Because of the physical demands placed on their voices, singers are at risk for vocal injuries. Injuries can result in pain or discomfort when singing or talking, or difficulty in controlling the volume, pitch or quality of the voice. Singing-voice therapy improves the health, function, quality and stamina of the voice. It is performed by singing-voice specialists, who are licensed speech pathologists focusing primarily on rehabilitating singers' voices, and who work in conjunction with physicians and voice coaches.
Benefits of Singing-Voice Therapy
Singing-voice therapy is not only for singers; public speakers and other professionals who place demands on their voices can benefit. A singing-voice specialist can do the following:
- Reverse vocal-cord damage
- Correct poor technique
- Teach proper vocal hygiene
A singer who is taught proper vocal hygiene learns how to keep better hydrated, and how to manage medical conditions, such as asthma or allergies, that often affect the voice.
Evaluation of the Singing Voice
A performer is typically evaluated by a singing-voice specialist, as well as a laryngologist who specializes in treating performers. A singing-voice assessment takes into account the vocal demands placed on a performer, as well as his or her:
- Style of singing
- Vocal technique
- Performance schedule
- Performance environment
"Performance environment" takes into account, among other things, the air quality and acoustics of the area in which the performer is singing.
A physical assessment of the performer is also made. A medical history, which includes information about the onset of symptoms, previous treatments and evaluations, and pain levels, is taken. Upper-digestive-tract symptoms, if any, will be assessed:
- Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
- Trouble breathing
- Globus sensation (lump in the throat)
Once an evaluation is complete, an individually tailored therapy plan is created and discussed with the performer. If further medical or surgical treatment is necessary, it is completed prior to beginning voice therapy.
Types of Singing-Voice Therapy
Voice rehabilitation is the primary form of singing-voice therapy. It encompasses the development of a customized vocal-exercise regimen, and training in singing and speaking efficiently. Physiology-based vocal-function exercises (VFEs), which have been shown to be effective for singers, use exercise to achieve vocal stamina and strength. VFEs, which are performed twice a day for 6 weeks, include the following:
- Vocal warmup
- Maximal pitch glides (high-to-low and low-to-high)
- Maximal vowel prolongations at selected pitches
If surgery is required, as it may be if benign lesions are causing vocal problems, post-operative voice therapy is an essential form of rehabilitation. Following surgery, voice rest, usually for 2 weeks, is recommended. A performer should return to active singing only after an exam confirms sufficient healing, and only under the supervision of a voice therapist.