What is vocal health and why is vocal health relevant to contemporary singing? OR What is vocal technique for contemporary singing and why is it relevant? Essay Example
Vocal Health: Understanding of the voice as a healthy and expressive musical instrument:
Longfellow said ‘The human voice is the organ of the soul’. For a performer, singer or orator, their voice is so valuable, and the instrument which allows them to perform. Like any asset it it should be cared for and cultivated, and protected from harm. The human voice is a tool which can be used to identify those we know and to create music through singing. It also allows verbal communication, and it can aid in the recognition of emotions. Every single person has a distinct sound, an identifier (Reiman, 2013). The voice and its qualities relies upon a number of factors such as the state of the lungs, the health of the vocal cords, the shape of the mouth, the ability of the muscles, including the tongue , to work efficiently.
Vocal Health and Vocal Care Strategies
The first line of the Self Help for Vocal Health begins ‘Keep’em Wet ‘. The ‘em’ refers to the vocal folds. These work best when they are moist, but with only a thin layer of mucus covering their surfaces. The person must drink plenty, especially water. The American Academy of Otolaryngology (2014) recommends about 8 glasses of fluid per day. Staying well hydrated optimizes the mucous production in the throat, and aids the lubrication of the vocal cords, allowing them to vibrate freely. Readers of the Self Help page are however reminded that drinks which contain caffeine can actually work to dehydrate the body, rather than to hydrate it. Caffeine Informer, (2014) has a long list of caffeine containing drinks . Alcohol can be taken in moderation. The caffeine may be a natural component of the ingredients used, or could be added, in which case there may be a decaffeinated version available. The caffeine problem can be overcome however, as it is suggested that for every cup of a caffeine heavy drink, such as coffee, which is consumed, this should be followed immediately by drinking an equal quantity of water.
The same web site gives advice to follow if a singer develops a sore throat, a cold or laryngitis. Severe coughing can cause damage to the vocal cords, and so affects the voice. The voice should be rested and the singer should gargle with salt water. Vocalist.com (2014) suggest using vitamin C tablets. Decongestant tablets are also recommended if needed, as are steam inhalations, although it is pointed out that some inhaled medications contain menthol, and this can have a drying effect.
Once the illness is over Vocalist.com (2014) suggests some gentle humming for a few minutes at a time. Such exercises should slowly be built up over several days, using the mid- range of the voice. Over several days the range of voice used can be extended, both up and down. If there is any hoarseness then the voice must be rested once more for several days, and the whole process repeated.
Next fatigue is discussed. This falls into two types.
The first, muscle fatigue is simply because of over use, just as other muscles in the body tire from over use. In order to reduce or avoid this it is suggested that a vocologist be consulted. Such a specialist can demonstrate exercises with the aim of strengthening the muscles involved. There must also be an aim to reduce any muscle tension and improving breathing. However in everyday use if the throat is dry, tired, or the voice is becoming hoarse, then the voice should be rested.
It is also recommended that singers and speakers should try to avoid singing or speaking over very loud noises, as their causes strain.
Secondly there is tissue fatigue. This is concerned with undue destruction of the cells which make up the tissues of the vocal folds. It presents as pain immediately behind the Adam’s apple, the thyroid cartilage which surrounds the larynx. In this case the pain is felt in this very specific area. The person should respond increasing their hydration level, use good breath support and avoid vocal irritants such as cigarette smoke, which means that smoking is out, but passive smoking should also be avoided. Acid reflux can also cause the tissues to deteriorate, as stomach acids can spill over, and a doctor should be consulted, as they should also be if any hoarseness or pain is present which persists for more than two weeks.
It should also be remembered that using an extremely low pitch, or a very high pitch, on a regular basis can cause injury to the vocal cords, and there may well be hoarseness and a variety of other problems as a result. Adopting an extremely low pitch or high pitch can cause an injury to the vocal cords with hoarseness and a variety of problems as a consequence.
In 1854 Garcia invented the laryngeal mirror. This then allowed for the photographing of the vocal cords in action so that their physiology could be better understood (British Medical Journal, 1942) . In order to produce sounds three components are needed, a vibrator; an activator and resonator or amplifier. Also present are articulators, which allow different words to be formed. In humans the vibrators are the vocal folds, found inside the larynx. The vibrations and the speed at which they occur, depend upon the length and thickness of the vocal cords, as well as the muscles which surround them and the ways in which these can tense and relax. The activator which causes the vocal folds to vibrate are the air compressors made up of the lungs and the associated breathing muscles. The
rate at which the vocal folds vibrate is known as the pitch ( Reiman, 2013), that is to say that the sound produced varies according to rate of vibration. Women’s vocal cords tend to be shorter and so produce higher pitches in general than those of men. Faster rates of vibration produce higher pitches of voices, while slower rates of vibration produce deeper, lower pitches.
The throat cavity of pharynx acts as a resonator for these sounds by amplifying the vibrations which come from the vocal folds. The articulators consist of the mouth cavity, the tongue, teeth and lips.
In normal everyday life people are more or less unaware of their breathing unless something goes wrong such as an asthma attack, but if singing then much more awareness needs to be in place, in order to fit in with the rises and fall of the music, and any pauses needed. David Jones (undated) suggested a number of techniques. Only small amounts of breath are required, no more than in ordinary speech. There should be no hyperextension of the rib cage. A consistent amount of air needs to pass through the larynx and the speed which it takes must also be consistent. Jones points out how the whole body can be used to help singers to breathe with greater beneficial effects. He suggests several exercises. Learning the required techniques takes time and effort, and in almost all cases one needs help with this.
The larynx sits at the top of the throat. When a person swallows it moves slightly higher and if they yawn it goes down. When singing the neutral position, neither high or low, is often the best position giving the larynx the opportunity to rise or fall as needed.
Resonating tract including articulators
Articulation is the movement of various structures in order to produce sound. Tone produced by the larynx is modified by resonating structures, and speech sounds are shaped by structures such as the tongue and lips (CSD2230, undated). The sound travels up from the larynx through the pharynx. Movements of the lips, larynx and tongue alter the shape of the vocal tract and alter the sound produced. Sound is also affected by such things as the bones of the face, the teeth and the soft and hard palates.
According to Gallup, cited by Psychology Today (2014):-
Voice is, in effect, a medium for the transmission of biological information.
The main point made though, is that those who have the most balanced body are considered to have the most attractive voices.
The Brain initiates/controls signals
According to Arnold ( 2013) it is still not completely understood as to how the brain initiates vocal sound. It seems certain though that the limbic system is involved. This crosses both hemispheres, and connects many different brain centres from all areas, so is an important means of distributing both energy and information. This limbic system is the main mechanism within the brain for arousal and, in humans, all activities of thinking and movement.
It can be clearly seen that vocal health involves many different parts of the body, as well as the mind. There must be a balance between all these if vocal health is to be achieved and maintained. The singer or orator has a treasure within their body, and they are its custodians.
Image 1 Anatomy of the larynx, (2008) Trialsight Medical Media, retrieved 14th May 2014 from https://sites.google.com/site/vocaltechniquetips/the-basics/open-throat
Arnold, G., (2013) Brain Functions, The Encyclopaedia Britannica, retrieved 14th May 2014 from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/559032/speech/68965/Brain-functions
British Medical Journal, (October 17th 1942) Physiology of the vocal cords, , retrieved 14th May 2014 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2164322/pdf/brmedj04012-0015.pdf
Caffeine Informer,( 2014), retrieved 12th May 2014 from http://www.caffeineinformer.com/the-caffeine-database
CSD2230, (undated), The Articulatory/Resonating System, retrieved 12th May 2014 from http://www.d.umn.edu/~mmizuko/2230/spanat.htm
Jones, D., (undated), Breath Management in Singing, retrieved 12th May 2014 from http://www.voiceteacher.com/management.html
Longfellow, H., 19th century, quoted by Dream this Day, (undated), retrieved 14th May 2014 from http://www.dreamthisday.com/quote-saying/human-voice-organ-soul-70/
Psychology Today,( 2014), Voice Messages, retrieved 12th May 2014 from http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200611/voice-messages
Reiman, T. (2013), The human voice: Pitch, retrieved 12th May 2014 from http://bodylanguageuniversity.com/public/203.cfm
Self Help for Vocal Health, (undated), retrieved 12th May 2014 from http://ncvs.org/e-learning/strategies.html
The American Academy of Otolaryngology, Fact Sheet: Tips for Healthy Voices, (2014), retrieved 12th May 2014 from http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/Tips-for-Healthy-Voices.cfm
Voclaist.com, (2014), Vocal health, retrieved 12th May 2014 from http://www.vocalist.org.uk/vocal_health.html
More Important Things