More and more, I work with men and women who are aging and experiencing a loss in their vocal capacity. With many women, they find their voice gets lower and they lose their high range. With men, they lose their high voice or falsetto. And in general, the speaking or singing voice can become more disrupted with cracks and pops, dry and brittle. It can also get softer and less powerful.
Use It Or Lose It — Because your body is the instrument or vessel for your voice, keeping your breathing healthy and full and your body strong, is key for the aging voice. If we let ourselves become sedentary, giving into the weight of gravity, hunching over, limiting our breath capacity and so on, we pull the voice down with us.
With life’s blows, we have to work at not letting our pain bring our body and our voice down. For example, not wanting to show our vulnerability or weakness, we can mask our pain with our voice, limiting our expression of feelings, This can cause the voice to become flat or monotone. It is masking our feelings in the same way that our face masks our feelings, making sure that the world knows that we’re keeping it all together. These habitual holding patterns imprison our voice.
On the other hand, if we energize our body, breath and voice, and lift ourselves UP — if we express more of who we are and let it move through our body and voice — If we focus on things that bring us pleasure and joy, we can keep the voice younger and healthier for much longer.
Three Exercises for the Aging Voice:
BREATHING: Here is a simple exercise that works wonders for building power and fullness in your breathing.
Hiss out, using a strong steady stream of air on SSSSSSSS to the count of 6 and then through an open mouth, allow the breath back in to the count of 3.
Place one hand on your belly to feel what happens when the breath goes out of your body and when it comes back in.
Place your other hand on your upper chest to send a message to stay tall, rather than collapsing as the breath goes out of your body.
With practice, when you hiss the air out, the belly will engage and pull in. Then, on the inhalation, you are looking to let go of the tension and work of making sound, releasing the belly, jaw and tongue, and allow the breath to fill in comfortably.
Repeat 5X Daily.
TONING: To energize the voice and lift our spirits, let’s add long tones to our breath exercise. Instead of hissing out the air, open your mouth and sound out on AHHHHHHH to the count of 6. Then, release and allow the breath in to the count of 3. Continue to use your hand to feel the belly moving in as the sound moves out and feel the body release as the breath drops back in. This exercise works the diaphragm so that you deepen into a fuller breath that gets into the bottom of your lungs, rather than a shallow breath in your upper chest. Choose different tones in different parts of your range. Walk or move your body to stay loose and let the sound flow out of you into the world.
Do 5 Long Tones Daily.
RANGE AND FLEXIBILITY: How do you get your range back if you’ve lost it? I suggest doing extended slides which include both chest and head voice, (low and high voice) to build back up your range and flexibility.
Begin with a gentle and low UH sound, like a grunt. From there, let your voice gently slide up in your range and then back down. Gradually extend the slide to include a wider range.
Move your body to encourage the voice to release into the higher range. Here’s a tip: As you begin to go up in your voice, spread your feet hip width apart and bend your knees deeply, as if you’re sitting into a chair. As your voice travels up, you sit down. This is a great way to give your body the message that it doesn’t need to constrict or tighten up in response to going higher.
Do 5 Slides Daily.
And finally, treat your voice as you would a toddler learning to walk. When you let it out, greet it with enthusiasm and loving kindness. When it pops and cracks and sounds ‘ugly’ to you, keep your sense of humor and keep at it!