Throat Tightness

Student question: I feel tightness, almost a pinching dry feeling in my throat, when I sing. What could that be and what can I do about that?

There are several possible reasons, so you may need to try a few adjustments and see what helps.

  1. Sometimes feeling dry means that your throat IS dry! The cells at the surface of your throat have air moving past them all day long, from normal breathing. If the air around you (climate or indoor environment) is dry, the throat feels it.

When you sing, your mouth stays open longer than normal, and you take bigger “gulps” of air when you inhale between phrases. So any dryness you might feel gets even more intense. Drinking plenty of water helps, but using a humidifier, facial “steamer,” or just breathing the steamy vapor from a cup of tea may help more quickly.

The quickest test is to sing in the bathroom when it’s steamy from a shower or bath, and notice if your throat feels better. If this kind of dryness is a constant problem, talk to your doctor about possible nasal congestion, and look for “oral dryness” products near the toothpaste section of your drugstore (Biotene makes a good mouthwash, spray, and gum that help throat cells stay moist).

  1. If the pinching-tight feeling is stronger than the sense of dryness, you may be straining your voice—singing too high, too loud, and/or too long. Listen to your body, because it’s giving you a signal to back off! You can’t force your way past that kind of limit. Instead: give your voice some rest, and take some pressure off. Work with a good teacher to improve the posture of your neck and jaw, and to manage your breathing more effectively, so that you don’t strain.
  1. Sometimes, throat tightness or that dry-irritated feeling is an indirect signal that your neck muscles are working too hard or are out of balance. This can be helped with massage, acupuncture, or physical therapy.
  1. Finally, a tight-dry-sore feeling can be related to chronic sinus infections, allergies, acid reflux, or can be a side effect of other medications you may be taking. These are things to discuss with a throat doctor (laryngologist) who understands singers’ needs and problems.

So try the simple things first: humidity, neck relaxation, and less pressure when you sing. If these don’t solve the problem, see a doctor.

Written for, and featured in the National Association of Teachers of Singing‘s Intermezzo newsletter for World Voice Day 2015.


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