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Cheerleading and vocal health

Here is a compilation of the responses I got regarding the vocal health of
Other than just stopping, the choral techniques we use in class, should
help there as well. We've also found that "Throat Coat Tea" is a wonderful
herbal product for raspy, hoarse voices.

C. Munsell
Waterloo Jr H/HS
Waterloo, Illinois
none.... they need to rest their voices. If they have soft "nodes" they
will go away. IF there is permanent damage....well, SOL.
I always advise my cheerleaders to seen an Ear/Nose/Throat to check
things out.
good luck!!

Katherine K. Tuinstra
Jefferson HS Vocal Music
Unfortunately, I don't think there is anything they can do other than
learn how to cheer from their diaphragm or stop cheering.

If you hear of anything else, please let me know!

Robbie Doelger
Check out Richard Miller's book, THE STRUCTURE OF
SINGING (Schirmer Books). He describes in details the
"balanced onset" of the voice, which can be easily
taught to your cheerleaders and make them more
intelligent (?) about how they use their voices for
singing and cheering (alas..).

By the way, the damage likely comes from too much
"support" as it is sometimes interpreted: the problem
is excess air pressure on the cords (support?) which
causes hyperfunction and damage.

Don't forget to consult a local ENT doc. Also, John
Guthmiller, over at VCU, would be a great local
resource person (first step).

Actually, yes. Cheering can be done in such a way that it can develop
strength in the vocal mechanism. It is all in the vowels. The [ae] as in
"cat" is one which acts like push-ups for the cords. It is ok to put some
strength into that vowel, and she will find that her voice will probably not

sound raspy when she uses it, either.
Adding a semblance of [ae] into all vowels is the goal. You can describe it
like speaking in an "[ae]" accent: sort of like a Bronx accent! When
chanting cheers, it is not noticable at all, so she will not feel
self-conscious. During the learning process however, I'm sure she will,
because it sounds very harsh and not very sexy. But put it to work in the
cheers and that airy, raspy sound will begin to disappear.
Let me know how it works for her.
micki gonzalez

I think you've hit the nail on the head already. I've always thought that
cheering worked in opposition with good singing. That being said, here are a
couple of things I do that seem to help---some.

1. I do a lot of work on good head tone and getting the vocal production
"out of the throat." Once my girls get the hang of that, it also seems to
help their vocal production while cheering.

2. I do a lot of work on breath support---something you already do.

3. If all else fails, have them sing alto! :>) :>) Sorry if my attempt at
humor failed!

Tony Mowrer, Ph.D.

Choir Director

Yosemite High School

Oakhurst, CA

Nate, it's a bad situation. Girls who are already taking voice
lessons and who can cheer using good vocal technique can survive. I
know because I've worked with such girls after they got to college.
Among the general student population, however, the news is not good.
The Indiana University Speech and Hearing people did studies back in
the '70s of students coming to the summer cheerleading camps at I.U.
They found (and this was 30 years ago, so I'm making the numbers up
to some extent) temporary vocal damage in 100% of the high school
students, and permanent vocal damage in something like 30%. That
means physical damage from extreme misuse, and damage that is not
going to go away even with the most careful vocal therapy. If you
need more amunition, track down the folks at I.U. for the actual
facts and figures.

You MUST make this situation clear to your students. Yes, they do
have to make a choice between cheerleading during their school years
or singing for the rest of their lives. Probably a lot will still
choose cheerleading: after all, they're young, they're immortal, and
they're indestructible! For those who take your advice seriously,
yes, they should stop cheering and shouting IMMEDIATELY and go on
complete vocal rest, they should get a good exam from an
otolaryngologist (I think that's the name of the specialty), and they
should get a referral to a voice therapist who understands the needs
of the singing voice and not just of the speaking voice.

They cannot improve their sound when singing without doing this. No
short-term fixes will work. They are abusing some of the most
delicate tissues in their bodies, and they have to stop the abuse.
Then maybe--just maybe--they'll be lucky and their tissues can
recover from that abuse. If not, they'll spend the rest of their
lives croaking.


Okay, well if you can't get them to quite.

Breath support

It's really hard to repair polyps and bowed cords that these habits tend to

Help them find head voice and encourage them (and their coach) to cheer in
head voice. You can carry head voice down quite far with practice.

Bless you for your care for these dear ones.


Carol G. Wooten

This a real problem and not easily solved unless you build vocal
technique into them so that support, resonance and focus is the default
setting for all vocalization speaking (yelling) or singing.
Try recording them individually cheering and make note of their volume
on a VU meter. Use this as a baseline.
Then the singer/cheerleader needs to know what support, focus,
resonance really mean and what they must do to know how to achieve that. I
spend a large part of EVERY rehearsal and lesson teaching and checking
every singer for dynamic breathing, lifting the soft palate and feeling
focus in the mask all across the range with special attention through the
passaggio. (I'll send you my lesson packet if you would like).
Keep checking with VU. I will bet that the SPL will be significantly
louder with good production than just screaming. This is, of course, not a
quick fix but yelling in itself is not abusive if it is supported as in
singing. Just make certain they know how to support, focus and resonate.

If they are at that point they are experiencing vocal abuse and they need
vocal rest. It may go away after the season but then many schools cheer for
basketball season. When she gets all run down and ill and goes to the Dr.
have him look down her throat and observe the begins of nodes-two choices
complete vocal rest or surgery.

Carolyn G. Lokken

Having degrees in Speech Pathology and music education, I've seen problems
that excessive shouting can cause. (There are some SCARY videos of polyp
surgeries you could show, but the students might quit cheering AND
chorus...but if you want them, I can see what I can do...) However, a few of
my best (and a couple of All-State) students were cheerleaders
First (because I don't want to assume), does the student REALLY understand
how to support? Is the diaphragm moving correctly or are they faking it
because they don't want to appear ignorant of the process?
Many times the students are putting *too much* air too quickly across their
vocal folds (and unsupported) to try to make a "controlled" sound. One
technique is to have the student hum with closed mouth, increase intensity,
then open the mouth to an "ah" when you point to her/him.
Practice taking in a breath in 2, 3, 4 counts and releasing it on a neutral
vowel for 8, 12, 16 counts, or pant like a dog for the same amount of time
(which is a good way to get them to keep the tongue forward)
Have students lean over the back of a chair, with the back "cushioning"
just below the diaphragm.
You might try approaching this issue from the other direction: have the
student do a cheer for you and listen to the vocal quality. Is she/he not
supporting this sound, and simply screaming? You might point out that a
supported sound can be used for a much longer time with less vocal fatigue.
However, if the student is supporting the sound during the cheer, use that
as a basis to start sound production.
Good luck!
Tim Gillham

Nate Miller
Choral Director
Monacan High School
Richmond, Virginia
(540) 840-2339