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Good Speaking, Good Singing.

Good Speaking, Good Singing.
Why should singers be concerned with how they talk?

Speech-language therapist, Sue M. Jones, spends much of her time talking to vocalists about singing.

Actually, she is talking to them about talking – the impact of speaking habits on the voice.

We caught up with Sue and asked her to reveal ideas that can help all singers.

Do you ever encounter singers who have an issue with their voice that stems from the way they talk?
Frequently. Many singers experiencing problems with their singing voice actually have problems with excess muscle tension in the production of their speaking voice. Many singers also use their speaking voice in jobs such as teaching that require them to project their voice. This is often where the problems occur if their vocal projection (for speaking) is poor.

So, what’s the enemy?
Excess muscle tension when speaking – this can lead to constriction in the vocal tract which in turn may affect the singing voice.

Can you give another example of a singer using excess tension in their speaking voice?
This often happens if singers have part-time jobs which involve speaking in noisy environments for example, bar work or waitressing.

What are some general rules that singers should follow in order to ensure they are speaking in a healthy way?

1. Avoid speaking above noise – don’t try to compete with the noise.
2. Make sure you have adequate amplification if speaking to a large audience.
3. If you have a sore throat because of an infection – speak quietly and as little as possible. Don’t numb the throat with anaesthetic sprays or lozenges and carry on talking!!

Any other tension-enemies?
I see many people with disorders of the speaking voice which are due to emotional problems – often related to interpersonal conflict of some kind.

Since the speaking voice and the singing voice come from the same place, how is singing different from speaking?
The gestures required in the vocal tract for singing are much more complex than for speech. Also, the way speaking and singing are connected to emotion may be different. Singing (good singing anyway) is closely related to emotion. There is some evidence that the neural pathways for speech and singing may be different.

Is complete voice rest (no talking or singing) ever necessary?
There are two situations where complete voice rest is recommended:
1. After an operation on the vocal folds.
2. In the case of an acute laryngeal infection.

Does that mean you are not always in favour of vocal rest?
Some doctors recommend voice rest if a singer is experiencing a voice problem that doesn’t require surgery. In my experience rest alone rarely accomplishes a great deal unless there is an acute laryngeal infection. If a singer is experiencing voice problems they need a full diagnostic assessment since the issue is often related to muscle tension which will not improve with voice rest.

What about when a singer has been very busy with lots of performances?
Reducing the vocal load may help. This means cutting down on voice use – not complete vocal rest. Always avoid straining the voice.

Is there a time when a singer should see a speech therapist, other than after surgery?
When a vocal problem is due to muscle tension but no surgery has been required, therapy should be carried out by a speech therapist specialising in voice disorders. Following the voice therapy, further work with a singing teacher will also be of benefit. All of this is best managed in a multidisciplinary voice clinic. Singers should seek a referral to their nearest clinic.

What can a singer expect when working with a speech therapist after surgery?
Post surgery, and after a period of healing, vocal exercises, prescribed by a voice therapist can be done to help maintain the flexibility of the vocal apparatus and maximise recovery.

Sue M. Jones, B.Sc., M.Sc., MRCSLT, is a Speech-Language Therapist in the U.K., and is on the council of the British Voice Association. She has 28 years experience working with Voice Disorders. She is a key player in developing the Voice Service at University Hospital of South Manchester which holds five voice clinic sessions per week, including one for Elite Vocal Performers. She has recently developed the post of “Vocal Rehabilitation Coach” to assist in the treatment of vocally injured professional performers. She holds an M.Sc. in Voice Research (Newcastle University) and is an advisor on Voice Disorders to the RCSLT.

Sue was interviewed by VoiceCouncil writer Kathy Alexander – see her piece: ‘The Specialists You Need’ Kathy Alexander is a writer, singer, vocal coach and choir director. She has appeared in Vision TV’s Let’s Sing Again, The Sooke Philharmonic Orchestra and the Victoria International Jazz Festival (main stage). You can see more of Kathy’s work here.

  • Iainpalmer

    What a fantastic article and one very apt for me right now. 

  • susan

    hi is there a speech language therapist in London that you can recommend please