Singing in the Car: Sheer Bliss or Road to Ruin?

I recount an issue where students experience vocal strain from passionate car singing, describe the symptoms and consequences of vocal fold swelling, and provide practical advice for safe car singing and recovering from vocal strain.

Photo by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash

(5-minute read time)


Me: “How are you today?”

Singer: “I’m well, but my voice is a little off.”

(Indeed it was…I could hear a lower-than-normal speaking pitch and some huskiness. I decided to keep him talking a little longer to gauge the nature of the problem and decide what to do about it.)

Me: “Ok, well what has your vocal load been like in the last 1-2 days?”

Singer: “Oh, pretty normal. Nothing unusual….except…,” looks down at feet awkwardly, shuffles slightly, then grins and looks up at me with a twinkle in their eye, “….except I was singing American Idiot pretty loudly in the car last night… that wouldn’t be the problem would it?”

Me: “….well….it’s possible that could account for the changes I hear in your voice today…let’s explore it some more…”

*paraphrase of actual conversations with clients, used with their permission

 


Actually, let me do my own awkward foot shuffle and confess that what I should say first is “honestly, I TOTALLY understand. I’ve done that before too AND I FULLY UNDERSTAND HOW GREAT THIS FELT.” Haven’t we all? And yet we often experience vocal regret afterwards. 

The conversation above is a fictional paraphrase of a real-life situation. Within a matter of days, two of my students, who are both preparing to audition for the musical American Idiot soon, displayed very similar vocal damage. Their joy of unpacking this Green Day-soaked Broadway cast album was so great, they had to crank up the volume and sing and sing and sing. I mean – it’s research, right? 

The heart wants what the heart wants. And is there anything better than singing your emotions out at the top of your lungs to four-on-the-floor grooves and distorted guitar…while you’re driving? In the moment, it seems like there is nothing better and there would be no consequences. That’s why it is so devastating that the voice dislikes something that the heart and mind enjoys SO MUCH!

However, in these isolated cases, these singers had a singing lesson the next day and ongoing rehearsal/performance commitments.

WHAT WAS THE EVIDENCE?

In this Green Day scenario, it didn’t take long in our diagnostic process to identify that the culprit was singing loud, high and mindlessly while driving.

WHAT WERE THE CONSEQUENCES?

There is no point me only nagging people about the perils of this singing environment. That would be naïve of me. So here are some ideas on how you might try to have your cake and eat it too…

TIPS ON SINGING WHILE DRIVING


Warning

Singing with vocal strain or misuse to even one very loud song 

is more than enough to cause permanent damage

if the wrong ducks are in a row.


HOW TO COOL DOWN AFTER A BIG SING IN THE CAR

The best gift you can give yourself after a loud car singing session is a decent cool down before you go to bed – whether you feel like you strained your voice or not.  Your goal is to release the workload in the muscles around the larynx and reduce the inflammation in the vocal folds themselves.

Try this routine and modify it to your preferences:

WHAT TO DO IF YOU WENT TOO FAR

Compare vocal fold swelling to a sprained ankle. Change your demands of it until the swelling goes down and its functional capacity returns.


Pause and reflect…

Was that indulgent car singing session worth this inconvenience and possible training set back? 

How might I do it differently next time my heart wants that free and loud singing moment?


WHAT TO DO IF YOU REALLY HURT YOUR VOICE

  1. If your vocal changes persist for more than two weeks, you will need to get it examined by an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT). 
  2. Talk to your vocal coach for advice on going to your GP and getting a referral to an ENT who has experience with voices.
  3. Develop a program of reduced vocal use with your vocal coach while you wait for the ENT appointment.

 


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