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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 3, No. 5

The Throat Doctor: Vocal Function Exercises

by Françoise P. Chagnon and Ruth Gesser / February 1, 1998

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Vocal sound originates from a complex and dynamic interaction of various muscles throughout the body, and voice professionals may not be aware of the association between physical fitness and vocal health. The benefits of an exercise program are manifold: increased cardio-respiratory endurance, muscular strength, flexibility, and muscular coordination. A variety of exercises have been designed for vocal performers and singers. Attention should be given to posture alignment as well as to neck, shoulder, breathing and jaw exercises before focusing on the vocal muscles. A general exercise program, emphasizing endurance and flexibility, raises awareness of sites of muscular tension, maximizes airflow for breathing, and leads to a more efficient use of energy during speaking and singing.

The words "vocal function exercises" refer to a series of exercises designed to strengthen the laryngeal musculature and to balance airflow, muscular activity and supraglottic placement of tone. The series incorporates the principles of exercise physiology, e.g. it contains both isometric (static) and isotonic (dynamic) exercises.

Vocal function exercises consist of four steps :

1. Warm-up. Sustain /i/ as long as possible on a comfortable note.

2. Stretching. Glide from the lowest to the highest note in the frequency range, using /o/.

3. Contraction. Glide from the highest to the lowest note in the frequency range, again using /o/.

4. Adductory Power Exercises. Sustain the notes C, D, E, F, and G (still using /o/) as long as possible. Middle C for females, one octave below for males.

The exercises should be done twice in a row, as softly as possible, with easy onset and forward placement of tone. The optimum frequency is 5-6 times per week, with a 6-8 week program providing the greatest physiological improvement.

Regular, short periods of exercising are preferable to occasional long sessions. Although these exercises are designed to maintain a healthy voice and prevent problems, they should never be seen as a substitute for voice therapy. You should seek professional advice before starting on a vocal exercise program, especially in the presence of throat discomfort or a change in voice quality.

For further information regarding vocal function exercises, read "The Value of Vocal Function Exercises in the Practice Regimen of Singers", by Juliana Wrycza Sabol, Linda Lee and Joseph C. Stemple in the Journal of Voice, Volume 9, Number 1, 1995, pp. 27–36.

Ruth Gesser is the Speech Language Pathologist at the Montreal General Hospital

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