Sarah Lobegeiger de Rodriguez and I have teamed up for a shared blog piece and IGTV series on what we wish we would have known as young singers. If you visit @kristie_voice and @voicescience on instagram, you can watch us discuss this blog on IGTV. Sarah Talks all about: vocal range, vowel balance and variablities. I talk source and filter, length of time, and variabilities. Check it out on www.thevoicescience.com and HERE for the direct link. We hope you enjoy this cross-continental collaboration.
1) Source & Filter Options for Warm Up
There was not a lot of voice science in my undergraduate vocal studies, and it was only after my own vocal injury that I began to really understand the mechanics of what my voice was, and how and why I should warm it up. Vocal folds, or vocal cords, vibrate hundreds of times per second during phonation. This is considered “source” and should be warmed up prior to prolonged use. Here would be where the importance of pitch dexterity, staccato vs legato, mess di voce would all come into play. The muscle groups that adduct (bring together) and abduct (pull apart) the vocal folds, the muscle groups that lengthen and shorten the vocal folds all need to be given blood flow during a warm up. I can completely understand where the idea of scales and arpeggios came from to have technique improved as well as a “warm-up” because those types of vocal exercises are not complete songs and would allow the performer to ease into singing. The “filter” however, is equally important. Titze calls it the “epilarynx” or the vocal tract and it is the space from the vocal folds all the way to the teeth and nose, and contains the larynx, pharynx, oral cavity and nasal cavities sometimes too. Modifying the epilarynx can prove physically beneficial to the vocal folds as well, especially from a semi-occluded vocal tract exercise (SOVTE). SOVTE’s can include straw phonation, lip trills, tongue trills, cup phonation, wave in a cave, bubbles in a cup, Stemple’s /u/, hums, and even to a degree the /u/ and /i/ vowels. I think that lip bubbles and tongue trills are excellent SOVTE’s to choose from, however I truly wish I would have known more options, like cup phonation and wave in a cave, so that I could have begun carryover from the inertive reactance that comes from an SOVTE, in words to my arias and songs.
2) Length of Time for Warm Up
Never was I ever given any specific education on the proper length of time I should be “warming up” my voice. Perhaps this is because there really isn’t a proper length, because it varies from person to person, and it has not been studied. Or has it? Elaine Kwong spoke at this year’s Fall Voice Conference on straw phonation, and how the length of time this was performed made an impact on reducing vocal fatigue. Her study has not been published yet, however findings were interesting regarding the amount of time that proved the most beneficial and if the straw was in water or not. A 2018 study by Matthew Hoch and Mary Sandage even states that “Questions remain about length and intensity of warm-up relative to the singing performance expectations. Research needs to be done to quantify the length and intensity of singing performance endeavors so that we can better understand how the warm-up process should be designed to enhance and not detract from optimal performance.” So, you see how hard it is to quantify benefits of a certain type of warm up, how long it should be completed and how in-depth it should go. Hoch and Sandage go on further to discuss that Ingo Titze suggests singing teachers should explore exercise science to better train their singers for injury prevention. So I implore you, as you read this, to find what works for you. And at the same time, there are so many questions to be asked about length of time. I often have my singing clients ask me what is too long? I have them report they warmed up for 0 minutes, or even 30 minutes. This variability lends itself to having misinformation and arguments, however, if you feel the calling, you can most definitely take action by completing a research study in the area of singing. We still have so many unanswered questions, and artists desperately need to have well-functioning machines.
3) Variability in Environment, Hydration, and Fatigue as a Singer
Inevitably, there will be days that your voice doesn’t sound it’s best. There will be no reason why. I can only say that there is a degree of blood and living being for a vocalist that doesn’t exist for other instrument players. A person can be well rested, but feel emotional, which affects the voice. A person can be tired, but driven by nerves and have a voice affected. These affects can be desirable, or not. I wish I would have known how fatigue can be a normal part of vocal use, but too much can be treated with voice therapy. I also wish I would have known that hydration wasn’t the end all. Susan Thibeault at Fall Voice 2019 spoke about hydration not having any research evidence for improving vocal quality and vocal health. We know that hydration helps our body function better with a balance of fluids (Hartley & Thibeault), however to date, no studies truly tell us how much water we should consume, and how it directly benefits vocal function. As a Speech-Language Pathologist, and one who treats injured singers, I often wonder if my work environment and type of vocation lends itself to making me prone to vocal fatigue. A 2019 study in the Journal of Voice revealed that 71% of SLP’s report vocal fatigue, showing that SLP’s are at greater risk of experiencing vocal fatigue, however, only 42% saw a specialist, and only 26% sought treatment from voice rest and voice therapy. Astonishingly still, was that 13% of SLP’s tried traditional/home remedies to treat their fatigue.
All in all, I have such a heart for wanting to share the things I wish I knew as a young singer, before I was injured, and before I became an SLP. I wish I would have been given a more scientific approach in tandem with the artistic approach, because I felt my college level education was strictly art. Diction, interpretation, musicality are all important components to a successful singer, however, a deep and evidence-based knowledge of the instrument I feel is vital, with no fear or stigma from vocal injury.
Joseph BE, Joseph AM, Jacob TM. (2019) Vocal fatigue- Do young speech-language pathologists practice what they preach? Journal of Voice. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2018.11.015
Hartley NA, Thibeault, SL. (2-14) Systemic hydration: Relating science to clinical practice in vocal health. Journal of Voice. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2014.01.007
Hoch M & Sandage MJ. (2018) Exercise Science Principles and the Warm-up: Implications for Singing Voice Pedagogy. Journal of Voice. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016.j.jvoice.2017.03.018
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 voice science nationally. She is part of the Professional Development Committee for ASHA Special Interest Group 3, Voice and Upper Airway 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.