My wife hated my singing, she said it hurt her ears; she said I played guitar and piano well and should focus on them. She was right, my voice was raspy, croaky, sharp-pitched and strangled, but I persevered because I wanted to busk and I wanted to do some of the singing in the band. My wife turned up to most of my performances but after the Zonta concert, never willingly.
Over the next couple of years, these things happened to improve my voice:
1. After a year of retirement, I recovered from the exhaustion and stress of work and my voice, once a croak, became reasonably strong save for constant throat clearing.
2. After throat cancer was ruled out by a throat doctor who performed an endoscopy, I went to a laryngologist who put a scope down my throat to see if my vocal folds were damaged. No, they were shiny, responsive and attentive. The scope had a camera and I returned with a memory stick, but my wife couldn’t bear to look at the video, “revolting”.
3. A speech pathologist diagnosed muscle tension dysphonia. From the internet: “It occurs when the muscles around the larynx (voice box) are so tight during speaking that the voice box does not work efficiently.” I needed to relax my voice box and to do that I had to relax my body and mind. Whiskey relaxed me so one Sunday morning I went to the undercover flea market with a flask of whiskey and water and sipped between songs. The whiskey did not help the voice and left me with two problems: my voice was bad and I was pissed.
4. I ceased the practice of taking deep breaths before a passage of singing, it made the voice unsteady. I spend little time on breathing exercises though chanting “the ocean rolls” for as long as possible helps the lungs.
5. I cured my sharp-pitched singing by singing flat or thinking I was doing so; in fact I was now singing on pitch. If I do sing a note flat, I rise to the note like a slide guitar. Curing the sharp-pitched singing problem was the biggest breakthrough, I am relaxed because I'm not worried about singing sharp.
6. I began to let the voice come easy. I always thought my natural voice was weak and wobbly and so I tensed up and bellowed and produced a loud strangled sound. I was sitting at my desk singing into a Dictaphone, softly so as not to disturb my wife watching tv. During the ads I played it back and we were astounded. Now I start gently, keep my shoulders down and loose and soon I can increase the volume without losing quality.
7. From a talent show I learned, if you are going for a high note, don’t be tentative, belt it out and make it a highlight. It seems counter-intuitive to launch strongly into a danger zone but sometimes you must do so, like when catching a wave or getting born.
8. I became scrupulous about getting the right key for my voice. I go everywhere with a capo and confine myself to C and G, moving the capo up and down. I like to sing in Eb and Bb but, who wants to use open chords to play in those keys?, so I put the capo on the third fret and play in the keys of C and G respectively.
9. I sing and sing and sing.
For the last year my voice has been good, my busking is well received, and I sing about half of the songs in the band.