Hyperfunctional phonation is a term used to describe the process whereby too much is demanded from the laryngeal mechanism. The resulting sound will be tight and strained, or strident. If used persistently, it will almost certainly result in vocal problems which may require medical intervention.
Causes of hyperfunctional phonation
The primary cause of hyperfunctional phonation is tension is the vocal folds, however tension in other muscles such as the larynx and throat will exacerbate the problem. This can occur not only while singing, but also while speaking, and is one of the main reasons so many singers, professional voice users and other people, including those who do not use their voice professionally, find themselves requiring therapy or surgery. Oversinging, the performance of repertoire that is not suitable for the vocal fach, singing too loudly, or for too long, singing with poor technique, shouting, talking loudly for long periods of time, speaking for long periods of time on the telephone, and screaming, are forms of vocal misuse.
Symptoms of vocal misuse
The most common symptom of vocal misuse or disfunction is hoarseness. If it persists after singing, or if it occurs after a short spell of singing, it is very possibly due (allergies and other physiological illness aside) to misuse of the voice. This is, of course, hard to define, and not within the scope of a mere extract on a website to diagnose, however if a singer finds that this is happening, a qualified singing teacher or physician should be consulted. Only a specialist is qualified to determine the correct cause, but a teacher can recognise the symptoms and give sound advice as to the next step in the process of management and rehabilitation.
Another symptom is loss of range. This usually occurs at the extremes of range, with loss of high notes or low notes being first. Breaking and hoarseness on high notes is a sign of vocal misuse. Over zealous singing, singing for extended periods of time without the use of sound technique, a lack of proper vocal training, a lack of knowledge in safe and correct vocal technique will all contribute to vocal fatique and damage.
Loss of Vibrato
Loss of vibrato is another indication of vocal misuse, however singing with a forced “straight” tone (no vibrato) can cause tension in the vocal folds and larynx. This can, therefore, be a two-edged sword whereby misuse can cause loss of normal, healthy vibrato, while eliminating vibrato by choice can also cause vocal problems.
There is an essay (blog) on VOCAL HYGIENE on this site. Every singer should take the time to read it, and to read about Vocal fatigue. Prevention is always better than cure. There are exercises for warming up and conditioning the voice, in both high and low keys, in a variety of tempos, suited to all voices, on this site.
Emotional Problems and the Voice
The causative effect of emotional problems are, too often, overlooked by singers. If a singer suffers from anxiety, depression, or performance anxiety, especially on a chronic level, it will affect their vocal production by causing tension in the body. This needs to be addressed by a professional in the field.
Physiological Problems and the Voice
Aside from emotional problems, singers are often plagued by physical pain or injury. Pain causes tension in the body, and it is manifested in the voice. Localised or referred pain creates tension in muscles used for support of singing. This is one of the many reasons why singing must always be approached as a holistic art form.
CORRECTION (and rehabilitation of the voice) WHICH DISPLAYS SIGNS OF HYPERFUNCTIONAL PHONATION.
The common goal for correction is to see the elimination of tension, specifically laryngeal tension, but also tensions in other areas of the mind or body which may refer to the throat and larynx. Relaxation techniques will be valuable, and warm up exercises, both physical and vocal, are essential. Correct vocal technique is a vital measure in eliminating this condition, and most specifically in the area of approach to singing. I prefer not to call it “attack” although this is a more correct terminology. A balanced attack is better than the explosion of sound that is created by a hard and tight attack, and more correct technique than, conversely, a tremulous or breathy attack. Singers must practise balanced attacks, without popping and exploding consonants, or forcing the voice beyond it’s capabilities. Vocalises are excellent practise – they allow a singer to work on technique, singing without the complication of words and consonants, and to listen to their voice. All students should practise soft approach (attack) to their singing, and eliminate explosive consonants altogether. The ability to quickly move off the consonants and sing ON THE VOWELS is one of the most important facets of technique that can be passed to a student.
The frontal vowels are helpful in eliminating breathiness if it is a problem area. I prefer beginning students of voice to work on their vocalises and scales to “aw” rather than “ah” in order to create forward placement. The back vowels – for the sake of ease here, we will refer to them as ah, oh and oo – are helpful for release of tension. Placing a “y” or “m” in front of those vowels is very effective for reducing laryngeal tension.
For this reason, I suggest that the vocalises and scales are never sung to one particular vowel for any length of time. Vary the vowels within the exercise. Sing the exercise with an “m”, a “y”, or a “gn” in front of the vowel, and once this is established, vary the vowels inclusive of the consonant. Alter the sounds. “You, you, you, ya, ya, ya, yay, yay, yay” and so on and so forth. You may also end up with something along the lines of, perhaps, “moo, mah, may, my, me” (I am keeping this explanation in a phonetic style for the sake of simplicity).
Lastly, one of the problems that can arise is that a student is not “dropping the jaw”. One of the most useful exercises for this is a simple combination of “vee, ah” sung in sustain, note by note, to slower scales. This exercise will soon be available on this site under the title of “Dropping the jaw”. There must be a smooth transition from the “vee” to the “ah” with the jaw dropped gently and both the “vee” and “ah” softly and smoothly approached.
I highly recommend that all singers tape their practise, something easily managed with the extent of technology available these days, and listen to their attack, to their breathing, to the very production of sound. Your voice does not sound the same to you when singing, as it does recorded! There is a legend that a famous opera singer once cried after hearing her voice recorded for the first time. Having spent some considerable time in the recording studios, I can fully understand that there could be truth in this. When we are singing, we can not truly hear ourselves, but microphones do not lie. If you suspect that your voice is fatigued, please record yourself singing! If you are feeling it, and hearing it, it is likely to be far more fatigued or tense than you suspect, and a microphone will highlight the fact, and give early warning that there are issues pending.
Do you sometimes feel like the singer in the picture? If the answer is yes, you are very likely to have a problem with hyperfunctional phonation. There are exercises available on this site which will be helpful for singers wishing to improve their technique. They are available with, or without, the melody played over the top. Here is the link: http://helencolemansinging.com.au/product-category/exercisefiles/