Over-Coming Pressed Phonation and Ventricular Dysphonia

After a lifetime of struggling to sing well there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel. These past five years of training and studies to get better at singing have become the most challenging, frustrating, and also rewarding experiences of my life.

I don’t often share of my personal experiences here at the blog or at Youtube. I’m shy and like to teach so, mostly, I teach via tips and techniques and other things that I’m learning and wish for others to know.


There is a collection of vocal problems in and around the vocal folds that goes by the overarching title of Muscle Tension Dysphonia (MTD). The designation itself isn’t so useful because it can include problems that are the exact opposite of each other, so you need to know the specifics of your own problem. For example, both under-pressed (breathy) and over-pressed (squeezed) vocal folds are forms of MTD.

To complicate matters, we can have MTD to a degree that allows us to speak well enough, but make it very hard to sing well. The sounds of these conditions in speech have become accepted idiosyncrasies in the way people talk and even in the way that contemporary artists sing.

Another complication is that the diagnosis of these problems is better left to a speech doctor of some kind, whereas as singing students we drop these problems on the doorstep of our voice coaches, who often aren’t quite sure what’s going on and they aren’t well-equipped to treat the problem. It’s not to say that these issues are uncommon to singing students. They are extremely common. They are the most common, in fact, and good coaches might not know what they are called but they know what they sound like and have a general idea what might be done to reduce their effect.

I’ve been learning that my own two biggest vocal problems have been the combination of Pressed Phonation and Ventricular Dysphonia (excessive false vocal fold constriction). Armed with this knowledge it has been easier to find exercises to reverse the condition. With the right exercises now and the commitment to frequent training sessions at home, plus the guidance of a great vocal coach, the improvement has been swift and the rewards tremendous.

At home, I have mostly focused on adapting to a better breathing strategy, one best described as “down, back and wide”. It is true Bel Canto Appoggio. Additionally, the two exercises I use most is a small amount of lip trill and a copious amount of straw phonation in water. The latter has been and continues to be the miracle worker.


Off the top of my head, the problems that are rapidly disappearing are:

  • Excessive, forcing, pushing and squeezing, especially at higher pitches, and the sound that goes with it.
  • Singing out of tune, especially at the onset of each phrase.
  • Inconsistent and inadequate breath support, sometimes not enough and sometimes too much.
  • Too wide and too splatty of a sound, in the range where the sound needs to “get vertical” and “turn”.
  • A disconnected sense of legato during phrases, when they should be more smoothly connected.
  • Excessive tongue tension, especially withdrawing into the throat when it needs to extend slightly.
  • Opening the jaw too much.
  • Raising of the shoulders and other upper body tension.
  • Misplaced sound, or feeling the sound down and back in the mouth and throat instead of up and over the hard palate and more forward placed. There’s a new sensation of lightness and elevation.

There’s more. That list could be three times as long.

I have always worked hard in my training over these past five years and I have always noticed small improvements every single day. I expected that the rate of improvement in my singing would slow down. However, with these new exercises, combined with the added knowledge I’ve gained from my studies of vocal physiology and acoustics, I’m getting better at singing much faster than before. Smart singers get better faster.

Getting better is fun. Singing better is fun. Over-coming lifelong challenges brings a type of satisfaction that’s hard to put into words.

I still have a long way to go, but lifelong, deeply engrained muscle habits don’t change upon diagnosis. This type of change takes time and a dedication to regular training that I feel fortunate to have. I’m working my way toward teaching this stuff soon, so stick around if you face the same problems and wish to learn how to fix them.

Be well and enjoy your day,


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  1. Looking forward to your tips and tricks for voice improvement, Joe. I did a similar thing as yourself by not continuing my singing when I was young. I was gifted with a nice voice but I am now 80 years old. My grown children are badgering me to retrain my voice and improve; they love to hear me sing. My wife wants me to cut a CD so that if anything happens to me she will have it to remember me by. Will need lots of help, James.
    P.S.: Thanks for lending a helping hand.

    1. Hi James and thanks for taking the time to leave a message. I can say that the best thing I’ve done for myself was to take up the study and training of my voice six years ago. I continue to improve and singing is so much more fun now.

      I’ll do my best to get more instruction out. I’m working on a course that will be very useful to anyone wanting to get better at singing quickly.

  2. I’m experimenting with enabling comments on the blog for the first time. Please say hello and ask any questions you might have.

    Do you have problems with vocal strain? What are your main vocal problems?

      1. Hi Marcelo! I don’t have a fixed date, yet. I’m working on the first course now and have some travels coming up, too. The first course will be free and called “Voice Building Quickstart”. I hope to have it ready by the end of the year. The two courses to follow are already outlined and under development, too.

          1. I don’t teach private lessons yet. I live in a remote location with internet access by satellite and it’s probably not suitable for video skype calls. I’m focusing on the eLearning aspect first as well as working hard on my own voice. There’s a chance that I’ll have fiber optic service sometime next year and will begin to offer skype lessons.

          2. Thank you for the response,
            could you please provide a more detailed outlook of what you do to overcome overpressed phonation and pushing/strain in the neck when singing? Ive read you do closed mouth exercises like humming on scales while squating but you now say you do straw SOVTs? please just a quick outlook like a template for us to follow, thank you again.

          3. Hi Marcelo, I have a number of good exercises that I use and because I believe it’s so important to do them correctly, I don’t like to teach them in blog posts or short Youtube videos because that can lead to someone doing them incorrectly. To complicate matters, one’s breathing technique is critically important to have worked out before doing these types of exercises. This is why I’m creating the courses, so I can be very thorough in my teaching.

            I have two training postures that I use. One is in the seated squat position, which I use from time to time, depending on the situation. Mainly, I use the free standing posture that I use when I sing.

            The four main SOVE’s that I use for training are the hum, the lip trill, the tongue trill and the straw phonation in water. Each of these exercises have multiple variations, too, depending on what problems I’m trying to solve.

            No matter what exercise I’m doing, I’m always simultaneously training my breathing technique, which is best called, “Down, back and wide breathing with active diaphragmatic co-contraction”. Quite the mouthful. It’s the hardest to learn, but the very, very best way to breath for singing.

            The best exercises to train the breath engine are variations of an exercise called the “Farinelli”. What’s cool is that once you get the hang of this exercise, you can combine it with the SOVE’s so you’re training everything at once.

            Without good breathing technique it’s nearly impossible to remove the vocal strain we are talking about, because lapses in good breathing technique are often the source of vocal constriction.

            Also note that the open-mouth exercises that most coaches teach, which, of course, have their purpose, are not very useful in reversing bad habits of excessive constriction in the false folds and excessive pressing of the true folds. In fact, they tend to exacerbate these problems.

            Does that help? Please don’t hesitate to ask more questions.

          4. Thank you very much for the response, so basically we should wait for the course to be out! and maybe NOT sing using old and bad habits if one has over pressed phonation/strain/wide splatty strangled sound in high pitches

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