During the Thirty Years War, Heinrich Schütz, the 17th Century German composer, wrote in the dedication of Small Sacred Concertos,”….Music has not only gone into a great decline, but in many places has been altogether destroyed by the still continuing course of the war….” . Four Hundred years later, I too, have concerns of the decline of not only music, but poetry, theatre, and any other genre which stands as an homage to the human voice. For practitioners of the vocal arts and professions, the isolation forced by COVID-19 has a grim consequence. However just as within Schütz’s time of challenges, perhaps we may yet reap, with joy, an unexpected treasure.
Are you a new telecommuter and a professional voice user? Raise your hand doctors, teachers, therapists, lawyers, and probably a whole host of others. Now that you are in your own home practicing social distancing how does your voice feel? Are you finding it tiring a little bit as you carry on with your tasks throughout the day? Here is a post for you!
How do we know if a child will “outgrow” a developmental speech problem? The truth is we don’t know. Speech is such a complicated miracle of life which involves the coordination of multiple areas of the brain, multiple mouth and facial muscles, as well as coordination of the respiratory system and the vocal tract. There are simply too many places where the coordination might have a “hiccup.” Other factors that affect “knowing” whether a misarticulation will resolve itself includes the diversity of human beings. There are simply too many variables to neatly determine in a laboratory how a child will perform the multitude of mental, motor, and social tasks necessary to have coherent and easy conversation.
Some of the cues that we have in available to us in assessing a child’s speech development are charts that plot the “typical” development of speech in English speaking children. However, it is important to understand these charts and what they truly mean. Often times, I find that even professionals who work with children, such as pediatricians and early education teachers, misunderstand what these charts mean.
Here in lies an explanation:
The social media universe is abuzz….Freddie Mercury had extra teeth and it contributed to his vibrato…Or Freddie Mercury had extra teeth and it made him use his false vocal folds(aka vestibular folds)to sing… Are any of these suppositions correct?
Let’s get to the bottom of this mystery. I think, after reading all the evidence, we will find that Freddie Mercury’s voice was more than a mere result of an overbite. I think the evidence shows that his achievements as a vocalist rather than a freak of nature were possible because he was a remarkable musician.
The facts as we know them are these:
Could a teacher's voice problem affect student achievement?
The purpose of this blog post is two fold: 1) to advocate for teachers 2) to provide some suggestions to ease their vocal problem. Keep in mind that any vocal problem that lasts more than a week should be evaluated by a medical professional. Voice therapy might provide some help in maintaining a healthy voice and these suggestions in no way are meant to be a substitute for a thorough evaluation by a voice team.
It is not an uncommon occurrence for me to be contacted by teachers. Often this happens after October, or just before spring break. Some of their complaints include the following:
By 9:30 am, I feel like I have so much tension in my neck/throat. I have to work so hard.
By the end of the day, I can’t talk without a lot of effort.
By the end of the day, I’m hoarse!
By lunch time, I’m hoarse and then it gets better during lunch.
By the end of the week, I’m sounding so much deeper.
I can’t sing anymore!
These problems often stem from having to project a voice in a room with less than advantageous acoustics. Eventually a toll is exacted on a teacher in the form of vocal problems which can range from changes in the voice to increased effort when using the voice and even laryngitis. Voice problems are a health hazard that teachers, all across America must deal with every day. Why? In many schools, classrooms are not designed with teacher-student communication in mind. It is a distraction at the least when a teacher cannot speak, has problems speaking, or speaks and cannot be heard. At times, if necessary the teacher might need to stay out of the classroom placing the charge of teaching into the hands of a substitute, who may or may not be a specialist in teaching youngsters. This wastes precious time and money resources in the educational system. Behavioral and Brain Sciences(Vol. 1). (n.d.). doi:10.1177/2372732214548677
Here in Hawaii the problem can be aggravated by schools that are designed to have the windows open. This causes the ambient noise level to rise with the sounds of traffic, students out at recess, lawn mowers, and yes, the ever present feral chickens. When room-cooling systems are available, they are usually fans or window air conditioning units which are selected for economic reasons, and with no consideration of competitive sound levels.
The problem is wide spread, and is being researched by the vocology community around the world. A 2015 article published in The Journal of Voice found that 33% of teachers in New Zealand reported voice problems. What is most interesting in this study is that the authors included the data from studies from as far back as 1993, collected from geographic locations including, North America, South America, Europe, and Australia. Most of the data were gathered by self administered questionnaire, and 4 out of 11 had very similar definitions of vocal problems. All but one had a definition of “voice problem.” Out of these 11 studies the average of reported vocal problems, through out a teacher’s career, ranged from 31 to 63 percent of subjects Journal of Voice (Vol. 29). (Issue 5, pp645,e1-645.e13).
While this information may be overwhelming there are some proactive techniques teachers, or any other speaker, can do to maintain vocal quality. Here are five methods to improve your ability to sustain a healthy voice throughout the day.
The vocal system can be looked at in three parts: respiration, phonation, and resonation. When we place a high demand in on the vocal system it becomes imperative that all three subsystems are used efficiently for peak performance.
What's in a name? Shakesphere once asked. Well today a name of a business not only needs to reflect what that business does and what makes it special; it also needs to be easy to find in social media! with that in mind we are announcing a name streamline. While we will always be the place in Hawaii to find comprehensive language, speech, and voice services, you can now find us on Twitter, Instagram, and soon Facebook as hispeechstudio.
Our list of services still include:
Transgender voice services
The purpose of this blog post is to simply explain in a practical way what resonance is to the voice user and how it can be used to increase the ease and efficiency of singing and speaking.
Titze and Verdolini – Abbot refers to resonance as “reinforcements of natural oscillations” (Vocology The Science and Practice of Voice Habilitation 29).
In physics resonance is a phenomenon in which a vibrating system or external force drives another system to oscillate with greater amplitude at specific frequencies — Wikipedia
Resonance is vibrations that create tone through and within your mouth, throat, and nasal passages — Pamela Phillips, Singing for Dummies
In simplest terms, the voice is constructed of a power source (the lungs), a source (vocal folds also known as vocal cords) and a resonating tube(airways or vocal tract.) Furthermore, every voice vibrates and creates a pitch which is determined largely by the size of the vocal folds (please see blog post “But Size Does Matter.”) That resonating tube has certain characteristics, which influence the sound created; however, by understanding the ABCDs of resonance we can use the information to change to conform to social requirements, or to improve it to ensure greater efficiency, ease, and a reduction of work.
In May of 2001 my family and some friends went to the Big Island for the first time. I think we stayed at Kilauea Military Camp right in the park. While Pele was evident in Volcanoes National Park by the steam vents, you couldn’t see lava. So we took a helicopter ride. From the safety of the air we saw the last three remaining houses of the Royal Gardens neighborhood-which had largely been destroyed in the lava flow of 1990. Other sights included a faint glimmer of lava in the Kilauea caldera and some lava trickling in the ocean.
That trickle had an accompanying white plume of steam. The pilot/guide assured us it was a toxic cloud of basically hydrochloric acid. As we circled around the plume, he added that it was so corrosive that even heavy duty equipment designed for brutal conditions had a very short life span if left in the area for even hours. This was our introduction into what has recently been called laze in the extensive media coverage.
Lately Hawai’i just isn’t getting a break! We have experienced an unusually active rainy season throughout the islands and now, on the Big Island, there is a significant movement of magma which is threatening to open another rift(http://www.civilbeat.org/2018/05/underground-magma-on-the-move-as-quakes-rattle-volcano/). So I’d like to take a little time to discuss the dangers to the voice from these environmental hazards and what you might be able to handle these hazards.
Theoretically Honolulu, gets an average of 270 days of sunshine a year. (https://www.bestplaces.net/climate/city/hawaii/honolulu)However, we seem to have had an abundance of rain, not sunshine, of late. Waipa Kaua’i will likely have the dubious honor of the greatest amount of rain falling in a 24 hour period, ever in recorded history (https://weather.com/news/weather/news/2018-04-26-kauai-hawaii-new-us-rainfall-record). While the rest of the eight main islands did not suffer from quite that much rain, there were flash floods, leaving home owners with as much as three feet of water and mud inside. Some of these houses will likely be declared uninhabitable due to structural damage, but especially with the rainy days still continuing there is another danger—MOLD.
As a tropical island our ambient humidity is between 65-75%. Remember what average means, 50 out of 100 days the humidity will be lower than these numbers, and 50 days out of 100 the humidity will be higher. Mold surrounds us. This isn’t so much a problem when we are outside but the Centers for Disease Control do recognize that “Exposure to mold or dampness may also lead to development of asthma in some individuals.” Which ones you ask? Just like being allergic to poison ivy, nobody really knows, if or when, a non-allergic person will start reacting to it; but we do know that there are high rates of sensitivity to mold. The best cure for sensitivity to mold, is the prevention of exposure.( https://www.cdc.gov/mold/faqs.htm)The preceding link to the CDC has some ideas of prevention and abatement. Interestingly this appears to be for all mold. In the past 15-20 years there has been controversy regarding a link between “black mold,” also known as Stachybotrys chatarum and pulmonary hemorrhage(bleeding in the lungs). However, follow up studies have failed to cporroborate this link. According to the CDC while many molds “can produce toxins…the molds themselves are not toxic, or poisonous.” Regardless, exposure should be limited especially indoors. According to the Mayo clinic (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mold-allergy/symptoms-causes/syc-20351519)symptoms of mold exposure include: sneezing, runny nose, cough and postnasal drip, itchy eyes, nose and throat, watery eyes, and dry and scaly skin. If you believe you have been exposed to mold please follow up with a healthcare worker especially if you are experiencing symptoms. If you are attempting to remove mold from a water damaged areas, check with CDC and OSHA for guidelines for protective equipment.(https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/molds/control.html)
Lava is in the news again as our Islands’ current active creator, and destroyer, known as Kilauea Volcano, has been moving a significant amount of magma around. Now magma is molten rock that lives underground. When it breaks surface it is then known as lava. This is a situation that is magnificent and such a temptation to view close up. However, your voice doesn’t want you to. I have previously posted about the dangers of vog, which is a mixture of poisonous gases and particulates(tiny particles) that can cause problems for everyone by irritating the nose and and throat. Vog is created by the exposure of magma to the surface so any increase of lava can mean an increase of vog. While vog can cause problems, especially to those with compromised immune systems or those with a history of allergies, enough vog and lava can create problems for anyone. While the volcanos of Hawai’i are relatively friendly to humans, there have been times of significant explosions which can hurl tiny particles throughout the air. No one is immune to the burning and irritation of a particle of freshly catapulted basaltic glass, known as Pele’s hair, or other debris which might be ejected. Again prevention is key here.
Tours have been shut down, and local people have been urged to leave the area or stay indoors with 14 days’ worth of supplies. Do not attempt to enter any zone that has been classified as off limits, remember, lava can reach temperatures of 2,120 degrees Fahrenheit. Even “cooled” lava is around 700-800 degrees. If you are smelling a scent of rotting eggs, you are inhaling some of the poisonous gases that are emitted by the volcano and lava. Unfortunately, not all the gases have an obvious scent to humans. Asphyxiation is the most common cause of death in a volcanic event. Few if any respirators or masks are designed to withstand temperatures and many of the gases that are present in an eruption. If you or a family member has a breathing problem, run the air conditioner. Please take this seriously. If you have been exposed or near the area and are feeling ill seek the help of a medical professional.
How does all this information pertain to the voice you ask. Well there are the upper respiratory symptoms which often negatively impact the ability to produce a voice clear of a “gurgle.” There is also the fact that your body is your instrument, any injury to the body has either a direct or indirect effect on the voice.
Be safe, enjoy Pele’s show from the comfort of your home. Try this web cam from US Geological Service.
I have spent the majority of my professional music career in church music. When I began as a young teenager, I found that I had a hard time singing above certain pitches. My teenage self regarded these “certain pitches” as my “normal” voice. Everything above that area was deemed different and separate. I could also phonate below my “normal voice”, but that was quite low and only used to be funny or to imitate my father. Thus I stumbled into the marvelous and confusing world of registers. Now many people have written at length, on what is and is not a register. I do not wish to participate in the larger scientific and pedagogic discussion overall on defining registers. This blog is merely to reassure the beginning singer and speaker of what may be happening to their voice, or maybe to inform the non-novice of perhaps a better and clearer way to speak of a real physiological process.
However, I still have to propose what I believe is the correct definition of a register. A register is a group of tones that a speaker and/or singer produces which share the following: similar sound qualities, as well as similar methods of producing the tones. An example is if I asked you to pretend you were the character of “Lurch” in the Addams Family. You would produce tones that might be classified by some as Vocal Fry by the sound. At the same time, if we were to see your vocal folds, as well as measure the air coming through them as you produced the sound, we would see them behaving in a manner that is fairly relaxed, but with a lowered quantity of air (Johns Hopkins). This method of phonating (vocalizing) has been likened to perhaps strumming a very loose guitar string. (Brainstuff).
,, What my teenage self imagined as my “normal voice” was the pattern which is often described as “modal voice”. This is nicely visualized in this graphic from Wikipedia. It is the type of phonation where the muscles of the vocal fold vibrate while opening and closing. It is a cycle which begins in the lower portion of the fold and then followed by the upper portion. It is the default speaking mode of most people and thus regarded by many as the “normal voice.”
Now remember there have to be two components to speaking of register—the tone as well, as the method of the voice production. If you are just speaking of a tone…and not a change in the movement pattern of the vocal folds, I suggest you use the term resonance. We will get to resonance another time.
When I began voice lessons, I thought I had a flawed voice because, it suddenly got “strange” to this Ann Wilson, Robert Plant, wanna-bee. With guidance I learned fairly quickly to start working out those areas and quickly discovered my upper range, which was comprised of a falsetto register (or a head register) and eventually a whistle register. Unbeknownst to me I was training my muscles to make smooth adjustments while transitioning between my modal range and the falsetto range. Just like two dancers, two pairs of muscles had to balance each other out as the pitch went up or down.
Shifting registers is a motor learning process, not that much different from learning how to dance, to play the piano, to skip, or, to eat using chopsticks. The more often I worked on shifting my registers, the more comfortable I became with those transitions, until, well until it was like walking. So to the novice singer who is frightened or uncomfortable with those transitions, I say, “fear not.” Remember you didn’t learn how to read instantaneously, or eat neatly without practicing everyday. Working your registers correctly will need the same practice! Don't be afraid to ask for help from an instructor when you need it!
Trissa DiBenedetto WAlter
Is a singer, voice teacher, speech language pathologist, and certified vocologist