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Tackle the Technique: The Aging Voice

This Tackle the Technique is on the aging voice, something I have not encountered with any of my private students, as they are most commonly teenagers. However, the more I’ve read up on this topic, the more I believe it to be necessary to think about and, dare I say, prepare for. Because as I’ve said in the posts promoting this video, every singer will at some point be facing the aging of their voice, whether one year from now or 40 years from now … not to mention those who are already in this season of singing life. 


Sooooooooo let’s get to it! I’m afraid the first portion of this might seem a bit “doom and gloom,” but stay with me - I PROMISE there is hope at the end of it! 


As we age, so do our voices. Here are some things that happen:

  • For women, as we age our bodies produce lower amounts of estrogen, particularly after menopause. This can result in greater density of vocal fold tissues, which generally translates into a lower singing range.

  • For men, there is typically a decline in testosterone, which has a tendency to raise and/or decrease the singing range.

For any singer, over time portions of the laryngeal cartilages may calcify and even transform into bone, or ossify. This can be particularly challenging if these cartilages have previously been more malleable for a singer, as it can limit range.

  • The very shape of the vocal folds can change, becoming slightly bowed and preventing a tight vocal fold closure. The auditory result could be a somewhat breathier and less full sound, especially in the higher range.

  • Elsewhere in the body, atrophy can take place in the abdominal and rib muscles, affecting breath support.

Here are a few things to check in on before singing anything:

Posture or Alignment

  • I think the vast majority of voice teachers and choir directors would agree that the way we stand (or sit) directly impacts the quality of our singing production. I won’t get into the details of alignment in this video, but I would encourage you to check foot placement, knee flexibility, and neck alignment!



Breathing

  • This is a HUGE topic … and it occurs to me that producing a video on it would be worthwhile in the future. For now, remember that you can only breathe well if you are aligned well! Be patient and intentional with your breathing, and if you simply can’t wait for the aforementioned video, message me directly and we can work through some things together! 


And now to some exercises. 

  1. The “Hiss Breath": Take a full breath, being sure to use the full excursion of the ribs. Exhale on a hiss, keeping the sound steady by resisting the movement inward of the ribs. The idea is to make the sound last as long as possible. Keep track of the time. When you must inhale, ALLOW a reflexive breath - don’t rush anything. If the first hiss lasts 15 seconds, then when you take the next full breath, try to make the next hiss last 16 or 17 seconds. Repeat until you can no longer extend the time of the hiss, then take 3 more breaths at that extended time. (You can use an elastic band around the ribs to give tactile as well as kinesthetic feedback, or bend your arms so the back of your fingers feel the ribs, being sure that the shoulders are not involved.)

  2. Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract Exercises: Start with a hum, a raspberry, or lip buzz.  I typically use a lip buzz, so I will demonstrate that. Keep a firm closure between your lips and allow the air to create the movement. Buzz with an “e” shape inside your mouth.

  3. Sing a sustained /i/ vowel (sounds like a soft “e”) as long as possible on F4 for females, F3 for males. 

  4. Glide or slide from the lowest possible note to the highest note possible. Use a tiny /o/ shape with the lips almost closed, as if singing through a straw (feel free to use a straw). If your voice “breaks” at any point, keep going without hesitationWhen 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.)

  5. Do the same thing in the opposite direction, sliding from the highest note to the lowest note on a tiny /o/.  (Institute a feeling of more space in the pharynx on the way down. This downward glide encourages the use of the thyroarytenoid muscle (vocalis).)

  6. 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 you begin to run out of air, let go of the exercises and exhale easily - there is NO NEED to force anything here!

  7. Lastly, articulate a five-note up and down scale that starts with the jaw on a “ya, ya, ya,” and works its way up and inward via the lips (ba), the teeth (ta), the tongue (la), the soft palate (an), and the throat (ha). We turn around and come out the same way we came in.

A few other things can be singing from an “ng” to a vowel; using staccato exercises on an /i/ or /eh/; singing with a tiny /u/; etc.


Keep your eyes on my pages for next week’s Tackle the Technique! Thanks for joining me!


SOURCES

  1. Stephen LaTour and Julia Davids, https://www.vocaltechnique.info/aging-voices.html

  2. Dr. Patti Peterson, “Practical Remedies for the Aging Female Voice, https://galachoruses.org/resource-center/singers/aging-voice/practical-remedies-for-the-aging-female-voice

  3. Robert Edwin, “Voice Pedagogy for Aging Singers (Including the Author),” Journal of Singing, May/June 2012, Volume 68, No. 5, pp. 561–563, https://www.nats.org/_Library/Kennedy_JOS_Files_2013/JOS-068-5-2012-561.pdf

  4. Rik Johnson, Harmony College Northwest, 2010, https://www.harmonycollege.org/uploads/1/8/1/7/18174915/barbershop-careoftheagingvoice_rjohnson.pdf

  5. National Center for Voice and Speech, http://www.ncvs.org/ncvs/tutorials/voiceprod/tutorial/changes.html


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