The Age Factor: Determining the Early Stages of Menopause
Symptoms of menopause can occur as early as the late 40's or as late
as the mid 50's. Believe it or not, it is not over at 50, or 60,
or 70. Having
worked with singers in their 80's who were still singing well, it is
important to note correct vocalization is the most critical factor
in recovery and
in keeping the voice young.
As a male singer and teacher, it might seem presumptuous for me to
be writing about the female voice and menopause. Consider that there
is limited published
information written on the subject, especially material that focuses
on how to healthily vocalize as the voice goes through physical changes.
vocalization can minimize the negative effects of menopause just
as exercise of any other part of the body can help an individual
in shape during the
aging process. In my 30-year teaching career, I have taught many
singers between the ages of 50 and 60 who were dealing with menopause.
frustration can be overwhelming. I have found that working with singers
during this process can be psychologically challenging for them.
The instructor is working against the clock in trying to help the
voice heal before the
singer psychologically gives up. Not only do these singers need a
lot of psychological support, but also solid vocal tools that assist
from the vocal confusion caused by hormonal changes. Alan Lindquest
once made a comparison between menopause and the changing boy's voice
both situations deal with major hormonal changes in the body. These
changes demand drastic adjustments in how the voice is to be vocalized.
list outlines some of the vocal symptoms due to the menopausal process.
Some singers may suffer from all of the following, while others may
only have one or two. This list is to help a singer verbally identify
vocal difficulties brought on by this transition.
Vocal Symptoms of Menopause:
Voice becomes dry with less flexibility.
High range suffers because the upper passaggio becomes difficult
to negotiate. (This is due to incorrect vocalization of the middle
Break between the lower head voice and the chest register becomes
larger and more difficult to negotiate.
Low head voice loses color and can become weak.
Voice becomes pushed due to registration imbalance.
Larynx assumes a higher position in the middle voice, sometimes
accompanied by a large hole in the voice where the cords have become
bowed. This lack
of proper adduction of the folds creates insecurity in this range.
Chest voice becomes overly dark due to tongue pressure and the
use of the thicker vocal cord mass rather than the thin edges.
General hardness of tone. Rigidity due to laryngeal muscle tension,
often accompanied by a vocal wobble. The singer might also
report a general feeling of thickness in the voice.
Case Study #1: Soprano:
Approximately 3 years ago, a Soprano come to
my New York studio who was 57 years of age. She had sung as a Coloratura
in her youth, developed vocal problems due to lack of healthy
technique, and finally suffered loss of high range from menopause.
She was a superb
musician and in parts of the middle and chest registers you
could hear a beautiful color in the voice. However, this color did
not continue as
the singer went higher toward the upper passaggio and into
the higher range. The voice became strident and there was a tremendous
amount of tension
in the base of the tongue. This was accompanied by an unusually
high larynx position. What had once been the most beautiful and effortless
her voice had become difficult and challenging. She had lost
the entire range above the high C and was beginning to lose the high
C and even the
high B natural.
I immediately put her on Lindquest's cuperto exercise. This is the
tiny u vowel with the open throat space behind it. We worked on decreasing
breath pressure and making sure that the cuperto u felt
similar to an ng. In other words, the sound should be a pure tone
without any breathiness.
Within weeks this singer began to rediscover her high
B and C in the function she had before menopause. This was extremely
encouraging for her. She could
not sustain these pitches in the full voice for about
one year, but with time these notes began to function properly. She
regained the slight register
flip at the B natural, which took more weight out of
the high notes. Because this singer was an incredible musician and
loved repertoire so much, we
began to work on Schubert Songs. She had basically sung
everything, which made it difficult to find new repertoire that had
no old vocal habits.
Often we were re-working old repertoire from the beginning:
a frustrating yet necessary process.
Another much needed correction
was that of the tongue posture in the high range. The tongue tip
tended to lift up and back. This absolutely
healthy singing in the upper range. Working toward
arching the tongue more and using some French nasal sound in the upper
the root of the tongue
began to release.
About 9 months into the realignment process, this
singer re-discovered her high C-sharp and D within the cuperto function.
This marked the
beginning of the release
of the high range once again. Now, three years later, she
can sustain the high D and E-flat within the cuperto function. Because
the female voice drops slightly
after the menopausal process, we are now working on Lyric
Soprano repertoire. Today, this singer performs regularly and is
enjoying singing once again. This
is an example of how a singer can rediscover the upper range even after
Case Study #2: Mezzo Soprano:
Approximately 4 years ago, a Dramatic
Mezzo come to my studio who had been through the vocal changes due
to menopause. Although
a full-time professional singer, she had lost her fullness
of sound. The larynx was extremely high and the tongue root extremely
tense. She could no longer sustain
upper passaggio notes because of the high larynx position.
By the time she came to my studio, this singer suffered greatly from
feeling as though she had lost
her voice completely. In actuality, she simply needed to
re-train her voice to a healthier function. Some of the early work
was grueling and depressing, plus
she had developed a vocal wobble and a shaking solar plexus.
The voice was driven and had lost most of its color. Because of a lack
of proper vowel alteration,
the pharyngeal wall was closed into the back of the tongue,
so the result was little resonance or ring in the voice. Only in her
mid-fifties, she had lost
much of her vocal identity because the voice was so closed
down and dysfunctional. Of course the most difficult aspect is that
of working with the psychological
response. In such a case, it is critical that the instructor
be encouraging and supportive.
The cuperto function would take longer
for this singer, approximately 18 months. Finding the cuperto function
is dependent upon finding the
thin edge function
of the vocal folds. This takes longer to discover for
a dramatic voice. However, using the ng and the tiny u vowel in the
lower range established a basis for
taking this function higher later on in the training
process. While I was teaching in Europe she discovered the cuperto
function in the higher range. When I returned,
I was delighted to find that she could then vocalize
above the high C. It would then take about 6 more months to sustain
these notes in the high range in full
Today, this singer has re-established her professional
standing and has expanded one of the finest Dramatic Mezzo voices I
have ever taught.
What is exciting
to observe is the psychological release that comes
from releasing the voice. A singer's identity is connected with the act
of singing. When the voice is no
longer healthy, this vocal self-esteem suffers. The
for this singer was indeed a happy one.
Case Study #3: Mezzo-Soprano:
While teaching in London, I had the
opportunity to work with an excellent Mezzo-Soprano who is now age
72. She has had a career
as a music teacher and has carefully vocalized her
voice through the years. I started her on exercises 4 and 5 in the
list in order to release any
holding in the larynx. Because the yodel function makes
the tongue release, this allows for more throat space to drop open.
The next exercise is designed to bring
the head register as low as possible blending the voice
from the top downward. This singer was in good condition partly because
she never stopped vocalizing
during the process of menopause. She also never pushed
her voice with too much breath pressure, so the muscles were relatively
flexible. This is a critical
point. When singers stop singing during the process
of menopause, the muscles literally atrophy from lack of proper exercise.
The most important point for
any singer is to keep vocalizing healthily during this
process. Proper exercise is the only way to regain lost agility in
the laryngeal muscles, therefore making
it possible for a singer to rediscover lost function.
Case Study #4: Coloratura Soprano:
the Coloratura Soprano to suffer the most during the menopausal process.
years ago I had a professional
(Coloratura Soprano) singer come to my studio who
had been trained on the cuperto function originally. However after
of singing in different acoustical environments,
she had lost that function, primarily through spreading
the voice too much. Menopause simply magnified the problems further,
robbing this singer of the range above
the high C. The high C and B natural were brittle
and hard with little vibrato. There was a large hole in the middle
(low head voice range) due to the
bowing of the vocal cords. This made the break between
lower head voice and the chest register quite large. Over the first
year, we were able to re-establish
the cuperto function (tiny u vowel with open acoustical
space) and the high range began to recover. Into the second year
of the realignment process, she was able
to rehabilitate the middle register through the use
of the Garcia 'coup de glotte', an exercise that must be taught
with extreme care. Recently this singer performed
at Lincoln Center as a soloist. Her dream of vocal
recovery had become a reality in approximately 2 and 1/2 years.
Note: Two of these case study singers were advised by their doctors
to discontinue hormone replacement therapy. Their
greatest fear was the loss
of the vocal range from the hormonal changes. Healthy
vocal exercise was the single factor that restored their voices
to a youthful former production. Both
singers are now singing well as soloists.
Critical Exercises for the Menopausal or Post-Menopausal Singer
(1) 1..2..3..2..1..2..3..2..1 (breath) 8..7..6..5..4..3..2..1
(Tongue out over the lower lip for the ae as in 'apple' in the
beginning 3-tone scale. This is a chest voice scale. Then within
the descending scale us the small
'u' with jaw slightly down and back to insure proper adduction
of the folds.)
Lu Lu Lu Lu Lu Lu Lu Lu Lu Lu Lu Lu Lu
(Start sequence with 2 sets of 16th notes, then descending 5-tone
scale on 8th notes. Use this exercise in the middle register.)
(Staccato 'i' on the repeated beginning notes, then legato on the
ascending 5-tone scale. This exercise is designed to get to the thin
edges of the vocal folds.
The singer must image simply touching the
finest point of the folds on the staccato section.)
(One-octave yodel allowing the voice to crack across the register
break between chest and head registers.
This exercise must be immediately followed by exercise #5 in
order to strengthen the middle register.)
i . . . . .
. . . .
(Rounded 'i' vowel bringing head register as low as possible. Start
in the upper middle register. This
exercise should immediately follow exercise #4.)
These exercises have been listed
because they have proven to
be extremely helpful in reducing the effects of menopause.
While they have proven over the years to
be helpful, it is important to
remember that every exercise does not work for every singer.
Anyone trying these exercises needs to be careful to approach
with great concentration. Remember
that the jaw needs to be slightly down and back. The back position
of the jaw allows for a lower larynx position, a critical
factor in the re-strengthening
of the middle register. The vocal cords will not approximate
correctly if the larynx is too high in the middle register.
(See article on "Understanding Middle
contained in this article are included in David Jones' instructional
CD, "An Introductory Lesson with David Jones",
available for purchase on the homepage at www.voiceteacher.com.
(c) David L. Jones/2004