The Human Voice: An Instrument in Residence, Part 1 ~

The human voice: an instrument in residence

Instrument

Singers are fortunate to have a traveling instrument requiring no special assembly or installation. Even so, it is helpful to understand the make-up of the singing apparatus.

The Human Larynx

The larynx is the main structure of the human singing instrument. It is an organ suspended in the neck from the hyoid (the only bone in the larynx), and it is situated below the jaw in the neck. Its composition is primarily cartilage (seven cartilages total), tissue, membrane, and muscle.

Location of Larynx

Because the main part of the larynx is in a state of suspension, it can make excursions up and down and side to side in the neck. For singing and speaking, the laryngeal structure tilts and vibrates.  

An interesting feature of the larynx is the epiglottis, which is a leaf-shaped flap of cartilage located behind the tongue at the top of the larynx. Its function is to seal the windpipe during swallowing so that food or saliva is not accidentally inhaled. Thus, the larynx is instrumental in the prevention of choking.

Parts of Larynx

Phonation

Phonation is the sound of singing and speech which occurs from the oscillation of the vocal folds and resonance of the vocal tract. Singing and speaking require a combination of changes in position, tension and mass of the vocal folds.

Vocal Folds

Vocal folds are composed of mucous membrane stretched horizontally across the top opening of the larynx. The folds are situated just below the pharyngeal tract and above where the tract splits into the trachea and the esophagus within the larynx. They are open for breathing and closed for swallowing, sealing the windpipe from food and liquid.

Superior View of Folds

Vocal folds are essential for phonation or vocalization. Phonation requires the vibrate, modulating the flow of air being expelled from the lungs during phonation.

The size of the folds affects voice pitch. Vocal folds begin growing to their full adult length and thickness during adolescence.

  • Adult male vocal folds are relatively large and thick. Male vocal folds are between 0.75″ to 1.0″ in length.
  • Female vocal folds are less dense and are between 0.5″ to 0.75″ in length.

TO DO:

 I. Body Mapping the Larynx:

  • Gently place the fingers of one hand on one side of your neck/throat and then swallow. A swallow is a complex procedure involving numerous pairs of muscles. You probably noticed the larynx moving up then back down to a neutral position under your fingers as your tongue pushed saliva to the back of your mouth and down the throat.
  • Gently place the fingers of your hand on one side of your throat and yawn. As the jaw descends and the tongue lowers for the yawn, you will notice the larynx move down.
  • Gently place the fingers of your hand on one side of your throat and carefully nudge the larynx to one side. Repeat with the opposite side. Notice that the larynx can move slightly side to side.

II. Body Mapping the Vocal Folds:

  • Gently place the fingers of your hand on one side of your throat while you hum. Notice the feeling of vibrations in your neck. Try touching around your lips, nose, jaw, skull and chest while you hum or sing throughout your vocal range. Notice the vibrations that are produced when you phonate.

 

Open & Close & Shortened

  • Simulate the opening and closing of your vocal folds: Beginning with your palms together as in figure ‘a,’ move your hands apart while inhaling (figure ‘b’). Now, sing a long tone as you bring your palms together. Each time you breathe, repeat the sequence, opening the palms for breath and closing for singing. Notice that the breath exhalation begins slightly before tone starts.
  • Again, beginning palms together, breathe, opening your palms as in figure ‘b.’ Bringing palms together, sing an ee [i] vowel, starting from your lowest comfortable note. Perform a glissando to your highest comfortable note. As your voice slides from low to high, move your thumbs from a forward position (figure c) to an upright position. Move the thumbs back to the starting position as you slide your low voice down to your lowest comfortable note. The thumb movement simulates the lengthening and shortening action of the folds as you sing from low to high. Be sure to open your palms each time you take a breath and close your palms as you sing.

III. Body Mapping Tension/Relaxation:

  • Gently place the fingers of your hand on one side of your throat. Open your mouth as wide as possible. Notice the tension around your mouth, neck and jaw. Now, relax the opening until it feels natural and comfortable. Practice singing a range of vowel sounds with the jaw comfortably open.
  • Gently place the fingers of your hand on one side of your throat. Make an expression of a dramatic frown and a dramatic grin. Notice the tension around your mouth, neck and jaw. Try rolling your shoulders to an extreme back position. Notice the tension around your neck. Relax to a neutral position. Experiment with a range of postures and expressions noticing any tension and exploring to find relaxation.
  • Consider how tense postures might inhibit the ability of the larynx to move, tilt and vibrate while singing.

References

Birch-Iensen, M., Borgström, P. S., & Ekberg, O. (1988). Cineradiography in closed and open pharyngeal swallow. Acta radiologica29(4), 407-410.

Lumb, A. B. (2016). Nunn’s applied respiratory physiology eBook. Elsevier Health Sciences.

Mittal, R. (2011, April). Motor function of the pharynx, esophagus, and its sphincters. In Colloquium Series on Integrated

Systems Physiology: From Molecule to Function (Vol. 3, No. 3, pp. 1-84). Morgan & Claypool Life Sciences.

Trollinger, V. (2005). Performing arts medicine and music education: What do we really need to know?. Music Educators Journal92(2), 42-48.

Vocal folds. (2018). ScienceDaily. Retrieved 31 December 2018, from www.sciencedaily.com/terms/vocal_folds.htm

Zveglic, E. A. (2014). Speech and singing. In Recognizing and Treating Breathing Disorders (Second Edition) (pp. 203-214).

GESTURES or WORDS?

Please see two videos attached.

Knowing that language is a true barrier in working with our Chinese choirs, I have been forced to be more concise with my instruction! I hope I make this change permanent. The shortest explanation to our singers can either create more confusion or fall silent on their young minds. Even though I have a translator, I must wait for the translator to deliver the instruction then hope the translation was accurate.

Dr. Daugherty, Ph.D. at the University of Kansas, constantly stressed delivering remarks in seven words or less. This might be a hard fast rule for advanced or professional choirs, but it is certainly an efficient manner in which to manage rehearsals for younger choirs.

For the novice singer to the most mature singer, the use of gestures and modeling has become my modus operandi. At this stage, few of our singers actually need more explanation. They simply need to hear and see how the phrase is sung.

In the two videos attached, the Purcell Choir, 9-11 year olds, is singing Sanctus from Cornell’s Unison Mass. We added a breath mark after the highest note in the last phrase of the piece. The natural response is to clip the note while also accenting it. The only remedy was to demonstrate using the fingers of one hand to gently brush the palm of the other. Viola! The voice automatically matched the kinesthetic gestures used by the hands.

The Byrd Choir, 7-8 year olds, has been using Brahms’ Die Nachtigall to learn many elements of musicianship. It has served us well learning to:

  • count sing “1-2-3” in English
  • sing repeating pitches, rhythms and arpeggios
  • sing staccato
  • sing German text

We used the fingers of one hand to tap lightly the other in order to understand staccato singing and to understand where to put the final consonant. In this case the end of each phrase ended with a crotchet or quarter note. All the other notes in the piece are quavers and semi-quavers.

So much more can be accomplished in less time, when we apply a gesture to better understand the goal of our music making. Articulation and phrasing become instantly clear and without ever giving any verbal instruction. Accept the challenge to see how few words you can use in order to achieve amazing results.

Lynn Swanson, MME

December Survival Guide for Singers

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year….” You just sang that in your head, didn’t you?!? Congratulations! It’s December! The magical, marvelous season of wonder is upon us. We wonder what we were thinking when scheduled our month with back to back to back rehearsals and performances that fill our lives and calendars. Of the many challenges facing singers, staying healthy is probably the most important of all. Many of the tips you are about to read, are things you already know. However, a few reminders may keep you in good voice for all your endeavors.

  1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! I think I may have posted about this before! 😊
    • Drink more water! Breathe steam! Depending on humidity levels where you live, you may need to outfit your home with humidifiers. If you are in a drier climate, you should probably be running yours at about a 50% level.
    • Keep an assortment of your favorite herbal teas at hand if you find water monotonous. If you prefer a sweet treat, consider adding honey. It can soothe a tender throat and has natural antibiotic properties.
    • If you are sensitive to dairy products, save the egg nog for after your gigs. In some individuals, some dairy products may cause mucus to thicken. Thick mucus impedes the free oscillation of the vocal folds making it necessary to exert greater breath pressure to create sound and/or more breath pressure to blow the thicker mucus off the vocal folds.
  2. REST! Rest your voice, rest your body, rest your mind. Remember that even if you are NOT actively phonating, your larynx may be moving as though actually singing just listening to your music. Remember, speaking and singing use the same muscles and coordination. REST = QUIET!
  3. Eat well! As time is a precious commodity, grabbing a quick bite can be tempting! Acid reflux is a common affliction for singers. A healthy diet will reduce the possibility or symptoms. Spicy foods, while delicious, can irritate the pharynx and cause additional sensitivity or swelling. Enjoy with care!
  4. Practice Smart! Not every rehearsal requires 100% of your effort 100% of the time. Sing smart & save your best for performance. Some may take issue with this and say you should always give it your all. If you have the luxury of abundant rest, by all means, sing with all the joy and passion you have within you! But, if your calendar has few to no days of rest, budget your resources wisely.
  5. Cool down vocally after a concert or rehearsal. During especially busy weeks, warm salt water gargles can aid recovery by whisking away extra swelling and soothing tender pharynx tissues. I realize the salt water never actually contacts the vocal folds, but swelling can be reduced in near tissues and the extra water in the vocal tissues will be pulled out indirectly.
  6. Have a well packed gig bag!

GIG BAG should include: 2 full water bottles tea, snacks, fuzzy socks, scarf, throat drops (NO MENTHOL, EVER! More on that later…), tissue, hand sanitizer, saline spray, lip balm, acetaminophen (not ibuprofen or other NSAIDS they can contribute to vocal fold bruising – more on this later too!), pencil, post-it notes, thank you notes, business cards, pitch pipe, and if soloing – an extra copy of your music. Be prepared to share! 😊

I don’t know what December is without every weekend jam packed with music. With care and preparation, I hope to never face that sadness. Sing with joy and sing well!        –

Contributed by Author Melissa Shallberg

 

 

Organizing the Chaos: Managing the Middle School Choir

I’ve heard it said that teaching middle school puts one at the front of the line for sainthood. We’ve all had days on which we have earned that status. I have been teaching middle school choir for seven years, and in that time I have witnessed the full spectrum of adolescent behavior; from the sweet to the disrespectful, from the silly to the hyper-focused, and sometimes just chaotic madness. Classroom management is more of an art than a science; it requires flexibility, reflection, and attention to detail. I don’t have all the answers, but thought I would share some practices with which I have had success.

Problem: My choir is too chatty during rehearsal.

Option 1: Call and Response. This seems elementary, but it has worked for me.  There are many types of calls and responses you can use. Make your expectations clear when you teach the protocol: one call, one response, refocus, and move on with rehearsal.

  • Clap or “Sh” a four beat rhythm for students to echo
  • Vocalize a “Yoo-hoo” and students echo
  • “One, two, three. Eyes on me” Students respond “One, two, eyes on you.”
  • Be creative—there’s no wrong way to do this

Option 2: Rehearse your rehearsal. At the beginning of the year, my students practice standing with their folders, ready to sing, over and over again.  If students talk during this process, we start again. We don’t move on until everyone can stand poised and ready to focus.  We usually revisit this exercise a handful of times each semester when things really devolve.

Option 3: Reward Chart.  Another elementary technique, but one that my sixth graders seem to respond to. After each rehearsal that the class meets my behavioral expectations, they earn a mark on the reward chart. After 10 such days, they receive a free seating day. I’ve heard of teachers offering a day of music games, movie days, or candy—just find out what will motivate your bunch!

Problem:  My students don’t use good singing posture or technique, even though we talk about it all the time.

How’s your sticker game?  My students love stickers (really! they love being recognized in front of their peers).  I keep a pack near the piano, and whenever I spot a student using good posture, tall vowels, marking their music with a pencil, etc., I quickly acknowledge their good behavior by passing them a sticker. There’s minimal disruption to rehearsal, and it’s amazing how many students start to sit taller and follow directions after they see their classmates earning stickers.

Bonus: Let a student or two students play “Posture Police”.  Have them walk around while you are sight-reading or rehearsing.  They can give stickers to students who are demonstrating great posture.

Problem: My students don’t stand still when they sing. 

In Rehearsal: Use movement to your advantage. As much as I understand the need to practice standing still while singing, I encourage my students to use movement while warming up or practicing parts in rehearsals.  Deliberate movement can help students connect their breath to their sound.  We make waves for crescendos, pop bubbles for staccato sounds, shoot basketballs for ascending leaps, and much more. Sometimes, I’ll have students alternate between sitting and standing while we are singing to keep them moving and alert.  Control the movement and make it work for you.

For the Performance: I use a saying that I learned from my friend and colleague Nathan Dame.

Feet, feet”(stomp each foot down)
“Hips straight” (point to each hip)
“Shoulders back” (touch the left and right shoulders)
“Head tall” (Pull an invisible string from the top of your head)
“ Chin down” (check that the chin is parallel to the ground)
“Eyes on you.” (students use their two fingers to point at their eyes then yours and FREEZE)

The students learn the chant at the beginning of the year.  When we are preparing for a concert I have them repeat it.  Once they say “eyes on you,” they freeze with their hands at their side and then we run our music.  If one member moves before the music starts, we do the whole chant again. I have found this to be a very helpful tool in getting students in the correct performance posture.

Final Thoughts

  • Make your expectations known from day 1, and be consistent! Research suggests posting expectations in the classroom is best practice.
  • You must allocate time in your rehearsal to practice the simple tasks: walking on risers, standing quietly, using good posture, etc. Be diligent and don’t move on before they achieve mastery.
  • Positive reinforcement works. It’s basic human psychology. Offer ways to earn rewards.
  • If a management technique is failing, try something different. Reach out to colleagues for ideas. Talk to the effective core subject teachers in your school. They may offer something you can adapt for the choir room.
  • Choose your battles; I laugh when I think about all the time I wasted as a new teacher sweating the small stuff. There are annoying behaviors that adversely affect rehearsal—but there are also annoying behaviors that don’t.  Learn to let the small stuff go and your nerves will thank you for it.
  • Above all, cultivate a sense of family and teamwork in your classroom. When everyone invests and trusts each other, working towards that common goal becomes much easier.

Jennifer Berroth

 

Is Caffeine Dehydrating to the Vocal Folds?

Caffeine has generally been recognized in the past as being dehydrating to the body while also causing diuresis. Health advocates in the past have encouraged singers as well as educators and public speakers to reduce their intake of caffeine because it is presumed to have a dehydrating effect on the voice. Presently, some information provided on vocal health websites encourage consumers to refrain from caffeinated beverages, in order to maintain fluid balance and one’s hydration status in the body.

Is caffeine dehydrating to the vocal folds? Does it compromise a singer’s ability to perform well?

Caffeine is one substance assumed to be associated with voice problems by causing systemic dehydration. It has been thought that if you drink coffee, you are robbing the body of water. Past reports have stated that for every cup of coffee drunk, 2 cups of urine is eliminated.

Why is hydration so important for the singer?  Singers rely on a well hydrated body for optimal vocal production for many reasons, but primarily because hydration maintains suppleness and litheness for the vocal folds. Hydration also helps to lubricate the mucosal lining protecting the folds from resistance or abrasion during phonation. Well lubricated and supple folds provide stamina for the speaking voice, aid in vocal projection, maintain flexibility with regard to the cartilage and muscular tissues and keep inflammation from becoming an issue.   Avoiding agents that dehydrate the vocal folds is an integral part of vocal hygiene education.

Singers are encouraged to establish and maintain a vocal hygiene program. Since systemic dehydration is detrimental to voice production the avoidance of any external agents that might prevent lubrication of the folds and their flexibility is critical. Because of the presumed drying effects of caffeine, many voice clinicians encourage an abstinence of all beverages containing caffeine. This advice remains common among medical and voice instructors even though there is little evidence to support the belief that caffeine consumption induces negative changes to the voice. Still, singers must consider how their behavior regarding use of the voice, diet, exercise and sleep impact their performance. All decisions regarding lifestyle can serve as a benefit or detriment to the singer.

Should we partake of caffeine? If so, then how much? Does the water in caffeinated drinks help us or not? Killer, Blannin, and Jeukendrup (2014) conducted a study to compare the effects of caffeinated coffee consumption against water ingestion using a range of validated hydration assessment techniques. 50 male coffee drinkers that habitually consumed 3 – 6 cups a day participated in two trials. Each of the trials lasted three consecutive days. In addition to controlled fluid intake, the food intake and physical activity were also controlled. The participants consumed either 200 milligrams of coffee containing 4 milligrams/kilograms caffeine or water. The results showed that there were no significant changes in total body water or total body mass from beginning to end of either trial . There were also no differences between trials with TBW and TBM. These data suggest that coffee, when consumed in moderation by caffeine habituated males provides similar qualities to water. The researchers did caution that no results of this study would be used to infer if there would be no effect with greater amounts of caffeine.

Franca and Simpson (2013) conducted a pilot study to understand the effects of the interaction of caffeine and water intake on the voice as evidenced by acoustic and aerodynamic measurements. The investigation was to determine if the ingestion of 200mg of caffeine and various levels of water intake have an impact on the voice. The participants (N=48) were 49 females ranging in age from 18 – 35 years. The participants followed a protocol that included recording weight and height, as well as menstrual cycle phase identification. Results showed no significant changes in voice or acoustic and aerodynamic measurements across all four groups. The results suggest that 200 mg caffeine may not degrade vocal acoustics and aerodynamics. It also suggests that 200 mg caffeine and water hydration may not lead to statistically significant changes.

Current research shows that a moderate intake of caffeinated beverages do not put one at risk of dehydration. Journals now report that informed medical doctors, exercise physiologists, and human physiologists agree that caffeinated beverages when consumed in moderation cannot put the body in dehydrated status. The body must replenish its fluids everyday because a significant amount of whatever we drink is lost.

If you’re a regular coffee drinker, one cup will hardly have negative ramifications. The body adapts to a person’s coffee-drinking habits. The more coffee you habitually drink, the less water you’ll lose from it.  (Evans, 1998). Many experts also agree that coffee has a hydrating rather than a dehydrating effect because it is a fluid. It is absolutely not recommended over water. As long as one does not add cream and sugar to their cup of coffee, their cup of coffee will contain 95% water!

Still, water is the best source for hydration and therefore the best means to ensuring a singer’s vocal folds are operating at the most optimal level. Over the last several years, we have come to understand that the amount of water one should intake on a daily basis depends on your size and weight, as well as your activity level. As recent as 2014, the United States Food and Drug Administration stated that one should drink eight, eight ounces of water every day. Now, the general rule of thumb is to drink between half an ounce and an ounce of water for each pound you weigh, every day, based on normal physical activity.

In the end, be sensitive to your body. Listen to it. Monitor everything that goes in so the notes that come out are as sweet as the sugar you left in the doughnut still sitting on your plate.

References:

Ahmed, S., Coomber, S., Chetwood, T. (2013). Effects of caffeine on vocal acoustic and      aerodynamic measures of adult females. CoDAS. 25(3), 250-5.                              

Artan Laboratories. (n.d.) Retrieved from: http://www.artannlabs.com/body-hydration.html Caffeine Amounts: Retrieved from: http://www.math.utah.edu/~yplee/fun/caffeine.html                                                   

Center for Science in the Public Interest: (n.d.) Retrieved from:            http://www.cspinet.org/new/cafchart.htm

Duke Voice Health. (2012). Retrieved from: http://www.dukehealth.org/repository/dukehealth/2010/12/22/13/57/10/0598/DVCC%20        vocal%20health.pdf

Erikson, E. (2010). Systematic investigation of caffeine ingestion on voice. Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. 143.(2) 83-84.

Family Doctor. (n.d.) Retrieved from: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/prevention- wellness/food-nutrition/nutrients/hydration-why-its-so-important.html   

Fletcher, H. M., Drinnan, M. J., Carding, P. N. (2007, January). Voice care knowledge among clinicians and people with healthy voices or dysphonia. Journal of Voice. 21(1), 80 – 91.

Franca, M. C., Simpson, K. O. (2013). Effects of the interaction of caffeine on water on voice performance. Communications Disorders Quarterly. 35 (1), 5 – 13.

Franca, M. C., Simpson, K. O., Schuette, A. (2012). A pilot randomised control trial: the effects of decaffeinated drinks on voice quality. Clinical Otolaryngology. 37 (5), 428-431.

Erickson-Levendoski, E., Sivasankar, M. (2011). Investigating the effects of caffeine on        phonation.  Journal of Voice. 25. (5). E215-E219.

Killer, S.C., Blannin, A. K., Jeukendrup, A. E. (2014). No evidence of dehydration with         moderate coffee intake: a counterbalanced cross-over study in a free-living population.

Maughan, R. J., Griffin, J. (2003, Nov. 18). Caffeine ingestion and fluid balance: a review. PubMed. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of  Health.                         doi: 10.1046/j.1365-277X.2003.00477.x

Parillas, D. (n.d.). Vocal hygiene – part 2: hydrate! hydrate! hydrate! why vocal hydration is important to singing. Vocal Brilliance. Retrieved from:   http://vocalbrilliance.com/blog/vocal-hygiene-part- 2-hydrate-hydrate-hydrate-why- hydration-is-important-to-singing

Popkin, B. M., D’Anci, K. E., Rosenberg, I. H. (2010, August).Water, Hydration and Health. National Institutes of Health. Nut.Rev. 68.(8) 439-458.                                                           doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00304.x

The United States Food and Drug Administration. Last updated (2014, July 7). Retrieved from: http://www.fda.gov/food/guidanceregulation/guidancedocumentsregulatoryinformation/ucm381189.htm

Vocal health top ten list. (1994, April). American Salesman. 39.(4) 24.

https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/water-for-weight-loss-diet#2