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Aging Voice

Dr. Stan Hill has assembled information about the aging voice from various symposia and discussions through NATS and the NATS Journal (National Association of Teachers of Singing).

Stan's list of "critical things to remember" regarding the aging voice.

  1. The vocal folds (or cords) function like a valve, allowing varying amounts of air to pass out of the lungs. Just as faucets find that their valves can tend to leak with age, the control of the flow of air over the vocal folds can become less efficient as they age (Presbylarynx). This loss of vocal fold tone and elasticity due to aging affects voice quality and phonation efficiency.
  2. Breathing conditions associated with aging can also have an effect on singing. These can range from minor inconveniences as in the gradual loss of breath capacity to the most severe being Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
  3. It is generally accepted that good vocal health as you age requires regular vocalization and healthy life-styles.
  4. Besides smoking, one of the most damaging factors to the vocal cords for persons over 40 is GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease). GERD happens when, because of a hiatal hernia or weakened lower Esophageal sphincter, acid is allowed to enter the esophagus and make its way to the vocal cords and does great damage. See wikipedia for more information.

Explore the detailed articles below including exercises to continue singing with an aging voice and the vocal symptoms of menopause.

For detailed reading:

Transcript of "Aging of the Voice" NATS Chat
Dr. Albert Merati

Practical Remedies for the Aging Female Voice
Dr. Patti Peterson

Singing Strong with an Aging Voice

The grandchildren can barely hear when you phone to wish a happy birthday. The choir director wants more volume for your spring Pride show. But you just can't deliver more on either occasion.

Leslie Guinn, University of Michigan professor of voice and the voice training specialist with the U-M Medical School's Vocal Health Center, has some suggestions for working with the aging voice in the article below.

Singing Strong with an Aging Voice
Leslie Guinn, University of Michigan

See also Wikipedia:
Spasmodic dysphonia (or laryngeal dystonia) is a voice disorder characterized by involuntary movements or spasms of one or more muscles of the larynx (vocal folds or voice box) during speech.

Hoarseness:

You are welcome to contact Dr. Hill with additional questions. Complete bio at www.stanleykhill.com

The Age Factor: Vocal Symptoms in Early Stages of Menopause

Vocal symptoms of menopause can occur as early as the late 40's or as late as the mid 50's. Having worked with singers in their 80's who were still singing well, it is important to note that correct vocalization is the most critical factor in recovery and in keeping the voice young.

As a male singer and teacher, it might seem presumptuous for me to be writing about the female voice and menopause. Consider that there is limited published information written on the subject, especially material that focuses on how to healthily vocalize as the voice goes through physical changes. Correct vocalization can minimize the negative effects of menopause just as exercise of any other part of the body can help an individual in shape during the aging process.

In my 30-year teaching career, I have taught many singers between the ages of 50 and 60 who were dealing with menopause. The emotional frustration can be overwhelming. I have found that working with singers during this process can be psychologically challenging for them. The instructor is working against the clock in trying to help the voice heal before the singer psychologically gives up. Not only do these singers need a lot of psychological support, but also solid vocal tools that assist in recovering from the vocal confusion caused by hormonal changes. Alan Lindquest once made a comparison between menopause and the changing boy's voice because both situations deal with major hormonal changes in the body. These changes demand drastic adjustments in how the voice is to be vocalized. The following list outlines some of the vocal symptoms due to the menopausal process. Some singers may suffer from all of the following, while others may only have one or two. This list is to help a singer verbally identify specific vocal difficulties brought on by this transition.

Vocal Symptoms of Menopause:

  1. Voice becomes dry with less flexibility.
  2. High range suffers because the upper passaggio becomes difficult to negotiate. This is due to incorrect vocalization of the middle register.
  3. Transition between the lower head voice and the chest register becomes larger and more difficult to negotiate.
  4. Low head voice loses color and can become weak.
  5. Voice becomes pushed due to registration imbalance.
  6. Larynx assumes a higher position in the middle voice, sometimes accompanied by a large hole in the voice where the cords have become bowed. This lack of proper adduction of the folds creates insecurity in this range.
  7. Chest voice becomes overly dark due to tongue pressure and the use of the thicker vocal cord mass rather than the thin edges.
  8. General hardness of tone. Rigidity due to laryngeal muscle tension, often accompanied by a vocal wobble. The singer might also report a general feeling of thickness in the voice.

Contact Dr. Hill with any questions.
Complete bio at www.stanleykhill.com

Exercises for the Menopausal or Post-Menopausal Singers

These exercises are proven to be extremely helpful in reducing the vocal 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. 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. - Dr. Stan Hill

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.

5....5....5....5....5....5....5....5....5...4....3....2....1
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.

1..1..1..1..1..1..1..1..1..2..3..4..5..4..3..2..1
I ..i ..i .i ..i ..i ..i ..i.. o..i..o ..i.. o..i. o. .i
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.

1....... 8..... 1
ngah..........u.............ah
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.

5..3..1.
i . . . . . . . . .
Rounded 'i' vowel bringing head register as low as possible. Start in the upper middle register. This exercise should immediately follow exercise #4.

Dr. Stan Hill

You are welcome to contact Dr. Stan Hill with additional questions about the aging voice. Visit Dr. Hill's website.