Areas of Practice
The Performer’s Voice
Singers and actors don’t just play their instruments, they are their instruments. The voice is undeniably the most sensitive and expressive instrument there is, but it also comes with the biggest price tag. Anything that affects the person—fatigue, stress, general health, environment—can affect the voice. So unlike other musicians, singers and actors can find their voices affected not only by performance but by the business of daily living. Whether you sing or act professionally or just do it for fun, you need specialized help if something goes wrong with your voice.
If you are having problems with your speaking voice or persistent problems with your singing voice, you should have your throat examined by an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor (Otolaryngologist) before undertaking voice therapy. This consultation is arranged through your family doctor and provides important information about your health—in particular the health of your vocal tract.
The Voice Assessment
Because so many things can affect vocal health, investigating a voice problem is a complex business.
A comprehensive evaluation gives a clear picture of what has caused the voice problem and what is necessary to fix it. A voice assessment generally includes 4 kinds of investigation:
- Voice use in performance and everyday life:
- relevant medical history
- vocal technique in speaking
- amount and kind of everyday voice use
- how vocal problems are affecting everyday life and performance
- general lifestyle and its impact on the voice
- amount of singing/acting/story-telling, etc. per day/week
- vocal technique in performance
- style of singing, nature of performance
- history of performing during illness
- performance anxiety and emotional connections with the voice
- performing in background noise. e.g., singing with amplified instruments, singing in a big choir
- extreme or extended voice use—screaming, character voices, etc.
- history of vocal training
- Vocal parameters: We evaluate the voice quality in everyday speech and performance and measure how long, high/low, loud/soft the voice will go.
- Vocal technique: We examine the vocal technique in everyday speech and performance.
- Diagnostic therapy: We try specific techniques to see if they effect an immediate change in how the voice feels or sounds.
This extensive evaluation gives a clear picture of vocal function and the basis of a plan for vocal rehabilitation.
Vocal Rehabilitation For Performers
The main focus is on voice therapy and specific vocal training to make the voice work better in everyday speech and performance. In this process, the speech-language pathologist acts as a consultant—teaching, guiding, supporting and encouraging. While a course of voice therapy usually lasts a number of weeks, improvement often continues long after the sessions have ended. In learning to care for your voice and produce it well, you gain valuable set of skills that continue to be of benefit as long as you use them.
Vocal rehabilitation may also include:
- changing lifestyle or voice-use habits
- making changes in performance, e.g., improving monitors, looking at specific difficulties in repertoire
- obtaining input from other specialists—singing teacher, speaking voice trainer, physiotherapist, psychiatrist/psychologist, etc.
Voice Therapy and Motor Learning
Like any physical skill, good vocal technique must be learned at a physical level. The speech-language pathologist is the coach, the performer is the athlete. You must feel what it’s like to produce your voice well. These physical sensations of “doing it right” are extremely important and give you a reference point later on, when you are in the middle of a complex activity like singing or acting.
To achieve this, we go back to the basics; we use techniques that produce a clear, easy, strong voice in simple sounds. Once the body “gets it” we begin to generalize, moving this good voice into speaking, singing or acting. As these efficient voice production habits become wired into your system, you become less vulnerable to everyday voice demands or the strains of anxiety or demanding repertoire.
Of course motor learning takes time—it is much slower than learning with the mind. Practice is essential. Because the body needs time to change habits, people often report their vocal technique continues to improve long after the voice therapy sessions are over.
Contact Shelagh for current fees. Extended medical benefits may cover some or all of the cost—you should check your plan for details under ‘speech therapy’ or ‘speech-language pathology’. ICBC and WCB may also cover therapy costs for related voice injuries or problems. For professional performers costs may be tax deductible.
What people have said about their voices and themselves:
Sometimes before warming up, I feel as if my voice could be hiding in my body, reluctant to start—as if it’s not a physical thing.
- Robyn, country singer
… and what you really will be pleased to know, is that I hardly ever thought about my voice all day; even in the crunch moments of rehearsal and filming, I was just fine, sounding good, having fun, enjoying singing, the feeling of it, the sound of it, EVERYTHING!!!!!!!!?
— Amy, actor-singer
You have to have confidence. When you have lost your confidence, you know you’re finished. If you don’t trust your body to do it anymore, how do you go on?
When I’m performing, if my body knows what to do, it’s smooth sailing.
- Sandra, soprano