Care of the (Aging)Voice
CHANGES IN THE VOICE AS WE AGE
Some common voice changes as we age:
- Higher pitch voice in men
- Lower pitch voice in women
- Reduced volume and projection of the voice (or thin voice)
- Reduced vocal endurance
- Difficulty being heard in noisy situations
- Tremor or shakiness in the voice
These symptoms are amplified by the reduced hearing ability that commonly occurs in our peers as we age.
NOTE: Much of the time, hoarseness and vocal difficulties are not simply age related change. Any change that you notice in your voice should be a warning sign that something may be wrong. See your otolaryngologist (ear, nose, throat doctor). Almost all voice problems are highly treatable
3 Pillars of a Healthy Voice
1. PHYSIOLOGICAL HEALTH
2. VOCAL HEALTH
The 4 fundamental systems of the voice. It’s important that we understand how they function.
Air pressure System
soft and hard palate
It’s important to use solid technique to extend the life of the voice as we age. It is never too late to start using good technique. It is helpful to understand how the different systems of the voice function. You don’t have to be a singer to do this - we can bring about awareness by understanding your speaking voice.
3. PROPER WARM UP PRACTICES
Assuming that you have no structural or physiological issues that need to be addressed from the therapy or recovery perspective, then it’s about proper and consistent warm ups.
What happens to the vocal folds during the warm‑up? The vocal folds contain muscle tissues as a major component. As is the case with other muscles, the vocal folds depend on efficient blood circulation in order to retain good function and viscosity. It seems likely that good circulation is stimulated by an appropriate warm‑up procedure.
But it’s not only (and not EVEN) about muscle warm-up. It’s more about getting your MIND and BRAIN in the proper space, quieting down the internal chat, focusing on the right things, connecting to the feelings in your body, feeling your inner body, feeling your singing from the inside
ALWAYS BE GENTLE
ALWAYS FIND YOUR VOCAL BALANCE
*(what does balance feel like?) Too much breath pressure in the middle voice will cause the vocal folds to pull apart in self-defense, so pushing is not going to help the problem, although it may temporarily clear the sound. Tightness in neck, chest, abdominal wall. Squeezing in the neck, base of the throat, airy sound, lack of resonance, tightness in belly, contracting and collapsing during phonation, lack of power.
NEVER BLOW, PUSH, FORCE, CONSTRICT OR CONTRACT
Start with the speaking voice being aware of the function / responsibility / response of the body in the production of your sound:
Start with a gentle physical exercise - stretching, gentle yoga, jumping jacks, twists…
Reading a text out loud, as an actor or orator would, fully engaged, expressive and projecting. FEEL all the pertinent feelings in the body as you do this - from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet (Yes indeed…. lower back? knees? calves?)
** It’s important to recognize whether air is escaping the vocal folds on phonation. It leads to pushing, grabbing, contracting, controlling in the throat and mouth, tightness in the diaphragm/abdominal wall, collapsing.
Critical Exercises for the Menopausal or Post-Menopausal Singer
(*credit David L. Jones www.singingteacher.com)
These exercises have been listed because they have proven to be extremely helpful in reducing the effects of menopause. While they have proven over the years to be helpful, it is important to remember that every exercise does not work for every singer. Anyone trying these exercises needs to be careful to approach them with great concentration. Remember that the jaw needs to be slightly down and back. The back position of the jaw allows for a lower larynx position, a critical factor in the re-strengthening of the middle register. The vocal cords will not approximate correctly if the larynx is too high in the middle register.
(1) 1..2..3..2..1..2..3..2..1 (breath) 8..7..6..5..4..3..2..1
ae……………………. . u…………………
(Tongue out over the lower lip for the ae as in 'apple' in the beginning 3-tone scale. This is a chest voice scale. Then within the descending scale us the small 'u' with jaw slightly down and back to insure proper adduction of the folds.)
Lu Lu Lu Lu Lu Lu Lu Lu Lu Lu Lu Lu Lu
(Start sequence with 2 sets of 16th notes, then descending 5-tone scale on 8th notes. Use this exercise in the middle register.)
(Staccato 'i' on the repeated beginning notes, then legato on the ascending 5-tone scale. This exercise is designed to get to the thin edges of the vocal folds. The singer must image simply touching the finest point of the folds on the staccato section.)
(One-octave yodel allowing the voice to crack across the register break between chest and head registers. This exercise must be immediately followed by exercise #5 in order to strengthen the middle register.)
i . . . . . . . . .
(Rounded 'i' vowel bringing head register as low as possible. Start in the upper middle register. This exercise should immediately follow exercise #4.)
**Normal phonation depends upon a balance between respiration, phonation, and resonation. When one system is disturbed, other systems adjust to accommodate the disturbance, which then unbalances the whole vocal system.**
Vocal Function Exercises are a series of systematic voice manipulations, similar to physical therapy for the vocal folds. They were designed to strengthen and balance the laryngeal musculature, balancing airflow to muscular effort. The exercises indirectly address problems such as focus of the sound, onset, and laryngeal tension.
On all the exercises, the tone should be monitored for vocal breaks, wavering, and breathiness. All exercises should be done as SOFTLY as possible. Since it is more difficult to produce soft tones, the vocal sub-systems will receive a better workout. A forward tone without laryngeal tension should be the objective. Vowels should be postured before inhalation with an easy, but not breathy, onset.
As efficiency of vocal fold vibration improves, so does phonation time. The efficiency of oxygen exchange with the circulatory system is responsible for increasing phonation time, not lung capacity. (Hence, exercise # 1.)
Each exercise should be done two times in a row, the entire series done twice per day. Bare function is all that is required, not artistry.
EXERCISE 1. Sustain an /i/ vowel as long as possible on F4 for females, F3 for males. The tone should be very forward, but not nasal. Sound should be as soft as possible, but not breathy.
EXERCISE 2. Glide or slide from the lowest possible note that phonates to the highest note possible. Use a tiny /o/ shape with the lips almost closed, as if singing through a straw. When breaks occur, the glide should be continued without hesitation. If the voice breaks at the top of the range, the glide should be continued without voice, as the folds will continue to stretch. Do NOT lateralize the lips. The glide encourages slow, systematic engagement of the crico-thyroid muscles.
**Gliding forces the use of all the laryngeal muscles (vocalis and crico-thyroids) and also improve muscular control and flexibility.**
EXERCISE 3. Glide from the highest note to the lowest note on the same vowel described in Exercise 2. Institute a feeling of more space in the pharynx on the way down. This downward glide encourages the use of the thyroarytenoid muscle (vocalis).
EXERCISE 4. Sustain C, D, E, F and G for as long as possible on the vowel /o/, all notes in one breath. Being on C4 for women, C3 for men. As the singer begins to run out of air, the abdominal muscles should be used more, not the throat. Permit the vocal cords to do their job.
Some singers experience minor laryngeal aching for the first day or two of the program. It is similar to any muscle ache that might occur with a new physical exercise and will soon subside. Singers are encouraged to continue the program through the discomfort.
It is perhaps controversial to suggest adduction exercises as a remedy for the breathy aging voice. Some voices benefit from them, however, so the author suggests trying them, especially if the vocal folds are not coming together properly, causing breathiness, cracking, and unusually early or late register breaks. The vocal fry works well, if done without tension, but the fry seems to then limit the ability to access top notes, when done too frequently. It can also induce hoarseness if used too much or cause phlegm to form on the folds.
i (stacc) (legato)
e, a, o, u
‘a ‘a ‘a
Regular, short periods of exercising are preferable to occasional long sessions. Although these exercises are designed to maintain a healthy voice and prevent problems, they should never be seen as a substitute for voice therapy.