Have you ever had a singer on your caseload? Ever had a yodeler? Vocal Hyperfunction can occur in regular singing as well as in yodeling. Classically trained singers and musical theatre style singers use many of the same vocal techniques. Both styles depend on smooth transitions between notes. Rosenberg and LeBorgne refer to a “hybrid singer” in their 2014 publication “The Vocal Athlete,” and most singers these days are that. It is important to know about the different types of singing your client might be doing to treat in the most comprehensive way. Treating folks in the south, I get a small group of those who yodel. You are not just born knowing how to yodel, just like you are not born knowing how to sing. Yodeling is an art. It is difficult to do without practice. Just try it! Better yet, try to do what this 12 year old yodeler can do:
So how does one yodel? Yodeling is oozes with heritage because it actually was used to communicate in the extremely tall mountains, where it was difficult to hear because of wind and other climate factors. Yodeling transitioned from this communication option, to being popular in country music. Up until the 1950’s, it was prevalent in this scene.
Yodeling is actually the exact opposite of a smooth transition between notes. In classical singing training, we are taught that we should float to notes, never scoop up to them, and definitely never land on them hard. We are instructed to make clean transitions and be thoughtful with where we place the different pitches. Register breaks are seen as improper technique and are discouraged. Yodeling opposes all of that teaching; It is changing your vocal fold tension from high to low registers and actually allowing the break to occur. EMBRACE THE BREAK. It doesn’t always have to be in octaves. This goes against all I was taught in my classical voice lessons, but it is relatively easy to mimic if you try it. You deliberately have to break vibratory smoothness, by relaxing. Ha.
So what does yodeling look like? It might help you to see what vocal folds do when yodeling occurs. Here is an examination of the vocal folds, via videostroboscopy. We can see the true vocal folds switch from chest to falsetto registers during the pitch changes. They shorten and lengthen quickly as they do this.
Yodeling, just like any other type of singing, can develop laryngeal tension when it isn’t necessary. Make sure when you are yodeling, you keep a relaxed larynx at all times, just like when you are singing in any other style. Make sure you are using enough breath support so you have enough gas in your tank and you don’t begin to squeeze those laryngeal muscles. Hey, if that 12 year old can learn from a tape, maybe you and I can too? And maybe we can give this guy a run for his money.
Kristie Knickerbocker, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and singing voice specialist in Fort Worth, Texas. She rehabilitates voice and swallowing at her private practice, a tempo Voice Center, and lectures on vocal health to area choirs and students. She also owns and runs a mobile videostroboscopy and FEES company, Voice Diagnostix. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 3, Voice and Voice Disorders, and a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing and the Pan-American Vocology Association. Knickerbocker blogs on her website at www.atempovoicecenter.com. She has developed a line of kid and adult-friendly therapy materials specifically for voice on TPT or her website. Follow her on Pinterest, on Twitter and Instagram or like her on Facebook.