Singing Article

Ohhh...Say Can You Sing?

By: Mary Spremulli, MA, CCC-SLP

From time to time when working with a patient with voice changes from Parkinson's Disease (PD), I am asked if singing will help the speaking voice. The short answer would be, "yes," in that singing can provide an opportunity to use the respiratory and voice muscles in a fun, and sometimes vigorous way. But, performance of one skill does not necessarily predict success with another, and just as some folks with PD can dance almost effortlessly yet still need a walker for stability during ambulation, the same may be true with singing and speaking. You may be able to power up your voice when doing choral singing, and still not be able to maintain adequate volume during conversational speech. This discrepancy between the singing and the speaking voice can occur with anyone, and in fact, I frequently work with professional singers who are having problems with their speaking voice, often due to misuse of the voice mechanism, poor or inadequate vocal warm-ups and training techniques, and/or medical problems which are affecting the respiratory and voice muscles.

Singing and speech do have some commonalities, as both are the result of the interactions of several body systems, including:

  • Breathing ( the power generator for the voice)
  • Oscillation or vibration of the vocal folds as the sound source, and 
  • The upper airway structures of the mouth, throat, and nasal cavity, which all work to provide resonance and projection. 
  • If breathing patterns are restricted or lung volumes reduced, breath support for voice will be reduced and the speaking and singing voice will reflect those limitations.
  • If the vocal folds are stiff, too far apart or too tight, the voice may be characterized as breathy, raspy, or strained.

If one speaks or sings with a mouth that is barely open, and with tongue, jaw, and facial muscles that are tense, the voice will project poorly and the effort to speak may be reported as symptoms of vocal fatigue.

Whether I am working with a singer who is experiencing some problems with voice use or an individual with voice changes due to Parkinson's Disease, I begin my assessment by observing technique. This includes and evaluation of: posture, breathing patterns, mouth opening ,vocal quality and expression.

Begin Your Own Voice Assessment At Home

Stand in front of a mirror and check your posture. Your posture should be like a fresh bouquet of flowers that have just been placed in a vase. Your head, like the petals, should be resting on a stem that is upright and straight.

Vocalize an "ah", then change the vowels to "ee" "i" "o" and finally "u". Hold each tone as long as you comfortably can. Slide up and down the scale with your voice. Change the position of your mouth and tongue and notice the effect on voice.

Inhale filling your lungs, then exhale just with making a "shh" noise. How easy does it feel for you to exhale? Are your abdominal muscles contracted (tight) and helping to support the breath? Are your shoulders and neck muscle relaxed?

Singing can be a wonderful and fun vocal activity for anyone, including persons with Parkinson's Disease, but it is a bit of an athletic activity, in that a demand is placed on the breathing and voice mechanism. Therefore, if you are having difficulty being understood when speaking , you should consider an assessment by a speech-language pathologist before embarking on singing. Improving your speaking voice may place you in a position to enjoy singing without risk of any injury or misuse.

This article was originally posted on Mary's blog. To learn more, visit her Website:  

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