Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately.
Even if a tonsillectomy can help your voice, please do not go out and get one solely for that reason. Keep reading and you will understand why, though it should be obvious.
But if you need to get your tonsils removed anyway, this is a very good question.
Before we can answer it, we need to understand exactly where the tonsils are and how they fit into the instrument we call a voice.
The tonsils sit at the top of your throat, with the larynx (aka your voicebox) a little further down. In between the two is the space where the sounds you make resonate, becoming fuller and richer and creating that beautiful singing voice of yours.
The tonsils do not play any role in creating the voice. But they do take up space in your throat, which functions as a resonating chamber. Removing them opens up space, which does have the potential to affect how your voice sounds.
Does this mean it will sound better? Probably not. Here is the short answer. Then we’ll get into much more detail below.
Can You Sing Better Without Tonsils?
Removing your tonsils will not have any direct impact on your voice. But it can help indirectly. If your tonsils are prone to having problems and those problems keep you from being able to practice and perform, then removing them will obviously lead to an improvement in this situation.
Removing the tonsils also opens up more space in your throat. This means more open space in which your voice can resonate. The result of this can lead to a slightly higher pitch. This only happens in some people and the difference is minuscule.
If you need to get a tonsillectomy for health reasons, this can be a nice benefit. But if you don’t need one, the possible complications far outweigh the possible sleight benefit. You should never get a tonsillectomy solely for the purpose of sounding better when you sing.
Even just the recovery time makes it not worth it.
How Long After A Tonsillectomy Can You Sing?
The short answer is: once your throat doesn’t hurt anymore. That can take between two and four weeks.
But we are not medical professionals. It is highly advised that you speak to your doctor for a professional answer, as everybody is different, and you may react differently to the surgery than others.
After your tonsillectomy, you’ll have to recover from two things. The first is, rather obviously, the surgical removal of your tonsils. The second is the the effect intubation has on your throat.
Your tonsils rest above your throat muscles. When they’re removed, these throat muscles are exposed. It’s only natural that you may experience some bleeding of the tonsil bed.
But if you do, it’s nothing a trip down to the doctor’s office can’t fix, and you shouldn’t have to worry about going into surgery again. This bleeding, if it happens, will only occur in the first two weeks as your throat muscles heal over. And it can be minimized by getting your tonsillectomy done by someone who specializes in singers.
To keep you breathing during your tonsillectomy, the surgical team will intubate you–more specifically, they’ll perform an endotracheal intubation. This means they will insert a flexible plastic tube down your trachea, or windpipe, so that you can breathe during the surgery.
While this sounds daunting, your doctor should take every precaution to ensure your vocal chords aren’t damaged. They use a laryngoscope to find your vocal chords so they can avoid causing them any harm.
You will most likely have a sore throat immediately after the operation, but this disappears in a matter of days. But again, we are not medical professionals, so please consult your doctor if you do have any pain, especially if it is ongoing.
As soon as your throat has recovered, you’re ready to use your vocal cords again. But you’ll want to take it slow, with some exercises that give your throat time time to get back into the swing (or should I say “sing”) of things.
Vocal Exercises After Tonsillectomy
The best exercise for you to do in the two to four weeks after surgery is to rest your throat. Priming your throat to handle the rigors of singing is a process, but one you want to go through to avoid causing any harm to your voice.
You have to be able to speak at a normal volume without any pain, before you can even think about singing a note. Once you have healed, start slowly. Don’t strain yourself and don’t use your voice for too long. Here are some light exercises you can do to get yourself back up to speed.
Make your lips vibrate together. And once you’ve gotten the hang of that, add sound to it. Go up and down in pitch, or stay on the same note. This will help you determine if you’re ready to start using your voice again.
Do the “Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do” solfege to exercise your range post-surgery. Start on middle C, and move your way up and down the scale.
“I Love To Sing”
More than just a statement, this is a great exercise to get the brightness back in your voice, and to help your range. For this exercise, sing an arpeggio in one breath, with “I love to sing” broken up to make up the notes in the chord.
For example, if you choose C as your root note, “I” will be middle C, “Lo-” will be C in the higher octave, “-ove” will be G, “to” will be E, and finally, “sing” will take you back down to middle C. Important for this exercise is to do it with a smile on your face.
As arbitrary and childish as this seems, it will help give you a clearer, brighter sound. The lack of tonsils in the back of your throat, and the resulting extra space, will also help the fullness and brightness in your voice.
Another exercise to help your range, the siren is exactly what it sounds like. Starting with the lowest note in your register, slide up your range until you reach the highest note you can, and then back down to the low end. The sound you make should imitate, you guessed it, a siren.
These exercises, bar the first one, train your range. Once you start using your voice again and training it back up with these exercises, pay careful attention to the pitch of your voice, and how easily you can access your range.
And that brings us to two of the most common questions regarding the side effects of a tonsillectomy on your voice.
Voice Deeper After Tonsillectomy?
A lot of people ask this question for some reason. The answer is: no. Your voice will not get deeper after a tonsillectomy. If anything it will get higher, but only ever so slightly.
Does Getting Your Tonsils Removed Make Your Voice Higher?
Once you’ve recovered from your tonsillectomy and you have been doing some vocal exercises, you might notice some changes in the pitch of your voice. Or you might not.
Not everyone notices changes and even for those who do, the changes are minuscule. But there is a chance that you voice will end up slightly higher due to the additional open space in your throat after the removal of your tonsils.
And when I say slightly, I do mean slightly—barely noticeable in most cases. But regardless of the magnitude of the change, there is science behind it.
The Journal of Voice published an article titled, “Effect of Tonsillectomy on the Adult Voice”. They recruited volunteers who had been suffering from chronic, recurring tonsillitis, and tested each of their voices at three stages: before their tonsillectomies, right after their tonsillectomies, and then four weeks after their tonsillectomies.
They specifically tested the values of the first four formants. A formant is “a concentration of acoustic energy around a particular frequency in the speech wave” (source), and they’re spaced about 1000hz apart. The first formant is the lowest in the range, and the fourth formant is the highest.
This is where it gets interesting. The second and third formants, on average, showed no difference before each volunteer’s operation, straight after the operation, or four weeks later. So the midrange is seemingly unaffected.
However, there were differences in the first and fourth formants. The first formant generally rose after the operations, making the low end a bit higher. And if the fourth formant wasn’t present in a volunteer’s range before the operation, it was afterwards.
Every single volunteer’s voice indicated the presence of the fourth formant straight after their tonsillectomy, as well as four weeks after, meaning they could access higher notes in their range than they could back when they had their tonsils.
And that brings us to the next logical question. Which also has a logical answer.
Should You Get Your Tonsils Removed To Make You Sing Better?
And that logical answer is: no.
You should not get your tonsils removed unless you have to for medical reasons, such as chronically inflamed tonsils caused by strep throat or similar infections, sleep apnea, etc.
Any surgery, even one as safe and simple as a tonsillectomy, comes with a risk that’s best avoided. And this is especially true for adults who undergo a tonsillectomy.
As I mentioned earlier, even though the recovery period is between two to four weeks, the recovery process is not as smooth as it is for children who undergo the same procedure.
As an adult, you may experience throat pain after your operation, this pain may get worse before it gets any better, and it will probably last longer than if you had gotten your tonsils out as a child. And the pain may even spread to your ears.
That’s why it simply does not make any sense to go under the knife for the small, often unnoticeable, rise in the pitch of your voice. And I’m sure any reputable vocal coach would agree with me.
That said, I’ll stress it one more time: we are not medical professionals. If you do feel that you want to have your tonsils taken out to improve your voice, please consult a doctor first, so that you are aware of the risks and rewards involved in having a tonsillectomy.