Strictly speaking, our voices don’t tire. Voice, after all, is air from the lungs chopped and shaped and carried in waves to the listener’s ear. Our structures that create the voice, however, can tire, work inefficiently or become damaged from overuse.

Symptoms include:

  • Dry mouth;
  • A need to clear your throat;
  • Hoarseness;
  • “Scratchy” or raw feeling;
  • Achy feeling in your neck;
  • Feeling winded;
  • A general feeling of weakness when speaking;
  • Frequent breaths or running out of breath;
  • Reduced volume on high or low pitches;
  • Tension in the neck, shoulders and upper chest.

Right now, science can provide no magic number for recovery time needed to overcome vocal wear and tear. A big obstacle is the huge range of vocal “robustness” among people.

Are your vocal muscles tired?

Infrequent or hard exercise makes our muscles ache. The same goes for muscles required for voice. The muscles around the ribs (intercostals) and abdomen expand and contract to provide breath for speaking. Loud or excessive talking may make these muscles tire. Some people then fall into the unhealthy habit of overusing muscles of the neck to “push” the voice. These little muscles can’t fully and consistently do the work of the big muscles of the abdomen and rib areas. Thus, the neck muscles are worn out before the teaching day is over.

Muscles tire as “good” chemicals (nutrients, etc.) are consumed and waste products (lactic acid) build up in muscle fibers.  Our blood flow transports nutrients to muscle fibers and carries away lactic acid.  Because our circulatory systems work constantly, chemicals exchange fairly quickly. Thus, people recover from muscle fatigue fairly easily.

Cell wear and tear:

When you feel your voice dragging at day’s end, consider:

  • human vocal folds collide 100-1000 times per second;
  • vocal folds collide many hundreds thousands times per day;
  • increasing pitch and volume increases vocal fold friction;
  • high or loud talking makes  vocal tissues tire faster;
  • most teachers speak frequently each day, five days a week;
  • teachers get limited recovery time (quiet time) during the workday.

Nowhere else in the body do tissues have such mechanical demand. The body’s response is to protect: vocal nodules or cysts may form. While these growths cushion the blow, they also make vocal folds vibrate less efficiently. Even the safest and most healthful talking or singing causes destruction vocal fold cells. Vocal cells must constantly replace old, damaged cells with fresh ones. Quiet time, or recovery time, is necessary for regeneration to keep pace with destruction.