The voice is such a powerful and vulnerable thing. Over the past few years, I’ve worked with many different clients with a variety of vocal needs. One of the most consistent things that happen is the vocal folds will crack/disconnect when singing.
It can be an awkward moment for the client but it does not need to be! I have experienced many voice cracks as I sing but it has lessened more and more over time. My goal here is to help you understand what is safe for the vocal folds to experience and what is not. Let’s talk about voice cracks!
What is a voice crack?
It is a disconnection in your vocal folds which is caused by weakness, tension, or even puberty.
Weak or Tense
When your vocal folds vibrate they have areas they are used to and areas they are not. Your voice cracks specifically in the areas you are weak or very tense. It is like when you are doing push-ups and you hit that point where you no longer can do the movement. Your muscles give out. Your vocal cords give out too. This can potentially happen in all the notes you sing but is normally present in extreme areas like low notes, transition points, and when you sing higher.
A common place you hear voice cracks is in the development process known as the secondary sexual characteristics of the vocal cords, which is just referring to puberty. The voice box goes through a ton of changes which causes the vocal folds to glitch. During this time you would just have to have grace on your vocal cords until it smooths out.
Do all voice cracks sound the same?
I would categorize them in two separate camps but both are just a disconnection of sound. It is a completely normal experience when singing so remember that! Most of the time it happens when singing but you could even experience this while talking.
One kind of crack is when your vocal folds go from phonating to just air. This means you were making a sound and now there is nothing. Preventing voice cracks is a fine goal but this kind of crack can be perfectly acceptable. When I work with clients and they are singing with a lot of tension I will actually encourage them to break. I want the singer to find the proper form first and if that means experiencing some disconnection then so be it.
From one sound to another
The other kind of vocal crack is when you sing one way and it disconnects into some other completely different sound. Often times a singer will be singing too heavy and get overloaded so their vocal folds give out. The most common way this happens is when someone pulls up their chest voice and from this overload their voice breaks into head voice. You may also notice a lot of vocal fatigue coming in abnormally fast. Every singer will get tired eventually but some things speed it up more than others.
Now, this type of voice crack can be intentional. If you are singing in your mix and let it break into the head voice to add some drama or style then you are good.
Is it bad when your vocal cords give out?
It depends! If you are you forcing too much from your voice? Then yes. If your voice is just weak and cannot hold on any longer? Then no. It is not necessary to prevent voice cracks when it is for strengthening purposes. They should smooth out as your vocal folds get stronger and stronger.
On the flip side, if you are causing excess tension on your vocal cords, it is important to stop for your vocal protection. Consistent abuse of the vocal muscles can potentially cause damage to the cords.
What does it mean to “force” something from your voice?
This “force” typically happens when you are singing in your comfortable vocal range and your voice eventually runs into an area where you are no longer comfortable. At this moment you can choose to give your voice a little extra push and that extra push is excessive force. This force or “tension” is most noticeable when you are singing high notes or your voice is in a transition point.
You will notice in these tense areas the tone becomes increasingly more squeezed as you go higher and higher in pitch until you run into an immovable wall. You may even notice your pitch becoming flat. This is typically where your voice cracks. Sometimes you can make it out without a crack but not without a ton of tension.
This tension wants to prevent the voice from cracking. The problem is the tension takes away the work from the actually vocal folds so your cords do not get the full workout and end up relying on the assistance of “tension”.
How do I know when my voice is weak?
You will know that your voice is weak when you cannot sing something without tension or there just simply is no sound.
There are times your vocal cords just need to be reset and we will talk about that in a second, but when you allow your voice to sing without the “assistance” of tension you are left with what your singing voice can do on its own. This is where the singer meets their vocal cords disconnecting, cracking, or no sound at all. As we’ve discussed the vocal crack is just a disconnection in the vocal cords. While you can lessen these voice cracks, a voice crack is not the enemy. It may be a sign of weakness but think of that as needed information.
A big takeaway here is the vocal folds struggle when in an unknown area. That struggle is perfectly normal to experience when doing something new. We just want the struggle you experience when you sing to be safe and bring growth.
How do you remove voice cracks?
There are a series of reasons your voice is glitching. The most common reason is that it’s not trained. With this being the issue, the solution is exercise! Specifically, you exercise your vocal cords. Think of your voice like your body. When someone cannot do a pull-up or a sit-up it is because they are weak in that particular way. Your voice has many areas that need to strengthen in the same way. With that in mind, there are exercises that meet you where you are. The physical trainer or the voice teacher finds exercises that aren’t too easy but also aren’t too hard. They find your manageable level of difficulty.
In a voice lesson, we use many different sounds in our vocal exercises that are designed to help your voice specifically. The voice coach uses them to find the best way to push your voice to the next level. Sometimes a really good vocal warm-up can be enough to clear the voice cracking too.
How long does it take to remove a voice crack?
It again depends. Each person starts from a different spot and ultimately the professional singer will still crack at times.
Side note! A fun way to help embrace these voice cracks is to look up a compilation of professional singers performing and experiencing a voice crack live! Some of these singers brush it off like it is nothing because it really is not a big deal. You will not always prevent these dreaded voice cracks but they can lessen and be handled with style.
When you train your voice, you should be able to see a difference in your singing gradually. You would need to be a consistent practitioner and be sure to use the right vocal exercises that target your specific needs. Your voice is NOT random. It has a specific structure to how it functions, so your exercises should assist that structure. Also, it should directly help you when you practice singing. Now there are times when a singer will experience immediate results, but that is because their voice just needed to be reset.
What does it mean to reset the cords?
Many singers get into a rut. That rut can be due to so many things: your health, your stress, your sleep, your mind, your voice needing a break, etc. When a singer is experiencing vocal freedom they are automatically connected to the proper technique. Everything is flowing in their vocal range, through their vocal registers, and so on. This flow can get jammed up and cause someone who was once free to feel trapped in tension. This is where the reset comes in.
As vocal coaches, we use exercises to help snap your voice back into the correct place. Kind of like when a chiropractor snaps your bones back in place. Once snapped back the singer locks into that freedom again. I have to use this for myself at times.
The more you learn about your voice and how it works the more you will be able to use a singing exercise to help snap your voice back in too.
How can my mind affect my voice?
The mind is one of the BIGGEST hurdles for the vocal cords. It is one of the many places we look to determine what is going on when the voice cracks or there is difficulty producing normal sounds. Some of the most common mental blocks singers experience is fear and the need for control.
Often times singers will not commit to high notes out of fear that their voice will not sound good or for fear of voice breaks. You can sense when your voice is getting wobbly and that can cause immediate self-consciousness, so instead of committing to the song the singer gets even quieter to help avoid the potential embarrassment of a voice crack, which funny enough can cause the said voice crack.
Other times when singers try to hit specific notes their need to gain control will actually cause the vocal folds to blow apart from too much pressure. There is an important balance between committing to these high notes but not forcing them.
What is the difference between tension and commitment on a high note?
The main difference is that you change your approach to a song when you are having trouble singing. Think about when you sing high notes. Do you keep your same grip and pressure on it or do you add more to compensate for the vulnerability?
That compensation is going to cause tension or even pain. If it hurts stop singing immediately. If it is just tight it is not as serious but still not good. Using too much tension over and over can cause more serious vocal conditions to arise. When it is done right it will not hurt and actually feel good!
How do you get the mind out of the way of the voice?
The most common thing we do is use truth and technique.
Remember the truth
Mentally you will say “I can’t do it” or “it’s too high for me”. That is not true! Thoughts like that have physical effects on your voice and have to get bypassed. One bypass is to know the truth. You CAN hit the high note! It may not be today but that does not mean you “can’t” ever hit it. It is very rare for a singer to not be able to learn how.
One thing we do as voice coaches is trick the singer! What kind of trick? Some sounds are easier for singers than others. We will take that information and find the vocal exercises that assist in locking your voice on the right track as effectively as possible.
We also bypass your tension by sneaking your voice into different vocal registers or higher ranges by “accident”. It is of course not an accident. It is finding the back door to getting the singer to let go. Often times by using sounds they don’t expect or a warm up that sets their voice up for success.
How can a warm up free my voice?
Warming up gets blood flow to the vocal cords. It is significantly harder to sing cold! It can actually cause poor vocal technique to be used as compensation. Your voice pulls to what you use it most to do. Your warm up will start gearing up/pulling your voice to whatever it is you are working on or singing. It can help smooth out some of those vocal cracks too.
Could my breath support be the problem?
The thing is often times the singing issue is solved in a way that can cause more tension. We use breathing exercises all the time but they should never result in a forced sound. Your vocal cords need a balance of edge and breath (edge is just a clean connection of the cords). When you use too much breath the vocal folds separate and when you have too much edge the vocal folds sound squeezed.
Breath support is a common topic amongst singers and vocal coaches and has its place but it needs to be balanced.
Vocal cracks are not always bad
A certain level of cracking is expected when training your voice to do new things. If you are finding new notes in your head voice or building power in your chest voice, it is very normal for a voice crack to happen. Don’t let it worry you. It should clear up over time as your voice gets stronger.
With all that said, do not let your voice cracking scare you! It is all a part of the process. If it is an uncomfortable sound because it is tight then there needs to be an adjustment. But, if it is just new and vulnerable then you are just going through the regular process.