Air for an Audience

An article by Nathan Curnow.

June 2018. We’re about to perform in the German city of Heidelberg. It’s a beautiful evening, and we’re trying to keep calm as the sun dips below the rooftops of the baroque streetscape. It’s the opening night of their annual literary festival. The Spiegeltent has been erected in one of the cobblestone squares of the old town district and now sound check is over, the stage is set, the venue is filling up. I have to be cool, but it’s easy to be undone by the significance of all this. The city of Heidelberg has flown us halfway around the world to be the headline act in the birthplace of Romantic poetry.

For me, it’s the culmination of twenty years as a poet and spoken word performer. I’ve worked countless rowdy bars, quiet libraries, country halls and tin sheds, using nothing but my voice. Spoken worders aren’t singers, comedians or musicians. We don’t have tunes, punchlines or a guitar to hang around our necks. We don’t even have a piece of paper to read from. All we have is a bare stage, a microphone and our memory, which we hope works, plus some experience in rhythm, rhyme and intonation. We manage air for an audience, the air across our vocal cords, the air that we form into words.

Now jump back twenty years to when I first got up at an open mic. Imagine a dark, upstairs room, with bodies jammed onto couches so rundown that no undergrad would want them in their share house. It’s a hot and stuffy Wednesday night on Brunswick St in Melbourne, windows jammed open for fresh air, tram’s dinging their bells as they pass. You’re in a room full of weirdos and wannabees, each one waiting for their name to be pulled from a baby doll’s head. You’re at Babble. And suddenly you’ve been chosen to have your three minutes on stage.

It was do or die back then. And most of us died. Some were a three-minute train wreck. Each night was an electric circus of danger and possibility, the room supercharged by failure, success and expectation. It was there that I began exploring voice. I’d listen for hours, asking why some people hit and some completely missed. Mostly it was a total drag of a night, except for one magical moment when someone got up and did something amazing, something that gave us enough reason to return the following week and endure it all again.

So what makes a voice hit its target? It’s obviously a combination of what’s said, how it’s said, plus when, where and why. There’s the anger and urgency in the orations of Malcom X or the fierceness of Nina Simone. There’s the dramatic delivery of Alan Rickman, the charm of Jeff Goldblum, the sultry heat of Eartha Kitt or the creepiness of John Malkovich. I don’t have the clinical knowledge of a specialist. All I know comes from my years on stage and from being part of a listening audience.

Earlier I said that I had to keep cool before taking to the stage. Everyone has doubts, especially performers, but staying cool and present gives your voice the best possible chance of sounding believable in the moment. People respond to what they perceive as real, so like a magician, you’re hiding the tricks. You’re managing your nerves so that the audience won’t see the techniques of your delivery. People want to think it’s natural, effortless, even though deep down they know it’s not.

I contend that there are three elements to manage an effective voice. Now, these aren’t Toastmasters or TED Talk techniques. They’re not ways to sound as captivating as Maya Angelou or James Earl Jones. They may not give your voice the X factor, but they’re fundamental to working a microphone or to just having a conversation down at your local supermarket.

The Internal

When I was six years old I had a debilitating stutter. I was unable to say the smallest words like ‘hi’ or ‘and’, the sounds refusing to complete their release of me. My mother suspected it was due to the tantrums of my Grade One teacher, a lady whose face lit up redder than the planet Mars before she exploded at the little children before her. My mother was right, I was petrified of the woman, and this fear manifested as a stutter.

It’s almost impossible to find your voice when your inner world is in chaos. Performers might commonly suffer stage fright, but we can all feel that same intense pressure in our daily lives—the threat of judgement, the fear of failure, the weight of expectation. When we’re constantly overwhelmed we’re not safe to feel ourselves, and being ourselves is the key to voice. If eyes are windows to the soul then perhaps voice is the orchestra of it. The sounds we make reveal us—who we are, what we fear, what we want or what we’re hiding.

For a performer, nerves and adversity can be a wonderful motivator in the short term, bringing a necessary edge to the voice, but if left unmanaged the performance will eventually suffer. This goes for anyone, no matter where or what the occasion. It’s hard to speak if you’re in distress, and sometimes the smallest audiences are the most terrifying.

The Meaning

Have you ever seen a music video that bears no relationship to what the song is about? If not, check out the Look of Love by ABC. It’s bizarre! Or have you ever listened to a good audiobook that’s read badly? There’s a disconnect between the message and the delivery. The voice seems to ring untrue. To deliver a believable voice we must understand our message and what it means.

Sometimes a well-intentioned producer will employ trained actors to read the work of poets, instead of the actual poets themselves. I understand the idea, but I’ve never really known it to work out. Why? Because actors tend to overshoot it, emoting it to death, putting themselves and what they do before the message. Rather than being stewards of the poem, they think it’s about themselves doing it.

In A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall, Bob Dylan sings: ‘I’ll know my song well before I start singing’. It’s a simple line, one that’s always meant a lot to me. The clarity of the idea combined with his sing-speak sound has made it unforgettable. If you truly know your ‘song’, you’ll know its meaning. This guides your delivery so that you can get out of the way of your own performance. Now that’s a kind of irony, isn’t it? How can a performer get out of the way of their performance? Simply, by managing the ego. Realising that it’s not all about you gives your voice room for the message, providing the best chance of bringing people together.

The Audience

There are those magical moments when a performer feels perfectly in tune with the audience. It feels like you’ve become involved in something bigger, a shared experience you can’t explain. For the performer, it’s like they’re delivering the show but receiving it as well. Spoken worder Sean M Whelan says:

‘It’s about being inside that moment for the duration of the performance, but it’s about being outside of it at the same time.’ (2012, Verity La)

Our voice reveals our relationship with our audience. It reveals how we consider them, whether their loved, feared or loathed.

Some ‘page poets’ resent having to read their work in public. They’d rather be one step removed, speaking only to the reader through the printed words in their new book. And yet live readings are where most poetry books sales occur, so they’re thrust onto the reading circuit. What results is something that’s excruciating to sit through. You can hear their disdain and discomfort in every word.

As I said earlier, people respond to what they perceive as real, and in my experience the only thing an audience won’t forgive is contempt. You have a role to fulfil beyond your own doubts or misgivings, and they want you to fulfil it. If we’re uncomfortable with this role then our voice suffers. In this sense, our attitude toward our audience completely relates to the who, what, where, when, why and how of speaking.

Now as you already know, these three elements connect and overlap. They relate to us being in the present, whatever the context, wherever the stage. These moments are full of pressure, irony and expectation but we have to find peace with that in order to speak. Ultimately, I think it’s about acceptance. To deliver our best voice we must accept that things may fail, and that failure is a success if it’s genuine. We must fool ourselves into thinking that our own magic trick is trick-less. Because it is, and it isn’t, and that’s exactly how real magic happens.

June 2018. I step up to the microphone in Heidelberg, breathing in the air that’s mine and all of ours. By recognising this I can find my voice, managing it out of respect for myself, my message and my audience. I breathe out and the air is formed into words that hopefully hit their target. Then through my voice, I begin the show, which is all of us creating something.


Nathan Curnow is an award-winning poet, spoken word performer and past editor of Going Down Swinging. His books include The Ghost Poetry Project, RADAR, The Right Wrong Notes and The Apocalypse Awards. He has taught Creative Writing at Federation University; been a peer assessor for the Literature Board of the Australia Council, Creative Victoria and Arts Queensland; and recently co-judged the Newcastle Poetry Prize. In 2018 toured Europe with loop artist, Geoffrey Williams, performing at the OFFMilosz festival in Poland and opening the Heidelberg Literature Festival in Germany.


“Unless stated otherwise, this article represents only the views of the author and not the views of the AVA”

Look how far we have come!

An article by Dr Malcolm Baxter.

When I trained in ENT in the mid-1970s, laryngology was somewhat in the doldrums and not regarded as a subspecialty, which is surprising given its great importance in Victorian times with contributions from outstanding laryngologists in Europe, the UK and the USA.

Certainly, laryngeal malignancy was to the forefront, and in general, in Melbourne, laryngeal carcinoma was treated by radiotherapy and salvage laryngectomy although primary partial laryngectomy was increasingly used in some centres.

The options for benign laryngeal disorders were somewhat more limited.  We were almost unaware of the seminal work of Hirano.  Microlaryngoscopy was done for biopsy and removal of laryngeal lesions, although the instruments were fairly gross, which made it sometimes difficult to produce good results.  There was one C02 laser in Melbourne for laryngeal work during my training, and this was at the Royal Children’s Hospital, used for laryngeal papillomatosis which was then considered to be a paediatric disease largely.  The occasional adult patient with the disease could be treated there by special dispensation.

Concerning other benign lesions, a popular operation at the time was so-called “vocal cord stripping”, a procedure which sounds as bad as its name and produced expected results.  Although various procedures on the external larynx such as the Woodman procedure were described, these were seldom done. We used Teflon injections  for the paralysed vocal cord, an excellent solution for those people with a malignant cause who was not expected to live more than six months but unfortunately this was sometimes carried over in some cases to people who did not have a malignant cause for their paralysis, often with unfortunate  late results such as local laryngeal granulomata and even Teflon spreading to distant organs.

My interest in laryngology was stimulated by one patient I remember who had a so-called vocal cord stripping and on review in the outpatients on indirect laryngoscopy had beautiful looking vocal cords which moved and apposed beautifully without a sign of any lesion but unfortunately with an absolutely dreadful voice.  Of course, the vocal cord stripping ignored the principles of preserving the lamina propria, but without videostroboscopy, I was unable to appreciate the vibration of the vocal cords (or rather the probable total lack of vibration!).

Examination in ENT, including the larynx, throughout most of my training, was still using the frontal mirror, beloved of American cartoonists, using a reflecting lamp which shone from behind the patient on to the surgeon’s head-worn mirror back to the patient. The larynx was examined by indirect laryngoscopy; a technique described first by the singing teacher Garcia in 1862 and which still gave a good visualisation of the larynx in those people whose gag reflex did not completely preclude it but not allowing assessment of connected speech or vibration.

Our speech pathology colleagues usually attended Outpatients but were somewhat frustrated by not being able to visualise the cords and having to rely on our description.  Ros Frank, a leading speech pathologist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, had acquired an attachment which fitted on the surgeon’s frontal mirror and by standing behind the patient looking at the examining surgeon, you could see a reflected image of what the surgeon saw with his mirror – a sort of doubly indirect laryngoscopy!  Slightly later the frontal mirror was superseded by the Vorroscope now widely used in Australia by ENT specialists.  One further refinement was the use of a half-silvered mirror which was attached to the Vorroscope, which allowed some vision to an external observer.

Even after I did my post-fellowship work overseas, flexible endoscopes were only just making an appearance, although by the end of the ’80s most ENT specialists had converted to using this instrument which obviated the need for indirect mirror laryngoscopy and also thankfully the more difficult technique of mirror nasopharyngoscopy to visualise the nasopharynx.

The general management pattern in the pre-flexible laryngoscope era was that the patient who presented with dysphonia would have an indirect laryngoscopy and if they could not tolerate this or cords not visualised adequately, they would have to be booked for a microlaryngoscopy under a general anaesthetic.  The flexible laryngoscope, besides giving better vision, also greatly reduced the number of GA’s which needed to be given.

Once the patient’s vocal cords were seen, they were usually divided into those which had an observable lesion which were usually booked for biopsy or other surgery or those which did not, in which case they disappeared behind the door marked Speech Pathologist (or possibly in those days, Speech Therapist) never to be seen again.  There was a generally unspoken assumption that if a person had dysphonia with nothing observable on the larynx, then it was obviously something “in the mind” and who better to deal with this than the speech therapist/pathologist!

Stroboscopy of the larynx had been experimented with previously in several centres overseas but nowhere in Australia at that stage to my knowledge.  I do remember reading about this technique before I qualified and thinking it would be something that I would be interested in, but I forgot about it with the pressure of going overseas for post-fellowship work.

On return to Australia, I entered general ENT practice with a special interested in Otology and in the mid-1980’s I asked Laurie Ryan if I could join him at the Royal Victorian Eye & Ear Hospital as a visiting consultant which I duly did.  I was a little lost for a role at that stage and decided that acoustic neuroma surgery was probably not for me, but Laurie suggested,  knowing that I was interested in singers and music, that I consider setting up a voice clinic at the hospital, a suggestion for which I am always grateful.

A short time before, the hospital had bought an early model laryngeal video stroboscope, the Danish Bruel and Kjaer system, a behemoth of a machine on which one could occasionally see pictures of the vocal cords.

Together, I started the Royal Victorian Eye & Ear Hospital Voice Clinic with  Jenni Oates, speech pathologist and we developed a technique of seeing voice patients that presented to us in a joint consultation model which allowed each of us to contribute our own particular special skill sets towards the diagnosis and management.  Mercifully the Bruel and Kjaer system was replaced with a new Kay video stroboscope which was updated once or twice and remained the instrument of choice.  The Kay system, later Kay Pentax, was the standard workhorse for video stroboscopy for many years both in the public system and our private clinic, although in later years in our private rooms we converted to the Xion.

We started the Eye and Ear Voice Clinic around 1989 and in 1991 we recruited Andrew Hughes, Neurologist, and started a laryngeal Botox service which ran very successfully for several years until Andrew left around 2008 closely followed by me.  Unfortunately, this meant that the hospital lost the Botox service although the Voice Clinic was taken up by others, and Jenni continued.  Despite this, Andrew, I and Jenni continued to work closely together as Andrew now had a wide experience with Botox injections and although we now no longer worked in the same location, we still maintained close contact and referred patients between ourselves.

Approximately 25 years ago, Jenni and I joined with Neil Vallance (ENT) and Debbie Phyland (Speech Pathologist), to form the Melbourne Voice Analysis Centre, a private Voice Clinic which had so many locations over the years we probably should have used a caravan.

Again, we had the same model of using a joint ENT and speech pathology assessment, and we insisted on this pattern if a person wished to see us for an assessment.  Some patients wondered why they should see a speech pathologist when they wanted a diagnosis or vice versa why they should see an ENT surgeon when they were told they needed therapy, but we have always insisted that the model was the best for optimal diagnosis and therapy.

The Melbourne Voice Analysis Centre has continued over the years.  We have recruited several other speech pathologists working for Debbie over the years, and Paul Paddle and Charlie Giddings (ENT) have recently joined as laryngologists.  We have seen and treated a wide variety of pathologies, benign and malignant.  Patients who require an operation have been treated either at a private hospital or by Monash Medical Centre ENT Unit, which both Neil and I were involved with.  Over the years, we have taken part in research, therapy and attended international workshops and conferences and made contact with international laryngologists and speech pathologists.

About six years ago we were instrumental in the formation of the Laryngology Society of Australasia, which provides a forum for research and clinical focus for all professionals that are interested in the larynx and voice, particularly laryngologists, other ENT specialists, speech pathologists and voice scientists.  Laryngology has now happily reached the stage where some registrars, here and interstate have gone away and done laryngology Fellowships in the US and brought their skills back. Laryngology is firmly established here, as overseas, as a subspecialty and one which engages the interest of many trainees

Over the years I consider there have been many important advances such as better imaging and documentation due to progress in video stroboscopy, better operative results due to respect for the physical principles of the structure and function of the vocal cord and the advent of finer delicate laryngeal instruments. I had a special interest in the paralysed vocal cord, and we have used a variety of techniques both by injection laryngoplasty and external thyroplasty to correct this problem.  I myself mainly used autologous fat for injections as I was comfortable with it and felt I achieved better results but there are now excellent newer synthetics on the market.  Similarly, the laser is becoming increasingly important in its various manifestations and another particular interest has been the treatment of adult laryngeal papillomatosis for which we have used various techniques including laser, micro debridement and Cidofovir injection in an attempt to control this dreadful disease.

A focus of course both in public and private has been the so-called “professional voice user”, a concept I have never been entirely comfortable with as I believe that a person’s voice is important to them irrespective of occupation. Whilst recognising that singers and actors are totally dependent on their voice people such as teachers and call centre workers are economically dependent on it as well.  We have seen a wide variety of people from all walks of life including singers at all stages of their profession.  Apart from those reliant on it for their living, there are of course the students and aspiring singers but also a large variety of people who sing for the love of it and for whom dysphonia is a significant handicap in that it is often such as major interest in their life.

Of course, laryngeal disease may manifest as airway problems also which I became increasingly interested in. One unexpected consequence of this was suddenly becoming an apparent magnet for Chronic Cough referrals, often from Respiratory Physicians. Thankfully I fell back on the earlier principle of sending them to the Speech Pathologist but many came back leaving us trialling things like Gabapentin with variable results.

A few years ago, Professor Phil Bardin at Monash Lung and Sleep Department, Monash Medical Centre formed a Laryngeal Clinic because of their interest in vocal cord dysfunction as it impacted on respiratory conditions and its relationship with difficult to control asthma.  Although this was a source of some turf war mutterings, it is, in fact, logical that the Respiratory Physician should be equally interested in this condition of vocal cord dysfunction or VCD, now increasingly becoming known as ILO (Inducible Laryngeal Obstruction).

Phil and I ultimately joined together to form a Multidisciplinary Team and clinic to tackle this problem at Monash.  Debbie Phyland joined us as a speech pathologist plus Ken Lau as a radiologist with Laurie Ruane, respiratory scientist and we conduct outpatient clinics and injecting session for laryngeal Botox as well. Our treatment protocol involves “Laryngeal Retraining” (Speech Pathologist again!) in the first instance and those not responding may be offered laryngeal botox or other modalities. We have now seen over 80 patients with some encouraging results and have published our results.

I no longer operate apart from squirting the odd amount of Botox into the vocal cords and do not see many voice patients these days.  I have, however, become increasingly interested in patients with VCD /ILO.  These are generally fairly sick patients, and I believe our clinic is helping them greatly although whether it is the therapies we offer or the psychological support we give, I am not entirely sure.  Watch this space as this is a work in progress!

If you had told me at the beginning of my career that I would at the end be managing chronic cough and asthmatics and working with Respiratory Physicians, I would have thought you were mad, or possibly changed specialities.

In summary, it is gratifying looking back over the last 40 odd years to see what has happened to laryngology in this country. It is now definitely at the point where it is recognised as being a separate sub-speciality of Otolaryngology, and this must be for the good of our practice and our patients.

“Unless stated otherwise, this article represents only the views of the author and not the views of the AVA”

National Voice Meeting 2018 – Presenter Series #3

What is Vocal Massage and could it be helpful for patients with Voice Disorders?

Vocal massage is designed to give a ‘reset’ of the muscles involved in posture and vocalization to help maintain (or help re-establish) healthy voice production. It is also increasingly being investigated as a way to decrease pain and tension from excessive contraction of the extrinsic muscles of the larynx (as found in voice disorders such as Muscle Tension Dysphonia) (Dehqan & Scherer, 2008). Vocal Massage is also starting to be used as part of a holistic treatment plan established by an ENT and Speech Pathologist by Voice centres such as the Cleveland Clinic, Vanderbilt Voice Clinic, and the Royal Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital in London.

A way to improve posture and prevent vocal problems

Singing and speaking well require a freedom and balance in the muscles around the larynx and jaw and a buoyant, free posture for the breath. A number of articles have illuminated the way in which good posture, particularly of the cervical spine, is directly related to higher levels of vocal resonance and pitch control (Arboleda & Frederick, 2008). Cardoso, Lumini-Oliveira, and Meneses (2017) have proven an effective posture allows a subject to more easily shift the tension between muscles, allowing for a free movement of the larynx without blockages and with benefits to voice production. In a study by Kooijman (2005), muscular tension and body posture were assessed in relation to voice handicap and voice quality in teachers with persistent voice complaints- the conclusion was the combination of hypertonicity of the sternocleidomastoid, the geniohyoid muscles and posterior weight bearing…[were] the most important predictor for a high voice handicap. Manual bodywork such as Vocal massage combined with rehabilitative exercises may be the way forward in helping some patients recover from a vocal disorder by addressing the body patterns contributing to the tightness in these muscles. Unfortunately, comprehensive studies on the long-term benefits of this have not yet been undertaken.

A Vocal Massage Session

The first component of a Vocal Massage is postural assessment and palpation of the area around the neck and jaw to establish if restrictions in the muscles may be affecting the patient’s ability to supply breath efficiently to the voice and vocalize well. The larynx and hyoid bone are gently assessed to establish if they are in a free, neutral position, range of motion of the jaw and head will be tested, and the therapist will check if the ribs and diaphragm are mobile and the posture is balanced. A treatment plan is then developed specific to the patient’s needs, which may include alleviating tension around the front of the neck and jaw, mobilizing the hyoid bone and larynx and addressing postural issues affecting the freedom of the breath. Myofascial techniques are used which include gentle tractioning of the muscles, trigger point work and stretches that may help reduce tension in the muscles.

May help improve respiratory function

We know that manual therapy appears to increase the respiratory function of normal individuals (Engel & Vemulpad, 2007), but more research needs to be undertaken to see if manual therapy could be helpful to those with inhibited respiratory function and voice disorders (da Cunha Pereira, de Oliveira Lemos, Gadenz, Cassol, 2017). Anecdotally many of my clients have found massage helpful after a respiratory illness such as a cough to alleviate tension and stiffness around the larynx and have found their voice more resonant and responsive after the massage session. Myofascial release techniques in this instance are used on the sternocleidomastoid and scalene muscles combined with gentle mobilization of the intercostal muscles, diaphragm attachment points and the ribcage to help free the breathing mechanism.

Countering the physical demands of workplaces- particularly for stage performers

Stage workplaces major demands on a singer’s body. Raked stages, very heavy or tight costumes, wigs, hats and high heels can all throw the alignment of the posture out and tense muscles involved in vocalisation. It can also mean the singer adjusts the position of their pelvis and neck. These adjustments may affect the singer’s capability for full breath capacity and best breath management (Staes, et al., 2011). Vocal massage used as a preventative measure to help a build-up of tension may help bring more balance back to the body and keep a voice fresh and healthy.

A study examining the effectiveness of Vocal Massage in relation to Reflux

While much more research needs to be undertaken, in a recent study by Gaelyn Garrett, M.D., and Duke researcher Seth Cohen, M.D. at the Vanderbilt Voice Institute (Cohen & Garrett, 2008) it was found that around 67 per cent of patients who had hoarseness over a six-month period were either on reflux medication or had been prescribed reflux medication without improvement. Two-thirds of those patients improved with specialized manual therapy aimed at muscle tightness of the neck and throat. “Medical Director Gaelyn Garrett, M.D., and her staff of speech-language pathologists had previously treated the condition with voice therapy alone for the muscles around the larynx, which include the swallowing muscles. Some patients, however, did not respond to only doing voice therapy.” “In these people who weren’t responding, we started asking a lot of questions about their daily habits and we started realizing that people talk on the phone and it affects their posture; people are at a computer and it affects their posture,” Garrett said. It was also found that typically these patients had experienced some kind of physical or emotional trauma which had begun a process of excess tension throughout the body “… they were in a car wreck, they went through a divorce, they had back surgery” (Cohen & Garrett, 2008). Cohen and Garrett (2008) report how a more holistic view revealed other causes of tension: “And you start asking people, too, about where they focus stress and if they have any cervical spine issues, neck or shoulder issues, tension headaches. It all fell in place that if we address this whole musculoskeletal area, from the backup, it would help patients relax their voice,” she said. In conclusion, while anecdotally vocal massage helps certain patients and small studies have proven its effectiveness (Rubin, Lieberman, & Harris, 2000), more comprehensive studies are needed to establish the long-term effects and benefits, the type of patient it might help and how it might be best implemented in a multidisciplinary setting.


Arboleda, B. M. W., & Frederick, A. L. (2008). Considerations for maintenance of postural alignment for voice production. Journal of Voice, 22(1), 90-99.

Cardoso, R., Lumini-Oliveira, J., & Meneses, R. F. (2017). Associations between Posture, Voice, and Dysphonia: A Systematic Review. Journal of Voice.

Cohen, S. M., & Garrett, C. G. (2008). Hoarseness: is it really laryngopharyngeal reflux? The Laryngoscope, 118(2), 363-366.

da Cunha Pereira, G., de Oliveira Lemos, I., Gadenz, C. D., & Cassol, M. (2017). Effects of voice therapy on muscle tension dysphonia: a systematic literature review. Journal of Voice.

Dehqan, A., & Scherer, R. C. (2018). Positive Effects of Manual Circumlaryngeal Therapy in the Treatment of Muscle Tension Dysphonia (MTD): Long Term Treatment Outcomes. Journal of Voice.

Engel, R. M., & Vemulpad, S. (2007). The effect of combining manual therapy with exercise on the respiratory function of normal individuals: a randomized control trial. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 30(7), 509-513.

Kooijman, P. G. C., De Jong, F. I. C. R. S., Oudes, M. J., Huinck, W., Van Acht, H., & Graamans, K. (2005). Muscular tension and body posture in relation to voice handicap and voice quality in teachers with persistent voice complaints. Folia Phoniatrica et Logopaedica, 57(3), 134-147.

Rubin, J. S., Lieberman, J., & Harris, T. M. (2000). Laryngeal manipulation. Otolaryngologic Clinics of North America, 33(5), 1017-1034.

Staes, F. F., Jansen, L., Vilette, A., Coveliers, Y., Daniels, K., & Decoster, W. (2011). Physical therapy as a means to optimize posture and voice parameters in student classical singers: a case report. Journal of Voice, 25(3), e91-e101.

To contact Rachael about Vocal Massage please email her at

Rachael Cunningham is a Vocal Massage Therapist in Sydney. She is a qualified Remedial Massage therapist and has undertaken extensive training in myofascial techniques for the Neck, Jaw and Head and Vocal Massage. Rachael is also very aware of demands placed upon singers in the performing arts as she has sung in the chorus of Opera Australia for the past 20 years. Currently she is performing in Aida at the Sydney Opera House and is about to travel to China to tour with Madama Butterfly. Her website is

“Unless stated otherwise, this article represents only the views of the author and not the views of the AVA”

National Voice Meeting 2018 – Presenter Series #2

The Australian Voice Association

By Cecilia Pemberton

I am very much looking forward to returning to Adelaide to present at the 2018 Australian Voice Association’s National Voice Meeting: Voice on! The Road to Recovery.

It is interesting to reflect how far the AVA has come, since the Inaugural Voice Symposium was held in Adelaide in May 1991 at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. I was on the organising committee for that symposium along with Alison Russell, Jan Baker, David Close and Alison Bagnall.

The Keynote speaker was Dr Robert Bastian, then Professor of Otolaryngology at Loyola University School of Medicine, Washington. He is the Founder and President of the Bastian Voice Institute. Professor Bastian’s interests in the field of laryngology encompassed both voice and swallowing with a special interest in the needs of professional voice users. What a wonderful choice of speaker he was, so generous in his knowledge and time. He had an infectious enthusiasm for the idea of collaboration of all the professionals interested in voice.

As a committee we were impecunious, but Professor Bastian generously agreed to present with no remuneration. We were indeed very fortunate. He was so encouraging of our endeavours not only for the symposium but also to build an association to foster collaboration.  We did of course have some anxious moments, especially as we were spending money we didn’t actually have and weren’t sure anyone would attend! We were soon rewarded when registration opened, the response was overwhelming. We quickly broke even and had soon made a profit.  200 delegates attended that inaugural symposium; speech pathologists, ENTs, teachers of singing and voice coaches.

The success of the symposium was the impetus for the formation of the AVA. By the end of 1991, Alison Russell, Jan Baker and I had established the AVA with a charter to foster collaboration between all voice professionals in the education, research and care of voice users.

The financial success of the inaugural symposium meant that, from then on, seeding funds were available for future AVA organising committees.

So it is, many successful symposia later, that the current AVA committee have put together a very exciting, diverse programme which will encompass care and rehabilitation of the singing and spoken voice in both the adult and paediatric fields.

We are so fortunate to have Leda Scearce as the keynote speaker. I recently watched an interview that Liz Johnson Schafer did of Leda as part of “Interviews on Voice Matters”. Leda talks about her background as a professional singer before retraining as a speech pathologist and also her philosophy for the rehabilitation of the singing voice. I highly recommend watching the video https// .

I also saw a webinar of Leda presenting as part of the 2018 Performance Voice Conference at The University of Utah, Voice Disorders Centre. Leda ran a very successful master class. It was so interesting to see her at work with some young singers. I’m sure she will be a treat to have at the 2018 AVA National Voice Meeting.

Also on the programme this year is Nicole Free. For those of you who don’t know Nicole, check out her 3-minute thesis: She is now through to the Asia Pacific finals.

I look forward to seeing you in Adelaide.

Also on the programme this year is Nicole Free. For those of you who don’t know Nicole, check out her 3-minute thesis: She is now through to the Asia Pacific finals.

Cecilia Pemberton is a speech pathologist in her private practice, Voice Care

Australia and at the Voice Assessment Centre at St Vincent’s Clinic, Sydney. In 1991, she co-founded the Australian Voice Association after the Inaugural Australian Voice Symposium in Adelaide.
Her research has covered the normative data for endoscopic examination of the larynx, changes in speaking fundamental frequency in women’s voice with age and intergenerational and most recently the effectiveness of prevention and early intervention programmes for voice problems in teachers. Cecilia is co-author of Voice Care for Teachers DVD.

In 2009 she was awarded Fellowship by Speech Pathology Australia for her contribution to the profession. Her voice care programme for teachers with the Catholic Education Diocese of Wollongong has been a finalist in both the NSW Safe Work Awards (2009) and the Australian Human Resources Institute, Martin Seligman Award for Health and Wellbeing (2015). In 2014 she won the British Voice Association Van Lawrence Prize for her paper “Efficiently and Cost Effectively Managing Teachers’ Voice Problems”.

To register for the AVA National Voice Meeting and AGM 2018 click here:

“Unless stated otherwise, this article represents only the views of the author and not the views of the AVA”

Manual of Singing Voice Rehabilitation

National Voice Meeting 2018 – Presenter Series #1

Leda ScearceHealing Voices

By Leda Scearce

Singing is a part of virtually every culture and is fundamental to our human experience.  In the United States, singing is enormously popular, as evidenced by the vast number of people engaged in all kinds of singing activities. Over 30 million Americans participate in choral singing alone (Chorus America, 2009).  Shows like The Voice, America’s Got Talent and American Idol illustrate how passionate we are about singing. From the amateur recreational singer to the elite celebrity, we sing as soloists and in ensembles, with instruments and a cappella, in classical and contemporary styles, on stage, in concert and in the shower.

Every person’s voice is unique and identifiable, and our voices can be a big part of our identity and how we see ourselves in the world.  This is especially true for singers, for whom the voice is not only intricately tied to self-image and self-esteem, but also may be a source of income and livelihood, creative expression, spiritual engagement, and quality of life. For a singer, a voice injury represents a crisis.  Because of the specialized needs of singers, it takes a team—including a laryngologist, speech-language pathologist, and singing voice rehabilitation specialist—to get a singer back on track following an injury or voice disorder.  Singing voice rehabilitation is a hybrid profession, requiring in-depth clinical and scientific knowledge married with excellence in teaching singing.

Voice problems are rarely isolated in etiology—usually, multiple factors converge to create an injury.  These factors may include poor vocal hygiene, inadequate vocal technique, an imbalance in vocal load and medical problems (allergies and reflux are common in singers, but thyroid, pulmonary, neurological and rheumatologic conditions are among the illnesses that may affect the voice).  The singing voice rehabilitation process must encompass all elements that may be contributing to the problem: medical factors, vocal hygiene, vocal coordination and conditioning, vocal pacing, and emotional factors.

Figure 1

Vocal Coordination and Conditioning

In the context of voice rehabilitation, the singer’s vocal technique may have contributed to the voice problem and/or may be compromised by the voice injury.  In many cases (particularly for CCM singers), the singer may have never received formal training or may have been trained with a classical methodology that does not align with his or her singing style (LoVetri & Weekly, 2003; Weekly & LoVetri, 2009).  The singing voice rehabilitation specialist must design a rehabilitation exercise protocol that promotes optimal coordination of voicing subsystems to appropriately compensate for and promote resolution of the injury while ensuring the singer achieves and maintains adequate vocal conditioning, all in a manner that is consistent with the physiological and acoustic characteristics of the singer’s style.  Thus, the exercise regimen for a rock singer will be different than for an operatic singer.

An effective singing rehabilitation design goes far beyond what is necessary for building technique in a healthy instrument—it requires deep scientific and clinical knowledge to understand the differential impact of various vocal injuries on the structure, function and interaction of voicing subsystems. The rehabilitation protocol must be customized to singing style and underlying injury.  The difference in the exercise regimen for a singer with vocal nodules vs. vocal fold atrophy may be subtle but can have significant impact on the successful outcome of the intervention.

While thorough scientific and clinical preparation is indispensable, it is equally important that the singing voice rehabilitation specialist be an accomplished teacher of singing.  One must be competent in training healthy singers before delving into the more complex endeavour of interacting with an injured instrument (NCVS, 2013).  Ideally, the vocal exercise regimen should encompass the voice holistically—both speaking and singing.

Vocal Pacing

Vocal pacing refers to achieving balance in the amount, type and intensity of voice use.  This is an area that is sometimes overlooked or under-emphasized not only in singing voice rehabilitation but also in the realm of voice habilitation (the enhancement or development of technique in healthy voices).  Optimizing vocal pacing is of critical importance both for achieving and restoring vocal health, and may be a major component of the singing voice rehabilitation plan.  The singing voice rehabilitation specialist can collaborate with the singer to develop strategies for bringing voice use into balance that may include:

  • Prioritizing vocal activities and unloading or reducing those that are less important.
  • Documenting voice use to identify where the vocal load is out of balance and where there are opportunities for improving balance.
  • Planning amount and intensity of voice use in advance, scheduling periods of voice rest (especially when rehearsal and performance demands are high) and strategic planning for efficient practice time.
  • Effective use of amplification, both for singing and speaking.

In some cases, optimizing vocal pacing may mean increasing voice use on a day-to-day basis to “smooth out” the overall vocal load, as for the “weekend warrior” in a garage band or choral singer preparing for a concert.  In either situation, the singer may be engaging in extremely intense voice use episodically without getting regular vocal exercise in between.

Emotional Factors

Many singers have a strong emotional reaction to experiencing a voice problem which arises not only out of concern about the implications for continuing performing but due to long-held and misguided beliefs in the singing culture that voice injuries are the fault of the singer and that singers who experience voice problems are “damaged goods.”  The singer may undergo emotional ups and downs throughout the rehabilitation process, especially if performance has been curtailed or when financial or academic success is jeopardized by the voice problem.  In addition to the physical injury, many singers sustain an “injury of confidence” that can linger after the injury has resolved.  Throughout the rehabilitation process, the singing voice rehabilitation specialist must be mindful of and sensitive to the emotional experience of the singer and interact in a compassionate and supportive manner.

The Singing Voice Rehabilitation Package

All of these factors—medical, behavioural and emotional—must be appropriately addressed through collaboration of the voice care team to guide the singer back to a state of vocal health and wellbeing.  Obviously, singing voice rehabilitation is a complex and multi-faceted process, requiring knowledge and experience that span art and science.  Manual of Singing Voice Rehabilitation: A Practical Approach to Vocal Health and Wellness has been developed to guide the singing voice rehabilitation specialist in developing and executing effective, efficient rehabilitation plans that are customized to each individual singer, encompassing all relevant factors, so that singers are empowered to return to a state of vocal wellness and the joy of singing.

Originally published in the Plural Publishing Community Newsletter, April 2016.

Leda combines her extensive performance experience as a classical Soprano with her roles as a speech-language pathologist and voice teacher. She has worked as a voice teacher for over 30 years, serving on the artist faculties of Bowling Green State University, Meredith College, Brigham Young University of Hawaii and the University of Southern Maine.  In 2004, she obtained a Master of Science degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Boston University. As a graduate SLP student, she completed an internship in voice disorders and voice rehabilitation for the performing voice at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston. She is currently Clinical Singing Voice Specialist, Clinical Associate Faculty and Director of Performing Voice Programs and Development at the Duke Voice Care Center and Duke University School of Medicine, where she provides rehabilitation therapy to singers, actors and other vocal performers with voice injuries. Leda is the author of Singing Voice Rehabilitation: A Practical Approach to Vocal Health and Wellness, published by Plural, Inc.

You can find Leda’s book Singing Voice Rehabilitation: A Practical Approach to Vocal Health and Wellness, published by Plural, Inc. via this link:

To register for the AVA National Voice Meeting and AGM 2018 click here:


  • Chorus America. (2009). The Chorus Impact Study. Washington, DC. Retrieved December 5, 2015, from
  • LoVetri, J., & Weekly, E. M. (2003). Contemporary commercial music (CCM) survey: Who’s teaching what in non-classical music. Journal of Voice, 17(2), 207–215.
  • National Center for Voice and Speech (NCVS). (2013). NCVS Symposium on Specialty Training in Vocal Health Summary Report; April 25–26, 2013, Salt Lake City, UT. Retrieved from
  • Weekly, E. M., & LoVetri, J. (2009). Follow-up contemporary commercial music (CCM) survey: Who’s teaching what in non-classical music. Journal of Voice, 23(3), 367–375.

“Unless stated otherwise, this article represents only the views of the author and not the views of the AVA”

World Voice Day Interview with Meagan Rudd

Meagan Rudd

Spreading The Music with Key Word Sign.

Since its inception in 2014, the Nordoff-Robbins Key Word Sign Choir, under the guidance of Meagan Rudd, has become a regular feature at a variety of events throughout Sydney. The AVA had the opportunity sit down with Meagan on the lead up to their upcoming World Voice Day performance to learn more about the choir.

Can you tell us a bit more about how and why the Key Word Sign Choir began?

I’ve always been fascinated by all forms of sign communication and have studied them for many years. I work in Special Education in a high school setting, so many of the students have used or been exposed to Key Word Sign as a means of communication since early intervention. For me, the idea of forming a Key Word Sign choir began as a way to enhance the students’ communication skills by increasing their “sign” vocabulary in a fun way. From the outset the students loved it, I loved it and their sign vocabulary improved noticeably.

How long has the Key Word Sign Choir been up and running for?

After offering Key Word Sign choir as an extra-curricular activity for many years at school, a parent of a graduating student who particularly loved Sign Choir asked me if I knew of any similar choirs her daughter could join in the community. After some research I wasn’t able to find anything I could refer her to, so the idea of forming a Key Word Sign choir for young adults in the community started to take shape. As I’d been associated with Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Australia for many years, the inception of their Community Music Program was the perfect opportunity to pitch the idea of including a sign choir in the program and in 2014 it became a reality and has been going strong ever since.

How has the relationship between Key Word Sign within music and popular culture developed over the years?

The concept of using Key Word signs to perform song lyrics is not a new one but has mainly been confined to preschool & early intervention settings using songs suitable for preschoolers. What I wanted to offer was the opportunity for young adults to learn to sign the lyrics of songs that were age appropriate for them. We currently have a repertoire of more than 80 songs by artists such as Katy Perry, Pink, Sheppard, One Direction, Ed Sheeran, Miley Cyrus & Bruno Mars as well as some classics by ABBA, the Beatles & Queen, (& songs from nearly every Disney musical ever made). The songs we choose to learn are very much driven by the choir members themselves.

Are there any other choirs like this around Australia and the world?

There are quite a few choirs in Australia & around the world using the sign language of the Deaf community of their country (AUSLAN is the language of the Australian Deaf community). Some schools & preschools teach individual songs in Key Word Sign but I don’t know of any other Key Word Sign choirs in Sydney or NSW that are open to people of any age or ability.

Can you share any favourite moments or memories of your time with the Key Word Sign Choir?

Being part of the Key Word Sign choir gives these young adults the opportunity to showcase their unique skills by performing at mainstream events which otherwise might not be available to them. My favourite moments are watching them blossom when they perform and seeing them bask in the audiences’ applause. It never fails to bring a smile to my face (and a tear to my eye). Among the choir’s most memorable moments are performances at various events with well known Australian artists Melinda Schneider & David Taylor. The choir had the privilege of being on stage with them, signing the song with the artist as they sang.

How did you get involved with World Voice Day and where and when can we catch the Key Word Sign Choir performing?

The choir first became involved with World Voice Day in 2015 through our affiliation with Nordoff-Robbins music therapy Australia, who is one of the sponsors of the annual event. The choir also performs regularly at a variety of other events throughout the year such as eisteddfods, festivals, fairs, Carols nights & events celebrating International Day for People with Disabilities.

What inspires you to continue working with the Key Word Sign Choir?

My inspiration to continue working with the Key Word Sign choir is, quite simply, the joy the choir members give me every time we meet. They’re enthusiastic, talented, funny, cheeky and great to be around. It’s my favourite time of the week and seeing each choir members’ confidence and self-esteem grow never fails to make my day.

Thanks to Meagan and each of the members of the Key Word Sign Choir for their time and sharing their talent with Australia.

The Nordoff-Robbins Key Word Sign Choir is performing at the World Voice Day event in Penrith, “Voices in the Valley”, at the Joan Sutherland Performing Art Centre on Saturday 7th April 2018 7:30 pm. Tickets can be purchased here:

“Unless stated otherwise, this article represents only the views of the author and not the views of the AVA”



World Voice Day Interview with Louise Bale

Louise Bale

In the lead up to this year’s World Voice Day, the Australian Voice Association sat down with Louise Bale to find out what is in store for 2018 and how her own journey with dysphonia has influenced her life.

How and why did World Voice Day start?

WVD began in Brazil in 1999. It was the brainchild of a group of scientists who believed the voice was an amazing, yet under-recognised aspect of the human existence…and that it needed and deserved a day of recognition.

Since it’s inception, WVD has expanded well beyond the scientific community, to become a global celebration of the role our voices play in every aspect of daily life.

What is your role with World Voice Day and what got you interested in the event?

I have been the National Coordinator of WVD in Australia since 2013.

In my ‘real’ world, I work as a Health Promotion professional. While most aspects of health and wellbeing fascinate me – I had never really given much thought to the voice, until I lost mine.  In 2006 I developed a neurological voice disorder called spasmodic dysphonia, and life as I knew it has never been the same.

When I first became aware of WVD I embraced the idea of getting involved and raising awareness of the voice and celebrating its uniqueness, magic and beauty.

Over the years the event’s focus has broadened to include voice care initiatives for teachers, performers and the general population; voice screening clinics for vocal performers, professional development events for voice health practitioners and vocal variety concerts. Since the establishment of the Australian Dysphonia Network in 2016, the various concerts have also been used to draw closer attention to dysphonia and raise funds for research.

Can you tell us a little bit about your journey with spasmodic dysphonia (SD)?

It’s been a very strange experience.  Like so many others, my story began as a mysterious hiccup in an otherwise fairly unremarkable period of my life…that was twelve years ago.

After noticing some voice breaks and feeling like my voice was letting me down, I made a quick trip to see an Ear Nose and Throat Doctor, who ruled out anything like nodules.  It was then off to the speech pathologist to look for bad habits / poor vocal technique.  But, after a few months of correcting the minor technical problems came the crunch, “you have spasmodic dysphonia”.

I was happy to have a diagnosis and thought “OK – Let’s just fix it and get on with life”. But, as we all know, nothing is ever simple.

The ‘gold standard treatment’ is Botox injections into the muscles that control the vocal folds. But I resisted Botox for about a year, trying all things alternate instead. You know the stuff, hypnotherapy, nutritional medicine, acupuncture, massage, mindfulness, kinesiology. etc etc etc. I FELT fantastic, but my voice remained an issue.

After about a year, I finally ‘succumbed’ to Botox and found my voice. A slightly different voice, but smooth, sultry and without spasms, I was in heaven…initially.

Since then the results of Botox have been mixed for me. It’s been a rollercoaster while my brain has adapted, adapted and adapted again (almost saying… ‘bring it on… I will NOT be silenced’). We’ve stopped the Botox, pumped up the vocal folds, restarted the Botox, retrained my brain, and I’ve even been to vocal boot camp.

My diagnosis has changed…from adductor SD to abductor SD…to “is this really SD?” and then back to abductor SD…I started to wonder ‘what’s in a name?’ (Funny really, after having been so keen to have one back at the beginning.)

What led you to seek treatment?

At first, I noticed that my voice was dropping out, kind of like a bad mobile phone signal really. Bits were missing, and it felt like my voice was tripping over itself in otherwise easy and robust conversations. Of course, I imagined that it was all in my head until people started to complain about the “poor mobile reception” (when I was on a landline – now that was a hint).

I had been asked to be MC at a 2-day conference, and needed to do something fast – the rest (and the conference) as they say…”is history”

Has it influenced your day-to-day life and professional life?

Absolutely! I was born to talk, and for many years I had been the public face of my workplace in Health Promotion. The conference facilitator, the presenter and the media spokesperson for all things sex, drugs…. interesting and fun.

BUT that all changed.

I became withdrawn and felt that I was no longer useful. My ability to speak up at meetings, contribute to decision-making discussions, join in lunchtime conversations with the team or even answer phones…had gone. I felt like people thought I was unintelligent because I couldn’t speak up and contribute opinions…I wanted to quit.  But I am fortunate to have a very supportive Director and team who were willing to accommodate whatever I needed.

I saw a psychologist to help me grieve the life I had lost and to regain a sense of self-worth. Since then I have been able to change the way I do my work – carve out new ways of doing old tasks, and also take on some new and exciting roles using social media and web-based technology – I have a unique role in the same workplace and have again found my passion for the work I do.

At home, there are many daily challenges too. A simple thing like going out to dinner is problematic because restaurants and bars are such noisy places. Talking to friends or my husband in the car is extremely hard work. TV or any background noise just creates a wall between others and me in the room BUT…thank goodness for text messaging because the telephone is IMPOSSIBLE for most of us who live with dysphonia.

One of my biggest losses is the ability for natural and spontaneous conversation…the stuff of easy relationships, where conversations just flow.

What are some of your favourite World Voice Day memories from years gone by?

From the outset, I was keen to ensure that the focus was not ONLY on professional/performing voice users but that EVERYBODY’S voice was seen as valued and important. As a result, our annual concerts have seen acclaimed celebrities sharing the stage with members of the community from all walks of life.

Without a doubt, the sentimental favourites have been: the Sydney Street Choir; an inspiring group of homeless and disadvantaged people from our community who embrace the pure joy of singing…the Nordoff Robbins Children’s Signing Choir who express their own unique voice through key-word sign language…and the Newcastle Stroke Choir who demonstrate such determination and tenacity while they celebrate the ability to perform and be heard.

In 2017 the Australian Dysphonia Network team joined forces with a similar organization in the United States to host a 6-day long online symposium which focused on all aspects of dysphonia management. It was an enormous feat bringing together over 3,500 people across the globe; something we hope will become a bi-annual event into the future.

None of the activities or events of the past 5 years would have been possible without the amazing generosity of people who share a passion for giving a voice to EVERYONE. I have also been enormously grateful for the ongoing trust and financial support from the Australian Voice Association, both as an organization and the individuals who represent the AVA.

How is World Voice Day different this year and what are some of the upcoming events you are most excited about?

This year we have decided to extend the opportunity to get involved by expanding from a single day of celebration to an entire month of raising awareness and events.

April this year will become Voice Awareness Month – with the tagline “Value your Voice – Love your Larynx – Be alert for changes”. This will allow people in clinical settings like hospitals and private practices to get involved by utilizing promotional material, organizing events, offering screening clinics, and taking advantage of local internal/external media opportunities…or just getting the platform to TALK about the importance of voice with colleagues and clients.

A master class “Care of the Performing Voice” will be held for tutors, teachers and senior students of the Conservatorium of Performing Arts – Penrith.  This is a first and signifies the beginning of a partnership with the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre which we hope will continue to grow.

We will have the support of celebrity ambassadors: singer/songwriter Melinda Schneider, comedian Anthony Ackroyd, and country music artist Drew McAllister. These amazing people have loaned their voices to our cause and will perform at 2 fundraising events on behalf of dysphonia research.

What would be your advice to someone wanting to get involved this year and/or put on an event for World Voice Day?

Don’t be scared – have fun, be creative and do what feels good. It does not need to be huge to make a difference and raise awareness. Remember (almost) everyone has a voice so it makes it easy to talk about!

If appropriate, you can consider using your event/activity as a charity fundraising opportunity. The Australian Dysphonia Network is currently fundraising for a number of exciting voice initiatives. For further details on how to donate you can find us here.

Feel free to also email me with details of your event, or for ideas at

Where can we find information on events?

Thanks so much to Louise Bale for her time and dedication.

“Unless stated otherwise, this article represents only the views of the author and not the views of the AVA”

Lou Bale is the National World Voice Day Coordinator, President of the Australian Dysphonia Network and is recognised by her work and contribution to the field of Health Promotion with NSW Health for the past 28 years.

woman texting

Posture and how it affects your speech

How many times has someone advised you to stand up/sit up straight, so that you sound better?

Or received some comment about your posture?

This article is not about body language, or how to stand when you are speaking per se.

I will be discussing how our posture affects us all overall and how our daily habits interfere with our voice! Strange isn’t it. You will be thinking, how does my habit affect my speaking?

Habit by definition, as quoted by F.M Alexander, “A habit is composed of a sequence of acts that follow upon some cue. It is a chain of neural events, with response in all our tissues.”

The way you hold your body, the way you hold your shoulders, your knees, and the way you hold your jaw…all of them impact how you are able to vocally express yourself. My favourite example is the way all of us use our phones or IT gadget. In today’s society, we are plugged in more often than not and get caught up with that task. Have you ever wondered what that posture does for your voice?

Often, we get so engrossed in reading/replying sot our head falls right forwards and we don’t even realize how much strain we are putting on our neck and shoulders! When the head is pushed forwards for constant periods of time, either when sitting or standing, the larynx (voice box area) is not free to move as it can, and the voice cannot function smoothly.

woman texting

When we stand or sit without stiffening our muscles, we are well balanced and coordinated, and send out a clear strong signal. Below are some habitual patterns people have when standing. Which one are you?

  1. Over-arching back: Most of us have been advised to sit up straight/stand up straight or to stand properly. As a response, we subconsciously lift our sternum/chest, and throw our shoulders back and tilt pelvis forwards. This ‘straightness’ will be followed by overly tense muscles of the torso

  2. Stiffening of neck and throat: One of the biggest tendencies for singers and speakers is to stiffen the neck and throat muscles. Have you ever seen someone’s neck with their muscles bulging out when they speak? The breathing airway is affected when we constrict muscles in hour head/neck region.

  3. TMJ problems: TMJ joint simply refers to the joint where your jaw is fixed.  There is a close relationship between stiff necks and tense TMJ joints. Do you speak with minimal jaw movement, and hardly open your mouth? Do you have pain at your TMJ joints? Pay attention to your jaw

  4. Knee-lockers: Sometimes when you try to stand up straight, and ground yourself, you inadvertently lock your knees. Now, why is that a problem? Locked knees mean excess tension in hip joints, which interferes with range of arm movements, which tightens neck and throat muscles and makes your voice work harder than it needs to!

  5. Stiffening of the rib cage: This happens when the ribs are held very still, with no lateral expansion. In this position, the person holds the rib cage up and out after practising deep inhalation. The diaphragm moves, however the ribs do not move laterally ( sideways)

  6. Overworking the facial muscles: Singers, actors and public speakers often consciously or subconsciously over work the facial muscles, when they try to articulate the specific vowel or consonant sounds. Overdoing articulation means you are holding some part of your face too effortfully. Be it your: lips, tongue, eyebrows etc

A great way to start noticing your posture, and where you hold excessive tension, is to lie down comfortably, in a safe space with your knees up. Choose any sound, and make that sound. Notice which part of your body stiffens/tenses or simply works too hard when you make that sound. You can even practice with a few simple sentences or if you are really stuck, sing “ Happy Birthday” when you are lying down.

“Unless stated otherwise, this article represents only the views of the author and not the views of the AVA”

Thila Raja is a Speech Pathologist, who specializes in voice training. She helps people recognize their vocal skills and express themselves clearly. Thila loves helping professionals communicate to their best. Find more from Thila here:

Loud Noise

Anxiety and its Affects on the Auditory and Vocal Apparatus

Anxiety is such a fascinating topic and one that with each passing year I get more and more passionate about.

As a Somatic Educator working with dancers at The Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (and in the professional arena) for over 15 years it was only recently that I began working across the voice and music departments as well. When I made that shift I was immediately struck with how my knowledge slipped even more perfectly into this area, particularly for the voice students.

Evolutionarily the voice is one of our most precious assets for communication and, in times of need, protection. We whisper, laugh, cry, sing, gasp, shout and scream in relation to the needs of the moment.

As a singer, teacher or performer we use our voice to communicate each day and yet at times, our voice can fail us, particularly when the stakes are high, or when we’re so frightened or overwhelmed we literally cannot speak.

Everyone has a unique response to stress, anxiety and fright, which is essentially our response to danger or perceived danger. While speaking or singing may be one of our greatest loves, performing in front of a group of strangers can initially be an anxiety-inducing experience – biologically strangers are a threat!

Our physiological response to danger goes back to a primitive reflex called the Moro Reflex, which becomes our Adult Startle Reflex. This reflex goes on to underpin our fight, flight and freeze responses.

The Startle Reflex is elicited by 2 very specific stimuli:

  1. A sudden loss of support (falling) and, interestingly for musicians

  2. A sudden noise over 80 decibels (like speaker feedback!)

In response to danger, or perceived danger, our autonomic nervous system orchestrates a whole series of changes to our breathing, heart rate, muscle activation and vocalisation to meet the challenge of the moment and we experience our personal variations of the flight, fight and freeze responses.

One of the major nerves to control these changes is the Vagus nerve or 10th Cranial nerve. It travels the longest distance of any nerve of the autonomic nervous system and extends to include the mouth, tongue, larynx, heart, lungs and digestive organs.

Major Nerves

Just looking at that list you can see clearly how stress, anxiety and fright would have a profound affect on vocal performance.

The saying “I have a frog in my throat” relates to these physiological changes and while our biology may be assisting us to be ultra quiet (or ultra loud) in times of danger this is not helpful when the perceived danger is our joy – singing and speaking.

You may recognise some of these common experiences

  • Dry mouth

  • Rising pitch

  • Quickening speech/song

  • Tension or constriction of the vocal cords

  • Tension in the jaw and tongue

  • Lump/Frog in the throat

  • Raspy voice

  • Loss of breath

  • Quietening voice

  • Loss of voice entirely

Each one of these changes can be traced back to a biological purpose, but when it comes to singing and speaking, most of these do not assist!

To compound matters, unless you have developed your skills for optimizing performance under pressure, awareness of these physical changes can perpetuate the experience – your physiology confirming your anxiety – and an awful anxiety loop begins.

So having cast our attention briefly over the biology and physiology what are some simple things we can do to prepare for a great performance.


  • Take time to listen and get familiar with the unique noises of the venue
  • Eliminate unnecessary noise where possible
  • Make sure you are happy with your earpiece if you’re wearing one
  • Check the volume and placement of the fallback speakers
  • Take time out in a quiet place before the show
  • Resist talking/listening to people who make you anxious
  • If you notice a problem with sound ask the sound desk to adjust asap


  • Sip lukewarm drinks like herbal tea. (Some people prefer a cool drink but lukewarm drinks are more gentle on the cords. Alcohol is a natural relaxant but this is not always a good long-term choice.)
  • Place a hand on your throat. Feel the warmth and softness of your hand. Take a few breaths like this.
  • Place a pen lengthways in your mouth to stimulate the smile reflex, particularly if you now reflect on how silly you now look J
  • Use the tongue to gently feel the inside of your gums, teeth and lips, as if tasting the remanent sweetness of a past dessert. Lick right around to the back of the teeth and over the lips too.
  • Yawn, even if you fake it to start, to release the jaw and quieten the nervous system.
  • Do a gentle lions tongue pose or hakka face, with the tongue hanging out fat and full.
  • Make gentle soothing sounds like sighing, ahhhhing, hmmmming

Anxiety is a whole body/brain/mind experience and when we create change in one area we see changes in the whole experience. Pick one or two of the ideas above and see how they work for you.

If this kind of work interests you there are many wonderful Somatic Educators. Consider methods like Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique and Linklater and seek help from a practitioner who can give you specific homework. Practicing in the comfort of your home, without stress or anxiety, makes it much easier to access when you need it most! And if you feel that your experience of anxiety is particularly challenging seek out a Somatic Educator who specialises in anxiety.

If you would like to work specifically with me I have a private practice in West Perth and I provide Skype sessions for clients outside of Perth, WA.

And be sure to look out for my follow up article “Anxiety, Posture and Your Ability to Stay Grounded” in the coming months.

“Unless stated otherwise, this article represents only the views of the author and not the views of the AVA”

Molly Tipping is a Somatic Educator, Feldenkrais Practitioner and Pilates Instructor specialising in performance and anxiety. Molly has been working with performing artists for the over 15 years and currently runs a private practice in West Perth and lecturers at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (in the Dance and Music Departments). Molly also runs trainings for the Feldenkrais Guild of Australia, The Pilates Method Association and The Royal Academy of Dance and is the co-producer of Move Over Anxiety, an audio program currently on sale in Australia and The United States.

BodyMinded: Alexander Technique for Voice Professionals

The Alexander technique is known as a useful adjunct to training in vocal circles, however, while many people have heard about it, there is a lot of misconception. Today I hope to introduce how it works and how powerful it is when effectively applied.

To begin: Tasmanian actor overcomes his ‘hoarse voice sore throat’ problem.

F.M Alexander was a Tasmanian and an actor at a time when there was no amplification available.  After suffering a regular loss of voice while performing, he started a process of rigorous self-observation to find out what was going on.  He knew that the hoarseness and pain got worse when he performed, so it must have been related to HOW he was performing… but what was he doing?

Alexander’s solution came after a long process of experimentation, and he was surprised to discover that not only had he overcome his voice problem, he had developed a process that led to profound improvement in health and well-being.

Now 100+ years after his birth there are Alexander Technique teachers around the world, teaching people from all walks of life to find their optimal coordination.

So what did he discover?

Alexander found that natural good posture, essential to the good use of the voice, is dynamic and responsive, constantly moving, providing support against the force of gravity and organising the timing, sequencing and rhythm of the parts. While that cannot be ‘made to happen’ through effort, it can be ‘directed to happen’ naturally via conscious direction of your spatial sense…

Unfortunately for many, this dynamically balanced poise, ease and power are easily disturbed by habits of tension or collapse. Especially after years of training, or in response to stress, habits of interference can lead to a frustrating and ongoing struggle with vocal performance, as it did for Alexander.

Alexander said…
“You translate everything, whether physical, mental or spiritual, into muscular tension”

The Alexander Technique teaches people how to think about how they move, in the service of natural coordination, ease power and grace, especially while using the voice.

Try these activities:

  1. The Spatial Sense

Make a vocal sound of some kind, perhaps you are a singer and make an open sound or a non-singer and you just make an ‘AH’ sound for a second or two. Notice how it feels to make that sound… and what you are drawn to notice in your body.

Now consciously shift your attention to your head… that’s right, above your jaw, above your ear-level… up to your skull. Did you want to move it? You don’t have to move it, but you do want your head to be able to move easily… We are talking about ‘knowing where your head is in relation to your body’, that is, accessing your spatial sense consciously. Note that this is different from any direct idea of effort or movement per se. Now, while thinking of your head above your jaw, make your sound again. How was it different from the first time? What happens if you try this experiment while walking?

So, with this as the beginning let’s do the next experiment.

  1. The Direction of the Air

Alexander demonstrated that the sense we have of our own bodies and how we are moving is often inaccurate. We habituate to the way we normally feel, so changes are likely to feel strange, even wrong. With the voice, for example, it is not unusual to see people compressing down in their torso to make a sound, and it feels right to them to do so. In BodyMinded we teach people ‘conscious cooperation’ with their human design and with the physics of actions. You are probably familiar with how sound is made in the voice-box (larynx), by the movement of air up the windpipe (trachea). Have you ever consciously thought about this movement as you use your voice? Let’s combine the first exercise with the second… as you create your sound, think of the air going up to produce that sound. What happens to your voice as you do this? How does it feel?

  1. The Action Plan

Now we are going to add something about your desired sound. Perhaps you just made a sound at a volume that seemed easy and natural to you. What happens if you decide to double the volume? In Alexander’s case, he would immediately notice an increase in tension, a stiffening of his head on his neck, perhaps you even lifted your chin a little?

The way we carry out our actions is largely pre-determined by habits gained over our lifetime so far. When you add to your action plan… “I want it to be louder”, the changes that occur will depend on the idea you have of what you want and feeling of how it happens. In the BodyMinded process, we help you identify clearly, what you want, which sounds simple but can be surprising to explore.

Now we will build a ‘BodyMinded Instruction’ from these three parts… “I know I have a head, it moves easily over my spine, so I can think of air going up as I decide to make a louder sound”. Did the way you made the louder sound change?

The BodyMinded process teaches you how to generate instructions for yourself and others that are built from the relation between general or overall coordination; cooperation with human design; and a constructive action plan. Each part of this triumvirate can be ‘unpacked’ and explored over time, leading to a wonderful and effective set of dynamic tools for your own performance and your teaching.

“Unless stated otherwise, this article represents only the views of the author and not the views of the AVA”

Greg Holdaway is Director of BodyMinded: Sydney Alexander Technique, where he trains Alexander Technique teachers.  Greg has developed a unique professional training, BodyMinded which integrates up-to-date science and Alexander Technique principles for actionable practical skills for use with clients and students.