Changes to the Voice | Coming Back to Singing | Gig Bags

Aging and health changes can impact the structures of the voice, and therefore change how we sound. Thankfully, we can learn to adjust our technique.
Original Publish Date: November 3, 2020
Last updated: December 4, 2020

When I was at jazz college, a peer asked my music theory professor why he doesn’t perform much on trombone. My professor explained that, as a young jazz trombone player years ago, he was getting lots of gigs and was headed towards a promising career. One day, he had taken his trombone to the instrument repair shop to get cleaned. While the shop owner was cleaning the trombone, he discovered a strange piece of metal that was lodged inside. Somehow, a foreign object had fallen into the instrument – probably before my professor even bought it – and had remained there unnoticed for years. The shop owner removed the offending piece.

Removing something that didn’t belong seemed like a good idea at the time. Surely the trombone would sound better without shrapnel interfering with the flow of air – but it was devastating to my professor’s trombone career. You see, he had learned to produce a beautiful tone on that instrument, by working with the obstruction. He was unknowingly compensating for the interference, and once the object was removed, he could no longer achieve a beautiful sound by playing the same way he always had. Regaining his former mastery would require a long journey of re-training and re-learning – it would be like starting over.

As singers, our voices – our instruments – change subtly from day to day based on our health, voice use and irritants in the environment. There are, however, more drastic changes that can leave us wondering, “What happened to my voice? Why doesn’t it work?” Aging, weight loss and hormonal changes can have an impact on our voices such that singing the same way we used to doesn’t produce the same sounds. That trombone player was physically capable and his trombone was in perfect condition, but his way of playing – his technique – would have to change now that his instrument had changed.

If your body has gone through big changes, it is to be expected that the physical structures in your larynx as well as the muscles you use for breathing – may have changed too. Even if you are perfectly healthy, you may need to change the way you use your instrument. You’ll need to re-learn how to produce the sounds you want under these new conditions. If you accept and embrace this journey (and give it time), you will be able to achieve the expressiveness and artistry you desire, even if it looks (and sounds) a little different than in the past. 

For more on how the voice functions, upgrade to premium and take What are the Vocal Folds? by Alysia Jeske.

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