Back when I was analysing my results for my master's dissertation - Menopause: The effects on the ageing female classical singer - two things jumped out at me:
It didn’t matter whether the singer classified themselves as professional or amateur, both could identify changes in their voices as they went through perimenopause and menopause. Whether that was difficulties with the upper or lower range, breath management, projection, stamina, changes in vibrato, loss of flexibility and agility etc.
40% of professional singers and 59% of amateur singers were not taking singing lessons and, more shockingly, 53% of amateur signers said that they were not practising between rehearsals.
Intrigued by these results I wanted to continue my research. I wanted to find out the reasons why midlife singers were not taking singing lessons, AND not practising between rehearsals.
What I’ve learnt from these interviews so far is that each woman I spoke to admitted that despite extensive vocal knowledge (being singers, singing teachers, or speech therapists) they were either misdiagnosing their vocal problems or unable to solve the problem themselves. The solution, they said, was a third party perspective and guidance.
But the BEST part of these interviews is that all interviewees reported that their problems were overcome and that they felt that they are singing better than ever before.
Hi, I'm Rebecca! And I truly love everything about the art, science, and teaching of singing. If you're looking to build an effective and healthier singing technique so that you can sing with more ease and confidence, then you're in the right place! Here's a few other blog posts you might also like to read:
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If you’ve read Singing through Change: Women’s Voice in Midlife, Menopause, and Beyond by Nancy Bos, Joanne Bozeman, and Cate Frazier-Neely or my book review of the same, there’s no one size fits all approach when it comes to vocal changes and menopause. Each singer’s experiences different challenges and finds different approaches that work for them.
But there are 3 common problems midlife women experience during perimenopause and menopause. Let’s take a look...
1 | HOARSENESS
We all experience hoarseness from time to time.
Hoarseness doesn’t just happen to midlife women and can be the result of multiple causes. It could be that you have overused your voice, you’re dehydrated, your environment (air conditioning/heating), medication your taking, and/or allergies.
>>Related<< Are you abusing your voice (and don't know about it)
BUT perhaps it's important to note that during perimenopause and menopause some women experience dry mouth and dry throat, which leads to hoarseness.
This is because the number of glands that produce mucus reduces as we age and making your mouth and throat feel dry. This can then be made worse by your environment, medications, and/or allergies.
For your vocal health, it’s important to stay hydrated. If you’re unsure whether your hydrated enough, use my hydration tracker to help you monitor your fluid intake for a week or, if it’s your environment, try to keep your it humid. Placing a bowl of water in the room is a great little trick!
BUT not all cases of hoarseness are voice related. Another reason you could be suffering from hoarseness is silent reflux.
Silent reflux is quite a common condition in midlife women and can easily go undiagnosed.
Other symptoms associated with silent reflux are; coughing; nasal or sinus drainage; feeling like there’s a lump in your throat; thick mucus; and asthma.
If you know you suffer from reflux or you suspect that you are suffering from reflux, you will need to seek help from a doctor. In most cases, doctors will prescribe medication and suggest lifestyle and/or dietary changes. You may even want to consult a nutritionist to help you identify the foods that irritate your condition.
Do mention to your doctor/nutritionist that you’re a singer. And take time to rest your voice and allow it to recover. Generally speaking, it can take two weeks for the vocal cords to heal. For resting your voice, see my Singer’s Guide to Vocal Reset.
2 | LOSS OF BREATH SUPPORT
Like I say to all my students, learning to breathe properly for singing is hands down, the best thing you can do for your voice.
All the years I’ve been teaching, I’ve only had one student walk in my door that already knew how to properly breathe. If you want to know how to breathe properly, see my article How to Breathe for Singing.
So, when I’m talking about the loss of breath support I’m talking about having that full feeling in your tummy almost as you’ve eaten too much. Not to be confused with breath control which is something slightly different.
As we age two things happen.
Our muscles atrophy and lose mass and strength. This includes our core muscles which are responsible for both good postural habits as well as breathing.
We start to see gradual changes in the respiratory system. The cartilages of the ribs ossify, which loses elasticity, lung tissue becomes less pliable and lung capacity reduces.
These equal loss of breath support BUT there are a few things you can do to prevent loss and rebuild your breath support.
Seek help from a singing teacher who can help you develop a proper breathing technique. This sets you off on the right foot.
Do regular physical exercise that will help you increase your lung capacity, like walking, running, swimming, and cycling. See my Singer’s Guide to Aerobic Exercise to get started.
Work on your core muscles. Yoga, pilates, and Tai Chi are great for building core strength as well as releasing tension.
Alternatively, Alexander Technique lessons can address both postural and breathing habits and help you form better habits. A while back, I wrote an article about how the Alexander Technique was the unsung hero of good singing. You’ll find that article here.
3 | REDUCED FLEXIBILITY
As we age, like the rest of the body, the vocal cords lose strength and vocal flexibility and agility can be compromised.
The result of reduced flexibility can present itself as loss of ease through your range, or if the vocal folds cannot come together properly, it could result in a breathy and weak tone and loss of overall projection.
In some cases where the vocal cords cannot make contact as they should and the voice requires the specialist skills of a speech therapist who can help you regain strength in your voice.
But you can reduce the effects of loss of flexibility and agility during midlife by consistently exercising your voice properly.
Ideally, you should seek guidance from a singing teacher who will help you select exercises and demonstrate how to do them properly.
BUT I should point out that there is no agreed way to exercising the voice - this is down to teacher preference and what works best for you and your voice. This may take some experimenting but here’s what I like to do:
I practise 5 times per week. I don’t practice on Sunday and Monday - this is my weekend. Now ideally you don’t really want to take two rest days together but to compensate for this, Tuesdays are what I call my intense vocal work out day. Tuesdays are purely dedicated to vocal exercises. I’m not only preparing my voice for the week’s repertoire practice and teaching but I'm also checking in and refining my vocal technique.
I do 10-minutes of exercises, rest for about an hour, and then do another 10-minutes of exercises. I do this all day. This isn’t overusing my voice because the vocal activity is short with long rests in between.
I start with very simple vocal exercises that are working my middle voice. Once I'm happy that the middle voice is performing where it should be, I will then, and only then, work my upper and lower registers.
The rest of the week is a combination of vocal exercises and song practice.
I NEVER practise or teach without exercising my voice first.
There is a common misconception that vocal exercises are just to warm the voice up, and yes they do, but it’s the intentional exercising of the voice and using the right exercises that help it keep in shape.
If you’re a midlife singer you may find that you need to exercise your voice longer and more often. I have worked with "mature" students that need to exercise their voices for short periods every day and others that can take rest days with little effect. Everyone is different.
BONUS TIP | A great way to overcome vocal changes is through journaling and symptom tracking. Keeping track of your symptoms and anything you do will help you identify what agitates a problem, and helps.
Knowledge of menopause and the effects on the voice are still developing. Every woman's journey is slightly different BUT voice changes doesn’t mean you have to stop singing or change genres or voice types.
I hope this article has shown you that if you’re experiencing vocal changes during midlife it encourages you that there is something you can do about it. You just have to want to take action.
Now it’s down to you! What action will you take?
And don't forget to grab your freebie:
The Ultimate Vocal Health Guide
- a 14-day plan to help you improve your voice!
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