Cameron Spencer/Getty Images; Adele Performs in 2017.
Most of you have probably read by now (or in some cases, experienced firsthand) that Adele canceled her final two Wembley performances because of a vocal injury. Queue the long line of judgmental comments about how it’s because she “never learned good technique” or “should have been classically trained” or (weirdly enough) “needs to stop using vocal fry.” So are Adele’s vocal problems from poor vocal technique, or is there anything else going on?
Let me start by saying that good vocal technique really does matter. If you’re going to be doing any powerful singing, I highly recommend using some good support and learning to retract your false vocal folds to keep your throat from constricting. If you’re putting too much pressure on your vocal folds all the time, there’s a good shot you’ll get injured at some point.
So is Adele singing with poor technique?
It’s not as cut and dry an answer as you’re probably hoping for. The answer is, probably some of the time (like most of us), but that’s unlikely the main thing going on.
Touring is hard, vocally and all-around physically. Popular singers perform long sets at breakneck touring paces, usually wearing themselves down. And if you’re Adele, it also means that your set includes plenty of belting and vocal athletics. Under these circumstances, even if your vocal technique is flawlessly healthy, which it rarely is–good foundation or not–you can become exhausted performing this much. And when you’re vocally exhausted, you start making small compromises: pushing a little harder here, slamming into a note there, in order to try to overcome the need for rest your voice sorely requires. Without a break, small problems can turn into larger ones, until you find yourself canceling performances due to damaged vocal cords. Couple this with the heavy Adelesque singing her fans have come to expect, and it’s hard to catch a break.
Then Why Do Pop Singers Get Injured So Much More than Opera Singers
This may surprise you, but they don’t. Most otolaryngologists will tell you that they see just as many opera singers for vocal injuries as pop singers. Both are heavy, athletic forms of singing, and both are injury prone compared to other lighter forms of singing (think choral, acoustic singer-songwriter, and soft jazz). If you haven’t heard of many opera singers sustaining vocal injuries, it may because the media doesn’t follow the careers of overtaxed opera singers the way it follows pop singers who are always in the public eye.
How to Prevent Vocal Injuries
As we discussed before, having some solid technique to fall back on is a wonderful thing. Avoiding smoking is a great idea, and rehydrating after you drink alcohol is as well. In fact, making sure you drink plenty of water so that you don’t get dehydrated is incredibly important with or without the alcohol. Your vocal folds have a protective mucosal lining, and hydration allows them to stay limber rather than brittle.
One of the most important things I can recommend though is giving yourself the necessary rest whenever possible and listening to your body. If belting, or breathiness, or vocal fry, or anything else is completely comfortable, you can usually rest assured that you’re fine. When you find yourself wearing out and needing to push harder and yell more to get notes out, it’s your body’s way of telling you to back off a little bit; not permanently, just until you’ve recuperated and gone back to singing comfortably again.
All of this can be challenging while on tour. Whenever possible, schedule breaks in your performance schedule; incorporate softer, easier songs in with the heavier ones so that you aren’t going full throttle the whole time; get rest whenever possible; and maybe most of all, if you end up with a vocal injury, don’t feel shame. If you were an athlete who sustained a knee injury, it wouldn’t be an indictment of you as an athlete. Similarly, it’s not an indictment of you as a singer if you need to treat a vocal injury. Instead of trying to fight through it and hide it from your fans, take some time off and go get the necessary treatment.