Over-Coming Pressed Phonation and Ventricular Dysphonia

Joe NaabSing Better10 Comments

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.

Please feel free to leave a comment and ask any questions. I look forward to hearing from you.

Warmest regards,


About the Author

Joe Naab

Joe Naab is the founder of Vocal Nebula and an avid singer. He lives a contemplative life in the forested countryside of south Brazil with his canine companion, Luna. He grows most of what he eats. He enjoys helping others to sing better.



I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment or question and I’ll be sure to respond.

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Reply to  Joe Naab
2 years ago

Hello! Do you have a launch date for the vocal course ? Thank you

Reply to  Joe Naab
2 years ago

Thank you,
do you provide skype lessons too?

Reply to  Joe Naab
2 years ago

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.

Reply to  Joe Naab
2 years ago

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

James Mc Coy
James Mc Coy
2 years ago

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.