with all the time as a rock singer.
    Thanks Cari
    Hank (Coyote) Wagner

  • Totally agree, I see too many singers locally and superstar level doing things that will obviously cause damage. If you can’t do 3 3 hour gigs back to back and sound just as good on the last tune as the first, you need training. I had serious training with a world class teacher and as a result can sing all day long every day, no problem. I get physically burnt out long before I have any voice issues. I’ve seen people whos doctor said they would never sing again get great training and are now on international tours with no problems. It amazes me how a guitarist will take lessons from 8 years old for 10+ years and go to music school to be considered at a pro level. But somehow people think you should “just sing”. Either you have it or you don’t. Nonsense. It’s a skill like any other. Of course once you have the skill then you have to wield it to express with emotion, artisrtry, etc. Amazes me how so many international artists can’t get some decent technique when their multi milion dollar career is at stake. Ignorance is not bliss. Good points Cari.

  • Oh and your point about finding a great teacher is crucial. I’ve had students play me recordings of lessons with previous teachers and it’s horrifying. One college had to spend a year with my teacher to simply unlearn all the bad habits they were “taught” by 9 previous bad teachers. Before good training he couldn’t do a single line without abusing. But after he got the right teacher he was able to tour doing about 700 shows in 2 years with no vocal issues. When I was teaching many students had previous teachers and I don’t remember a single person coming to me with a good concept of breathing and support. If you’re looking for a teacher listen to their students. Do their students sound amazing, and do they work regulary with few vocal issues as a result? Does what they tell you make sense, and does it work in practice? I’m too busy working on my own projects to teach anymore but anyone can feel free to shoot me an email with any questions about what I said. All us artists need to work together to raise the level of musicianship in this world! : )

  • JonathanLeal

    Thanks I had no clue how much of a strain I have caused my voice this far I’m hoping to get beter but for now I’ll just stick with my choir teacher ^-^

  • Cynthia Raftus

    Can someone who can sing somewhat train their voice to sing much better, I feel when I sing (higher notes) that my throat is tight, like no sound can flow through without sounding like a dying cat, I absolutely love singing and would love to be able to hit some higher notes, but dont know how to open up

    • Jessica Gorski

      Yes! Find a good teacher 😉 Sometimes this can be hard because our field isn’t regulated. But find someone you like working with and gives you confidence and stick with them for AT LEAST 3 months (with daily practice). Record your first lesson and at least 1 lesson every 3 months to note improvement.

      For high notes, I recommend Straw phonation.

      Hum through a straw and see what it feels like to hit those higher notes. To engage and strengthen your high notes, you don’t want to feel any squeezing; try and use the same resonance space that you felt through the straw and don’t sing ANY LOUDER than what you were able to hear/feel comfortably and consistantly through the straw. A different set of muscles is getting a stretch and work out for high notes, so be patient with them: like how you don’t want to start weight training at too high a resistance.
      As the muscles become stronger and learn to coordinate, the tone will become clearer, louder/more resonant, and more consistent.

      If high notes are TRULY out of your reach, even through a straw, and you have a job that requires a lot of daily speaking/screaming, or have habits that could impact your throat (like smoking), find a Speech language pathologist, Laryngologist, or ENT to make sure there isn’t a structural issue. If you find a good voice teacher, s/he may be able to hear a pathology and recommend getting a formal diagnosis. Note: SLPs do not diagnose though they deal with pathologies daily. If they hear, feel, or see a problem, they can order a formal exam.