National Voice Meeting 2018 – Presenter Series #3

What is Vocal Massage and could it be helpful for patients with Voice Disorders?

Vocal massage is designed to give a ‘reset’ of the muscles involved in posture and vocalization to help maintain (or help re-establish) healthy voice production. It is also increasingly being investigated as a way to decrease pain and tension from excessive contraction of the extrinsic muscles of the larynx (as found in voice disorders such as Muscle Tension Dysphonia) (Dehqan & Scherer, 2008). Vocal Massage is also starting to be used as part of a holistic treatment plan established by an ENT and Speech Pathologist by Voice centres such as the Cleveland Clinic, Vanderbilt Voice Clinic, and the Royal Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital in London.

A way to improve posture and prevent vocal problems

Singing and speaking well require a freedom and balance in the muscles around the larynx and jaw and a buoyant, free posture for the breath. A number of articles have illuminated the way in which good posture, particularly of the cervical spine, is directly related to higher levels of vocal resonance and pitch control (Arboleda & Frederick, 2008). Cardoso, Lumini-Oliveira, and Meneses (2017) have proven an effective posture allows a subject to more easily shift the tension between muscles, allowing for a free movement of the larynx without blockages and with benefits to voice production. In a study by Kooijman (2005), muscular tension and body posture were assessed in relation to voice handicap and voice quality in teachers with persistent voice complaints- the conclusion was the combination of hypertonicity of the sternocleidomastoid, the geniohyoid muscles and posterior weight bearing…[were] the most important predictor for a high voice handicap. Manual bodywork such as Vocal massage combined with rehabilitative exercises may be the way forward in helping some patients recover from a vocal disorder by addressing the body patterns contributing to the tightness in these muscles. Unfortunately, comprehensive studies on the long-term benefits of this have not yet been undertaken.

A Vocal Massage Session

The first component of a Vocal Massage is postural assessment and palpation of the area around the neck and jaw to establish if restrictions in the muscles may be affecting the patient’s ability to supply breath efficiently to the voice and vocalize well. The larynx and hyoid bone are gently assessed to establish if they are in a free, neutral position, range of motion of the jaw and head will be tested, and the therapist will check if the ribs and diaphragm are mobile and the posture is balanced. A treatment plan is then developed specific to the patient’s needs, which may include alleviating tension around the front of the neck and jaw, mobilizing the hyoid bone and larynx and addressing postural issues affecting the freedom of the breath. Myofascial techniques are used which include gentle tractioning of the muscles, trigger point work and stretches that may help reduce tension in the muscles.

May help improve respiratory function

We know that manual therapy appears to increase the respiratory function of normal individuals (Engel & Vemulpad, 2007), but more research needs to be undertaken to see if manual therapy could be helpful to those with inhibited respiratory function and voice disorders (da Cunha Pereira, de Oliveira Lemos, Gadenz, Cassol, 2017). Anecdotally many of my clients have found massage helpful after a respiratory illness such as a cough to alleviate tension and stiffness around the larynx and have found their voice more resonant and responsive after the massage session. Myofascial release techniques in this instance are used on the sternocleidomastoid and scalene muscles combined with gentle mobilization of the intercostal muscles, diaphragm attachment points and the ribcage to help free the breathing mechanism.

Countering the physical demands of workplaces- particularly for stage performers

Stage workplaces major demands on a singer’s body. Raked stages, very heavy or tight costumes, wigs, hats and high heels can all throw the alignment of the posture out and tense muscles involved in vocalisation. It can also mean the singer adjusts the position of their pelvis and neck. These adjustments may affect the singer’s capability for full breath capacity and best breath management (Staes, et al., 2011). Vocal massage used as a preventative measure to help a build-up of tension may help bring more balance back to the body and keep a voice fresh and healthy.

A study examining the effectiveness of Vocal Massage in relation to Reflux

While much more research needs to be undertaken, in a recent study by Gaelyn Garrett, M.D., and Duke researcher Seth Cohen, M.D. at the Vanderbilt Voice Institute (Cohen & Garrett, 2008) it was found that around 67 per cent of patients who had hoarseness over a six-month period were either on reflux medication or had been prescribed reflux medication without improvement. Two-thirds of those patients improved with specialized manual therapy aimed at muscle tightness of the neck and throat. “Medical Director Gaelyn Garrett, M.D., and her staff of speech-language pathologists had previously treated the condition with voice therapy alone for the muscles around the larynx, which include the swallowing muscles. Some patients, however, did not respond to only doing voice therapy.” “In these people who weren’t responding, we started asking a lot of questions about their daily habits and we started realizing that people talk on the phone and it affects their posture; people are at a computer and it affects their posture,” Garrett said. It was also found that typically these patients had experienced some kind of physical or emotional trauma which had begun a process of excess tension throughout the body “… they were in a car wreck, they went through a divorce, they had back surgery” (Cohen & Garrett, 2008). Cohen and Garrett (2008) report how a more holistic view revealed other causes of tension: “And you start asking people, too, about where they focus stress and if they have any cervical spine issues, neck or shoulder issues, tension headaches. It all fell in place that if we address this whole musculoskeletal area, from the backup, it would help patients relax their voice,” she said. In conclusion, while anecdotally vocal massage helps certain patients and small studies have proven its effectiveness (Rubin, Lieberman, & Harris, 2000), more comprehensive studies are needed to establish the long-term effects and benefits, the type of patient it might help and how it might be best implemented in a multidisciplinary setting.

References

Arboleda, B. M. W., & Frederick, A. L. (2008). Considerations for maintenance of postural alignment for voice production. Journal of Voice, 22(1), 90-99.

Cardoso, R., Lumini-Oliveira, J., & Meneses, R. F. (2017). Associations between Posture, Voice, and Dysphonia: A Systematic Review. Journal of Voice.

Cohen, S. M., & Garrett, C. G. (2008). Hoarseness: is it really laryngopharyngeal reflux? The Laryngoscope, 118(2), 363-366.

da Cunha Pereira, G., de Oliveira Lemos, I., Gadenz, C. D., & Cassol, M. (2017). Effects of voice therapy on muscle tension dysphonia: a systematic literature review. Journal of Voice.

Dehqan, A., & Scherer, R. C. (2018). Positive Effects of Manual Circumlaryngeal Therapy in the Treatment of Muscle Tension Dysphonia (MTD): Long Term Treatment Outcomes. Journal of Voice.

Engel, R. M., & Vemulpad, S. (2007). The effect of combining manual therapy with exercise on the respiratory function of normal individuals: a randomized control trial. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 30(7), 509-513.

Kooijman, P. G. C., De Jong, F. I. C. R. S., Oudes, M. J., Huinck, W., Van Acht, H., & Graamans, K. (2005). Muscular tension and body posture in relation to voice handicap and voice quality in teachers with persistent voice complaints. Folia Phoniatrica et Logopaedica, 57(3), 134-147.

Rubin, J. S., Lieberman, J., & Harris, T. M. (2000). Laryngeal manipulation. Otolaryngologic Clinics of North America, 33(5), 1017-1034.

Staes, F. F., Jansen, L., Vilette, A., Coveliers, Y., Daniels, K., & Decoster, W. (2011). Physical therapy as a means to optimize posture and voice parameters in student classical singers: a case report. Journal of Voice, 25(3), e91-e101.


To contact Rachael about Vocal Massage please email her at rachael@vocalease.com.au

Rachael Cunningham is a Vocal Massage Therapist in Sydney. She is a qualified Remedial Massage therapist and has undertaken extensive training in myofascial techniques for the Neck, Jaw and Head and Vocal Massage. Rachael is also very aware of demands placed upon singers in the performing arts as she has sung in the chorus of Opera Australia for the past 20 years. Currently she is performing in Aida at the Sydney Opera House and is about to travel to China to tour with Madama Butterfly. Her website is www.vocaleasemassage.com.au


“Unless stated otherwise, this article represents only the views of the author and not the views of the AVA”

Manual of Singing Voice Rehabilitation

National Voice Meeting 2018 – Presenter Series #1

Leda ScearceHealing Voices

By Leda Scearce

Singing is a part of virtually every culture and is fundamental to our human experience.  In the United States, singing is enormously popular, as evidenced by the vast number of people engaged in all kinds of singing activities. Over 30 million Americans participate in choral singing alone (Chorus America, 2009).  Shows like The Voice, America’s Got Talent and American Idol illustrate how passionate we are about singing. From the amateur recreational singer to the elite celebrity, we sing as soloists and in ensembles, with instruments and a cappella, in classical and contemporary styles, on stage, in concert and in the shower.

Every person’s voice is unique and identifiable, and our voices can be a big part of our identity and how we see ourselves in the world.  This is especially true for singers, for whom the voice is not only intricately tied to self-image and self-esteem, but also may be a source of income and livelihood, creative expression, spiritual engagement, and quality of life. For a singer, a voice injury represents a crisis.  Because of the specialized needs of singers, it takes a team—including a laryngologist, speech-language pathologist, and singing voice rehabilitation specialist—to get a singer back on track following an injury or voice disorder.  Singing voice rehabilitation is a hybrid profession, requiring in-depth clinical and scientific knowledge married with excellence in teaching singing.

Voice problems are rarely isolated in etiology—usually, multiple factors converge to create an injury.  These factors may include poor vocal hygiene, inadequate vocal technique, an imbalance in vocal load and medical problems (allergies and reflux are common in singers, but thyroid, pulmonary, neurological and rheumatologic conditions are among the illnesses that may affect the voice).  The singing voice rehabilitation process must encompass all elements that may be contributing to the problem: medical factors, vocal hygiene, vocal coordination and conditioning, vocal pacing, and emotional factors.

Figure 1

Vocal Coordination and Conditioning

In the context of voice rehabilitation, the singer’s vocal technique may have contributed to the voice problem and/or may be compromised by the voice injury.  In many cases (particularly for CCM singers), the singer may have never received formal training or may have been trained with a classical methodology that does not align with his or her singing style (LoVetri & Weekly, 2003; Weekly & LoVetri, 2009).  The singing voice rehabilitation specialist must design a rehabilitation exercise protocol that promotes optimal coordination of voicing subsystems to appropriately compensate for and promote resolution of the injury while ensuring the singer achieves and maintains adequate vocal conditioning, all in a manner that is consistent with the physiological and acoustic characteristics of the singer’s style.  Thus, the exercise regimen for a rock singer will be different than for an operatic singer.

An effective singing rehabilitation design goes far beyond what is necessary for building technique in a healthy instrument—it requires deep scientific and clinical knowledge to understand the differential impact of various vocal injuries on the structure, function and interaction of voicing subsystems. The rehabilitation protocol must be customized to singing style and underlying injury.  The difference in the exercise regimen for a singer with vocal nodules vs. vocal fold atrophy may be subtle but can have significant impact on the successful outcome of the intervention.

While thorough scientific and clinical preparation is indispensable, it is equally important that the singing voice rehabilitation specialist be an accomplished teacher of singing.  One must be competent in training healthy singers before delving into the more complex endeavour of interacting with an injured instrument (NCVS, 2013).  Ideally, the vocal exercise regimen should encompass the voice holistically—both speaking and singing.

Vocal Pacing

Vocal pacing refers to achieving balance in the amount, type and intensity of voice use.  This is an area that is sometimes overlooked or under-emphasized not only in singing voice rehabilitation but also in the realm of voice habilitation (the enhancement or development of technique in healthy voices).  Optimizing vocal pacing is of critical importance both for achieving and restoring vocal health, and may be a major component of the singing voice rehabilitation plan.  The singing voice rehabilitation specialist can collaborate with the singer to develop strategies for bringing voice use into balance that may include:

  • Prioritizing vocal activities and unloading or reducing those that are less important.
  • Documenting voice use to identify where the vocal load is out of balance and where there are opportunities for improving balance.
  • Planning amount and intensity of voice use in advance, scheduling periods of voice rest (especially when rehearsal and performance demands are high) and strategic planning for efficient practice time.
  • Effective use of amplification, both for singing and speaking.

In some cases, optimizing vocal pacing may mean increasing voice use on a day-to-day basis to “smooth out” the overall vocal load, as for the “weekend warrior” in a garage band or choral singer preparing for a concert.  In either situation, the singer may be engaging in extremely intense voice use episodically without getting regular vocal exercise in between.

Emotional Factors

Many singers have a strong emotional reaction to experiencing a voice problem which arises not only out of concern about the implications for continuing performing but due to long-held and misguided beliefs in the singing culture that voice injuries are the fault of the singer and that singers who experience voice problems are “damaged goods.”  The singer may undergo emotional ups and downs throughout the rehabilitation process, especially if performance has been curtailed or when financial or academic success is jeopardized by the voice problem.  In addition to the physical injury, many singers sustain an “injury of confidence” that can linger after the injury has resolved.  Throughout the rehabilitation process, the singing voice rehabilitation specialist must be mindful of and sensitive to the emotional experience of the singer and interact in a compassionate and supportive manner.

The Singing Voice Rehabilitation Package

All of these factors—medical, behavioural and emotional—must be appropriately addressed through collaboration of the voice care team to guide the singer back to a state of vocal health and wellbeing.  Obviously, singing voice rehabilitation is a complex and multi-faceted process, requiring knowledge and experience that span art and science.  Manual of Singing Voice Rehabilitation: A Practical Approach to Vocal Health and Wellness has been developed to guide the singing voice rehabilitation specialist in developing and executing effective, efficient rehabilitation plans that are customized to each individual singer, encompassing all relevant factors, so that singers are empowered to return to a state of vocal wellness and the joy of singing.

Originally published in the Plural Publishing Community Newsletter, April 2016.

Leda combines her extensive performance experience as a classical Soprano with her roles as a speech-language pathologist and voice teacher. She has worked as a voice teacher for over 30 years, serving on the artist faculties of Bowling Green State University, Meredith College, Brigham Young University of Hawaii and the University of Southern Maine.  In 2004, she obtained a Master of Science degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Boston University. As a graduate SLP student, she completed an internship in voice disorders and voice rehabilitation for the performing voice at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston. She is currently Clinical Singing Voice Specialist, Clinical Associate Faculty and Director of Performing Voice Programs and Development at the Duke Voice Care Center and Duke University School of Medicine, where she provides rehabilitation therapy to singers, actors and other vocal performers with voice injuries. Leda is the author of Singing Voice Rehabilitation: A Practical Approach to Vocal Health and Wellness, published by Plural, Inc.

You can find Leda’s book Singing Voice Rehabilitation: A Practical Approach to Vocal Health and Wellness, published by Plural, Inc. via this link:

http://pluralpublishing.com/publication_msvr.htm

To register for the AVA National Voice Meeting and AGM 2018 click here:

https://www.australianvoiceassociation.com.au/product/voice-on-the-road-to-recovery/

References:

  • Chorus America. (2009). The Chorus Impact Study. Washington, DC. Retrieved December 5, 2015, from https://www.chorusamerica.org/advocacy-research/chorus-impact-study
  • LoVetri, J., & Weekly, E. M. (2003). Contemporary commercial music (CCM) survey: Who’s teaching what in non-classical music. Journal of Voice, 17(2), 207–215.
  • National Center for Voice and Speech (NCVS). (2013). NCVS Symposium on Specialty Training in Vocal Health Summary Report; April 25–26, 2013, Salt Lake City, UT. Retrieved from http://www.ncvs.org/STVH_Summary_Report_2013.pdf
  • Weekly, E. M., & LoVetri, J. (2009). Follow-up contemporary commercial music (CCM) survey: Who’s teaching what in non-classical music. Journal of Voice, 23(3), 367–375.

“Unless stated otherwise, this article represents only the views of the author and not the views of the AVA”

woman texting

Posture and how it affects your speech

How many times has someone advised you to stand up/sit up straight, so that you sound better?

Or received some comment about your posture?

This article is not about body language, or how to stand when you are speaking per se.

I will be discussing how our posture affects us all overall and how our daily habits interfere with our voice! Strange isn’t it. You will be thinking, how does my habit affect my speaking?

Habit by definition, as quoted by F.M Alexander, “A habit is composed of a sequence of acts that follow upon some cue. It is a chain of neural events, with response in all our tissues.”

The way you hold your body, the way you hold your shoulders, your knees, and the way you hold your jaw…all of them impact how you are able to vocally express yourself. My favourite example is the way all of us use our phones or IT gadget. In today’s society, we are plugged in more often than not and get caught up with that task. Have you ever wondered what that posture does for your voice?

Often, we get so engrossed in reading/replying sot our head falls right forwards and we don’t even realize how much strain we are putting on our neck and shoulders! When the head is pushed forwards for constant periods of time, either when sitting or standing, the larynx (voice box area) is not free to move as it can, and the voice cannot function smoothly.

woman texting

When we stand or sit without stiffening our muscles, we are well balanced and coordinated, and send out a clear strong signal. Below are some habitual patterns people have when standing. Which one are you?

  1. Over-arching back: Most of us have been advised to sit up straight/stand up straight or to stand properly. As a response, we subconsciously lift our sternum/chest, and throw our shoulders back and tilt pelvis forwards. This ‘straightness’ will be followed by overly tense muscles of the torso

  2. Stiffening of neck and throat: One of the biggest tendencies for singers and speakers is to stiffen the neck and throat muscles. Have you ever seen someone’s neck with their muscles bulging out when they speak? The breathing airway is affected when we constrict muscles in hour head/neck region.

  3. TMJ problems: TMJ joint simply refers to the joint where your jaw is fixed.  There is a close relationship between stiff necks and tense TMJ joints. Do you speak with minimal jaw movement, and hardly open your mouth? Do you have pain at your TMJ joints? Pay attention to your jaw

  4. Knee-lockers: Sometimes when you try to stand up straight, and ground yourself, you inadvertently lock your knees. Now, why is that a problem? Locked knees mean excess tension in hip joints, which interferes with range of arm movements, which tightens neck and throat muscles and makes your voice work harder than it needs to!

  5. Stiffening of the rib cage: This happens when the ribs are held very still, with no lateral expansion. In this position, the person holds the rib cage up and out after practising deep inhalation. The diaphragm moves, however the ribs do not move laterally ( sideways)

  6. Overworking the facial muscles: Singers, actors and public speakers often consciously or subconsciously over work the facial muscles, when they try to articulate the specific vowel or consonant sounds. Overdoing articulation means you are holding some part of your face too effortfully. Be it your: lips, tongue, eyebrows etc

A great way to start noticing your posture, and where you hold excessive tension, is to lie down comfortably, in a safe space with your knees up. Choose any sound, and make that sound. Notice which part of your body stiffens/tenses or simply works too hard when you make that sound. You can even practice with a few simple sentences or if you are really stuck, sing “ Happy Birthday” when you are lying down.


“Unless stated otherwise, this article represents only the views of the author and not the views of the AVA”

Thila Raja is a Speech Pathologist, who specializes in voice training. She helps people recognize their vocal skills and express themselves clearly. Thila loves helping professionals communicate to their best. Find more from Thila here: www.speakforlife.com.au

Loud Noise

Anxiety and its Affects on the Auditory and Vocal Apparatus

Anxiety is such a fascinating topic and one that with each passing year I get more and more passionate about.

As a Somatic Educator working with dancers at The Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (and in the professional arena) for over 15 years it was only recently that I began working across the voice and music departments as well. When I made that shift I was immediately struck with how my knowledge slipped even more perfectly into this area, particularly for the voice students.

Evolutionarily the voice is one of our most precious assets for communication and, in times of need, protection. We whisper, laugh, cry, sing, gasp, shout and scream in relation to the needs of the moment.

As a singer, teacher or performer we use our voice to communicate each day and yet at times, our voice can fail us, particularly when the stakes are high, or when we’re so frightened or overwhelmed we literally cannot speak.

Everyone has a unique response to stress, anxiety and fright, which is essentially our response to danger or perceived danger. While speaking or singing may be one of our greatest loves, performing in front of a group of strangers can initially be an anxiety-inducing experience – biologically strangers are a threat!

Our physiological response to danger goes back to a primitive reflex called the Moro Reflex, which becomes our Adult Startle Reflex. This reflex goes on to underpin our fight, flight and freeze responses.

The Startle Reflex is elicited by 2 very specific stimuli:

  1. A sudden loss of support (falling) and, interestingly for musicians

  2. A sudden noise over 80 decibels (like speaker feedback!)

In response to danger, or perceived danger, our autonomic nervous system orchestrates a whole series of changes to our breathing, heart rate, muscle activation and vocalisation to meet the challenge of the moment and we experience our personal variations of the flight, fight and freeze responses.

One of the major nerves to control these changes is the Vagus nerve or 10th Cranial nerve. It travels the longest distance of any nerve of the autonomic nervous system and extends to include the mouth, tongue, larynx, heart, lungs and digestive organs.

Major Nerves

Just looking at that list you can see clearly how stress, anxiety and fright would have a profound affect on vocal performance.

The saying “I have a frog in my throat” relates to these physiological changes and while our biology may be assisting us to be ultra quiet (or ultra loud) in times of danger this is not helpful when the perceived danger is our joy – singing and speaking.

You may recognise some of these common experiences

  • Dry mouth

  • Rising pitch

  • Quickening speech/song

  • Tension or constriction of the vocal cords

  • Tension in the jaw and tongue

  • Lump/Frog in the throat

  • Raspy voice

  • Loss of breath

  • Quietening voice

  • Loss of voice entirely

Each one of these changes can be traced back to a biological purpose, but when it comes to singing and speaking, most of these do not assist!

To compound matters, unless you have developed your skills for optimizing performance under pressure, awareness of these physical changes can perpetuate the experience – your physiology confirming your anxiety – and an awful anxiety loop begins.

So having cast our attention briefly over the biology and physiology what are some simple things we can do to prepare for a great performance.

CONSIDER THE NOISES

  • Take time to listen and get familiar with the unique noises of the venue
  • Eliminate unnecessary noise where possible
  • Make sure you are happy with your earpiece if you’re wearing one
  • Check the volume and placement of the fallback speakers
  • Take time out in a quiet place before the show
  • Resist talking/listening to people who make you anxious
  • If you notice a problem with sound ask the sound desk to adjust asap

SOOTH THE VOCAL APPARATUS

  • Sip lukewarm drinks like herbal tea. (Some people prefer a cool drink but lukewarm drinks are more gentle on the cords. Alcohol is a natural relaxant but this is not always a good long-term choice.)
  • Place a hand on your throat. Feel the warmth and softness of your hand. Take a few breaths like this.
  • Place a pen lengthways in your mouth to stimulate the smile reflex, particularly if you now reflect on how silly you now look J
  • Use the tongue to gently feel the inside of your gums, teeth and lips, as if tasting the remanent sweetness of a past dessert. Lick right around to the back of the teeth and over the lips too.
  • Yawn, even if you fake it to start, to release the jaw and quieten the nervous system.
  • Do a gentle lions tongue pose or hakka face, with the tongue hanging out fat and full.
  • Make gentle soothing sounds like sighing, ahhhhing, hmmmming

Anxiety is a whole body/brain/mind experience and when we create change in one area we see changes in the whole experience. Pick one or two of the ideas above and see how they work for you.

If this kind of work interests you there are many wonderful Somatic Educators. Consider methods like Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique and Linklater and seek help from a practitioner who can give you specific homework. Practicing in the comfort of your home, without stress or anxiety, makes it much easier to access when you need it most! And if you feel that your experience of anxiety is particularly challenging seek out a Somatic Educator who specialises in anxiety.

If you would like to work specifically with me I have a private practice in West Perth and I provide Skype sessions for clients outside of Perth, WA.

And be sure to look out for my follow up article “Anxiety, Posture and Your Ability to Stay Grounded” in the coming months.


“Unless stated otherwise, this article represents only the views of the author and not the views of the AVA”

Molly Tipping is a Somatic Educator, Feldenkrais Practitioner and Pilates Instructor specialising in performance and anxiety. Molly has been working with performing artists for the over 15 years and currently runs a private practice in West Perth and lecturers at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (in the Dance and Music Departments). Molly also runs trainings for the Feldenkrais Guild of Australia, The Pilates Method Association and The Royal Academy of Dance and is the co-producer of Move Over Anxiety, an audio program currently on sale in Australia and The United States.

BodyMinded: Alexander Technique for Voice Professionals

The Alexander technique is known as a useful adjunct to training in vocal circles, however, while many people have heard about it, there is a lot of misconception. Today I hope to introduce how it works and how powerful it is when effectively applied.

To begin: Tasmanian actor overcomes his ‘hoarse voice sore throat’ problem.

F.M Alexander was a Tasmanian and an actor at a time when there was no amplification available.  After suffering a regular loss of voice while performing, he started a process of rigorous self-observation to find out what was going on.  He knew that the hoarseness and pain got worse when he performed, so it must have been related to HOW he was performing… but what was he doing?

Alexander’s solution came after a long process of experimentation, and he was surprised to discover that not only had he overcome his voice problem, he had developed a process that led to profound improvement in health and well-being.

Now 100+ years after his birth there are Alexander Technique teachers around the world, teaching people from all walks of life to find their optimal coordination.

So what did he discover?

Alexander found that natural good posture, essential to the good use of the voice, is dynamic and responsive, constantly moving, providing support against the force of gravity and organising the timing, sequencing and rhythm of the parts. While that cannot be ‘made to happen’ through effort, it can be ‘directed to happen’ naturally via conscious direction of your spatial sense…

Unfortunately for many, this dynamically balanced poise, ease and power are easily disturbed by habits of tension or collapse. Especially after years of training, or in response to stress, habits of interference can lead to a frustrating and ongoing struggle with vocal performance, as it did for Alexander.

Alexander said…
“You translate everything, whether physical, mental or spiritual, into muscular tension”

The Alexander Technique teaches people how to think about how they move, in the service of natural coordination, ease power and grace, especially while using the voice.

Try these activities:

  1. The Spatial Sense

Make a vocal sound of some kind, perhaps you are a singer and make an open sound or a non-singer and you just make an ‘AH’ sound for a second or two. Notice how it feels to make that sound… and what you are drawn to notice in your body.

Now consciously shift your attention to your head… that’s right, above your jaw, above your ear-level… up to your skull. Did you want to move it? You don’t have to move it, but you do want your head to be able to move easily… We are talking about ‘knowing where your head is in relation to your body’, that is, accessing your spatial sense consciously. Note that this is different from any direct idea of effort or movement per se. Now, while thinking of your head above your jaw, make your sound again. How was it different from the first time? What happens if you try this experiment while walking?

So, with this as the beginning let’s do the next experiment.

  1. The Direction of the Air

Alexander demonstrated that the sense we have of our own bodies and how we are moving is often inaccurate. We habituate to the way we normally feel, so changes are likely to feel strange, even wrong. With the voice, for example, it is not unusual to see people compressing down in their torso to make a sound, and it feels right to them to do so. In BodyMinded we teach people ‘conscious cooperation’ with their human design and with the physics of actions. You are probably familiar with how sound is made in the voice-box (larynx), by the movement of air up the windpipe (trachea). Have you ever consciously thought about this movement as you use your voice? Let’s combine the first exercise with the second… as you create your sound, think of the air going up to produce that sound. What happens to your voice as you do this? How does it feel?

  1. The Action Plan

Now we are going to add something about your desired sound. Perhaps you just made a sound at a volume that seemed easy and natural to you. What happens if you decide to double the volume? In Alexander’s case, he would immediately notice an increase in tension, a stiffening of his head on his neck, perhaps you even lifted your chin a little?

The way we carry out our actions is largely pre-determined by habits gained over our lifetime so far. When you add to your action plan… “I want it to be louder”, the changes that occur will depend on the idea you have of what you want and feeling of how it happens. In the BodyMinded process, we help you identify clearly, what you want, which sounds simple but can be surprising to explore.

Now we will build a ‘BodyMinded Instruction’ from these three parts… “I know I have a head, it moves easily over my spine, so I can think of air going up as I decide to make a louder sound”. Did the way you made the louder sound change?

The BodyMinded process teaches you how to generate instructions for yourself and others that are built from the relation between general or overall coordination; cooperation with human design; and a constructive action plan. Each part of this triumvirate can be ‘unpacked’ and explored over time, leading to a wonderful and effective set of dynamic tools for your own performance and your teaching.


“Unless stated otherwise, this article represents only the views of the author and not the views of the AVA”

Greg Holdaway is Director of BodyMinded: Sydney Alexander Technique, where he trains Alexander Technique teachers.  Greg has developed a unique professional training, BodyMinded which integrates up-to-date science and Alexander Technique principles for actionable practical skills for use with clients and students. www.alexandertechnique.com.au

7 habits that affect your voice

7 Habits that affect your Voice

What is the definition of a habit? It simply means a repetitive behaviour that occurs regularly, based on your subconscious mind. All of us have habits, and some of them can be classified as good or bad habits. Whatever the case, changing a habit requires conscious thought and a conscious choice. And, changing habits is never easy. How many times have we thought we need to stand up straighter, only to slump a few minutes later?

I often teach vocal hygiene habits, which include: adequate sleep, warmups, hydration, reduction in caffeine etc. However, I had hardly considered the impact of postural habits till I learnt Body Mindedness, which follows the principles of the  Alexander Technique. Sure, I was aware of the usual stand up straight, reduced tension in larynx etc, however, I discovered loads more.  In this article, I will discuss the habits we use when we speak or sing, and how they can be detrimental to the human voice. These are based on the principles of the Alexander Technique, and research is quoted from, “Voice and the Alexander Technique”, Jane R Heirich, 2005.

1) Habits from too little muscular effort: The postural slump

This is the most common form of posture seen, especially when people work at computers, head forward, shoulders slumped and rounded back. This collapsing of physical structure results in low muscle tone and in turn, downward direction of the voice.

2) Over-arched back

Most of us have been taught to stand up straight in order to sing or speak well. Best intentions aside, that may result in an exaggerated lumbar curve, lifting of the sternum, shoulders back, as well as pelvis forward.

3) Stiffened neck and throat

One of the most prevalent tendencies when singing or speaking is when the neck muscles are overused and stiffened.  When the head neck muscles are stiffened, they result in TMJ problems. A habitually clenched jaw usually results from a habitual clenching of the head neck muscles.

4) Knee-locking habit – which results from a stiffened torso.

Sometimes, singers and speakers have been advised to ground themselves and grip the floor, and hence grip the floor with their toes, which invariably lock their knees and disallows a free voice. When not on stage or performing, this overused pattern of knee locking may start off as lower back pain.

5) Rib reserve

Any stiffening of the rib cage muscles alters our breathing. Classically trained singers are usually trained on rib reserve, where they hold their rib cage up and out after a deep inhalation, and maintaining that posture whilst singing. The diaphragm moves up, however rib cage hardly moves laterally. Rib cage flexibility is required for the singer to utilise his full vocal range.

6) Facial muscles

Speakers and singers usually learn to over-articulate vowels and consonants, in order to be articulate. The problem occurs when the singer puts in too much muscular energy in saying consonants which interferes with their vocal range. Vowels carry the element of sound and tone, hence it is worth practising saying vowels effortlessly, rather than too much energy on articulating consonants. Some teachers request their students to sing with a smile, which distorts the intended vowel sound. A good way to instruct would be to use their inner smile, or smile with their eyes when singing.

7) Talking with the whole body

In addition to using all of the excess work described above, some speakers/singers use other parts of their body when talking. Eg:  tightening shoulder girdle, holding elbows tightly when making a sound.

In conclusion, each and every one of us has different habitual ways of standing, sitting, walking, when we are not performing ( Singing or public speaking). These habitual patterns of posture then creep in, when we are singing or speaking. Habits are subconscious and we hardly notice them, till something affects our performance.

The best way to check your posture would be to stand in front of the mirror and go through those pointers. If you are unsure, you are most welcome to drop me a line or speak to an Alexander Technique practitioner, who can steer you in the correct direction.


“Unless stated otherwise, this article represents only the views of the author and not the views of the AVA”

Thila Raja is a Speech Pathologist, who specializes in voice training. She helps people recognize their vocal skills and express themselves clearly. Thila loves helping professionals communicate to their best.

Top ten tips to a healthy voice

  • Use your voice well!  Learn to optimize healthy voice  production.  If you do a lot of talking  or singing, learn to produce voice well – without strain or damage.
  • Keep your voice hydrated! Adequate  hydration is very important for healthy voice and vocal folds.  Drink at least 2 – 3 litres of water per day. Steaming helps vocal wellness.
  • Warm up your voice! (As you  would the rest of your body) if you’re going to embark on prolonged talking or  singing – e.g. Teacher, Minister of Religion or Call Centre Operator.
  • Be wary talking or singing above background  noise!  This can strain your voice so you need to recognize and avoid high voice risk situations.
  • Don’t smoke and avoid smoky environments!
  • Don’t repeatedly clear your throat and avoid coughing excessively! These activities damage your voice.
  • Consider using amplification (microphone or megaphone) where loud voice is necessary.
  • Certain medications and drinks can dehydrate your voice. These include antihistamines, cold and flu medications,  coffee and alcohol. Take these into account when talking or singing.
  • Don’t scream or shout! Using loud voice without damage requires special skills. If you have to use loud voice, get specialist training from a Voice Teacher or Speech Pathologist.
  • Especially look after your voice during  allergies and upper respiratory tract infections!  Your voice is more  susceptible to damage at these times.

Remember  it’s important to seek evaluation and advice from an Ear, Nose and Throat  Specialist if your voice is hoarse or  husky for more than a few weeks, particularly if you smoke or don’t have cold  symptoms.