Like the smoke detector in an airplane lavatory, “swelling tests” are vocal tasks that help you detect swelling of the vocal fold mucosa (surface layer) when it is subtle or small — long before it has become a crisis.
The idea is to take the following vocal test exactly the same way every day so that you become aware — early, immediately — if you have to exert any extra effort.
Take The Swelling Test
Using an extremely tiny, high-pitched voice, sing the first phrase of “Happy Birthday” several times, repeating the phrase at a slightly higher starting pitch each time, until you reach a pitch at which your voice falters — that is, at which the mucosa stops wanting to vibrate.
It may help to use a keyboard to track your ascending pitches. Also, as you go higher, you have to resist the natural tendency to just get louder to “make” the folds vibrate.
Do it every day
Doing this kind of 20-second swelling test twice per day — at the beginning of your first warm-up and just before retiring to bed — can “take the clothes off the voice” and keep you aware at all times of the condition of the surface of your vocal folds, so as to help you make decisions about schedules, sets, songs to cut, sharing of vocals with other band members so as to reduce wear and tear on your voice, whether or not to excuse yourself from social events, and so forth.
Back off on voice use if a change occurs
If, for example, you find one day that your “Happy Birthday” begins to falter (cutting out to air or otherwise not wanting to work) at a lower pitch than normal, stop for a moment and think about the amount and manner of your voice use in the past 24 hours. If you say, “hmm … not surprising,” that is, it makes sense from recent vocal use that your folds would be a bit swollen, even though your speaking voice is fine, then you need to back off on voice use in whatever ways you can until your “Happy Birthday” returns to your normal baseline.
Here is the study that led to Dr. Robert W. Bastian’s swelling test routine for singers, published in The Journal of The Voice in 1990.
This post is supplementary to the article “Test Yourself For Laryngitis” and is an excerpt from The Ultimate Guide to Singing: gigs, money, sound and health Pg.225 — by Singdaptive
Dr. Robert W. Bastian is a Board Certified Otolaryngologist and an internationally-recognized authority in the treatment of voice, airway, swallowing, and coughing disorders. He has been listed for several years by Chicago magazine as one of “Chicago’s Top Doctors,” and by Castle-Connolly as one of “America’s Top Doctors”.