Who You Gonna Call? Myth Busters! Popping the balloons on 5 singing untruths…

We have been told: 

  • Little baby Heracles strangled two threatening serpents whilst swaddled in the comfort of his cradle 
  • King Midas was a real-life Rumplestiltskin with the ability to turn anything he touched into gold
  • Mothers-to-be should ‘eat for two’ 
  • When moving house, cat owners should rub butter on their pet’s paws, so their furry feline friends can find their way home. 

Unable to escape Medusa’s clutches, the world of voice is no stranger to a falsity. Alas, it’s time to stick a pin in some balloons and pop some of these vocal myths. 

1. ‘Sing from your diaphragm…’ 

The diaphragm is a large sheet of muscle that is attached to the ribcage and the spine. It sits underneath the lungs in a dome-like shape and, when we breathe in, it contracts and flattens, which allows the lungs to descend, enlarge and suck up some oxygen. When we exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and returns to it’s resting position. 

The diaphragm is an inhalation muscle; we sing on a controlled exhale.

“The diaphragm plays a questionable role in singing… You can’t control what you can’t feel.”

(The OHNI Voice Book: Straight Talk with Dr Reena Gupta by Dr Reena Gupta)

If I were to ask you to wiggle your aortic valve, or tense your oesophageal sphincter, you might accuse me of having one too many glasses of the strong stuff. We have no direct control over the heart chambers, stomach valve – or our diaphragm, for that matter. If we can’t control it, and we can’t feel it, how the heck are we supposed to sing from it? 

When someone says ‘sing from the diaphragm’ they are, most likely, asking you to breathe in such a way that the diaphragm can contract optimally which, in turn, allows the lungs and ribs to move efficiently and effectively. 


2. ‘Drinking hot honey and lemon will help soothe my vocal cords…’

When ‘The Flu Family’ book a cruise around your nasal passage, your initial thought is probably ‘why now?’ swiftly followed by the idea that consuming copious mugs of hot honey and lemon will soothe the vocal cords. However, because of the way in which our larynx functions, nothing we swallow touches the vocal cords themselves. As discussed in previous blog posts, the larynx’s primary job is to protect our airways. Everything we eat or drink is designed to slide down the gullet shoot – not the windpipe. This is why we cough and splutter from the smallest cookie crumb which may have taken a dive ‘down the wrong hole.’ Whilst drinking honey and lemon won’t directly affect the vocal cords, it does mean that you are putting fluid into your body, staying hydrated and keeping that lovely mucous wet. 

It has been said that honey can help soothe a sore throat by fighting the bad bacteria in your throat ‘Game of Thrones’ style. Due to it’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities, Manuka honey boasts the ability to attack the germs causing sore throats by stopping the bacteria from growing (which is probably why you need to take out a small bank loan in order to stock your cupboards with it). 

There is no known cure for the common cold; good old-fashioned hydration and rest are key factors to helping you feel better. Some look upon drinking honey and lemon as a bit of a placebo, but there is no harm in slurping away at a cup of bitterly sweet bee juice, regardless of whether it has any medical or scientific grounding or not. Either way, you feel better, right? 


3. ‘Avoid dairy…’ 

Understanding foods that trigger excess mucous production, or that cause us gyp is important for our vocal health. However, newsflash: it’s not always dairy. Second newsflash: it’s different for everyone. 

Of course, for some singers, dairy products are mucous triggers which can leave them feeling ‘claggy’ and wanting to clear the throat excessively. However, for others, it could be spicy food, caffeine or tomatoes causing symptoms of heartburn and reflux. 

Singing is not like buying a pair of socks: it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ thing. Just because one singer struggles after a helping of Dairy Milk buttons or a wheel of black bomber (what a cheese!) doesn’t mean the same goes for you. Get your own damn triggers! 


4. ‘Whisper…’ 

True or false: we have both true and false vocal folds? True. 


The true vocal folds are the vocal cords themselves, and the false vocal folds sit above them and, should, mind their own business when we vocalise. The false vocal folds’ main job is to protect the vocal cords (the real ones) and keep them moist. 

Whispering seems like an appropriate thing to do if we need to preserve our voices for an important performance – but this isn’t necessarily the case. During whispering: 

  1. The vocal cords don’t make contact as they would during normal phonation. 
  2. The vocal cords are forced into a set up that means they are pressed anteriorly (in the front) 
  3. The false vocal folds, once the understudies, spring into action to assist 

If this set up is kept for too long, muscle memory might clock on and keep it as the ‘norm,’ meaning we could be singing with some degree of false fold constriction. 

From time-to-time, from person-to-person and case-by-case, whispering may not be a bad thing. We just need to be mindful that we don’t create an unhelpful set-up for the long-run. 


5. ‘I’m Tone Deaf…’ 

You’re probably not. 

The posh name for ‘tone deafness’ is ‘Amusia’ which is a disorder hindering musical recognition. Amusia is said to affect approximately 4% of the population as a result of brain damage or from a genetic disorder. Someone affected by Amusia may not be able to differentiate between two different pitches, for example. 

If a singer hasn’t been diagnosed with Amusia, then saying or believing they are tone deaf could be their suit of armour, shielding them against judgement in the possible event of sounding bad. Voices are extremely personal to each of us as they are sewn to our being. Negative thoughts about our singing voice can arise from a bad experience where, perhaps, we were told that we sounded bad, that we can’t sing or, even worse, that we shouldn’t sing. 

Pitch is the product of vocal technique and musical understanding, not the cause. There could be many reasons getting in your way of hitting the correct pitch like a darts player to a bullseye, including: 

  1. Breath Management
  2. Strain
  3. Vocal Register Imbalance 
  4. Fear

With the help of a supportive environment and a vocal coach pitch is likely to improve. 


For centuries, myths have circulated this ‘flat earth’ and embedded themselves into different cultures, but you can now wash these bits of vocal ‘fake news’ out of your ears. 

Oh, and carrots won’t help you to see better in the dark. Sorry! 

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