I can think of many times where nerves have affected the quality of my voice when trying to sing to an audience, particularly that pesky voice crack. But understanding why your voice cracks when you are nervous will help you overcome these issues. Hopefully I can shed some light for you over the next few minutes.
Your voice primarily cracks when you are nervous because of tense muscles and rapid breathing. As a result, the muscles in your larynx have less control over your vocal cords and the air passing through them. This allows the vocal cords to suddenly seperate or come together, disrupting your voice.
I will run through these specific changes that affect voice cracking in the article below. I'm sure you're also interested in knowing what you can do to avoid this issue, so you will also find some helpful hints along the way.
Why Your Voice Cracks When You're Nervous
There are many reasons why your voice might be cracking, but nerves are certainly a common cause. Nervousness is one of many emotional states that initiates the fight-or-flight response in our bodies. This is a stress response that prepares the body to fight off danger or run away (as the name suggests).
In a nutshell, your blood flow and breathing rate is increased to supply more oxygen to the body, your muscles become tense, your body uses up whatever fuel it can to produce energy quickly and all non-essential body functions are slowed down.
Below is a list of these changes and how they affect your vocal cords (making your voice crack). This is incredibly common among young singers or beginners. For tips on singing with more confidence, take a look at this article.
You can blame your tense muscles for the majority of the cracks in your voice. When your muscles are tense, they cannot stretch and contract with the same smoothness that they usually do. This is the same for the muscles in your larynx, which control the vocal cords (take a look at singing anatomy here).
The tension in these small muscles makes them more prone to jerky movements. When the muscles jerk, the vocal cords will either slam shut or burst open. This is what causes a cracking sound in your voice.
As your nerves start to take over, your breathing increases. In other words, you start to breathe harder and faster. This is an involuntary response from your body, taking away some control over the amount of air passing through your vocal cords.
When you cannot control how much air is passing through your vocal cords, you will experience moments where too much air, or not enough, is pushed through.
This means the vocal cords may unexpectedly seperate (too much air pressure) or come together (not enough). As I mentioned earlier, this sudden opening or closing of the vocal cords is what makes the cracking noise in your voice.
Other Side Effects that Don't Help
Nervousness can cause other issues in your body that can make it harder to control your voice. Whether it is distracting, a lack of energy or directly affecting your vocal cords, these side effects are going to prevent you from producing a clear and uninterrupted sound with your voice.
- Upset Stomach - the pain and nausea can be very distracting
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure - can make you feel faint
- Nervous energy - spike in energy production can make you shake (causing muscle tension)
- Fatigue - once energy is depleted, fatigue leads to very little energy and lack of control in your muscles
- Dry Mouth - A dry mouth and vocal cords (due to rapid breathing) can be distracting and lead to a sore throat
- Sweating - sweating makes you cold, adding to muscle tension as you shiver
How to Avoid Voice Cracking
If your voice is cracking due to nerves, the best way to prevent this is to boost your confidence (as I mentioned at the beginning of this article). You can find a number of ways you can do this in this article. You can also focus on techniques to control your voice.
There also may be other things you can try, but it all depends on why your voice is cracking in the first place (it might not be just your nerves!). Below is a list of tips to prevent voice cracks, based on the most common causes.
- Do regular vocal exercises
- Stay hydrated
- Eat the right foods before singing
- Keep healthy (ie. avoid coughs, colds, etc)
- Protect your voice
- Learn to breathe effectively
- Strengthen your vocal break
- Remain calm
For a more detailed look at why and how these things can help, click here.