On aging and the singing voice

Posted on Dec 1, 2013

Hey all….below is a fascinating look at how the aging process affects the complex mechanism that is our singing voice. Some of these tips can be of benefit to all singers regardless of age. Enjoy!


‘Singing rats’ show training might help aging voices

CHAMPAIGN — Mother Nature does a number on our voices as we get older, but a new study at the University of Illinois suggests vocal training might help.

The research was done with rats, which have vocal folds (chords) similar to those of humans and face some voice changes similar to humans as they age, said UI speech and hearing Professor Aaron Johnson, who led the study with colleagues at University of Wisconsin.

A former classical singer and voice teacher, Johnson said it’s known that vocal exercises strengthen limb muscles but not whether vocal exercises can strengthen voice muscles.

To see if vocal training would make a difference, male rats were placed in a cage with a female rat. Then, the female was taken away and the males were given treats when they vocalized, Johnson said.

The rats’ ultrasoninc calls were above the range of human hearing, Johnson said. But special recording equipment was used to pick up their sounds, along with computer equipment that lowered the frequency, so the rat calls (which sounded like bird calls) could be played back in an audible form for people.

Johnson said these “singing rats” provided the first evidence that vocal use and vocal instruction can change the neuromuscular system of the larynx.

The older rats that didn’t get vocal training proved to have lower average vocal intensities than both the vocally trained rats and the young rats that hadn’t been trained.

Researchers also found a breaking apart of the neuromuscular junction that occurs in the elderly was less for older rats that received the training.

People go through their most dramatic voice changes during childhood and adolescence, and then changes level off for decades. Then with aging, loss of muscle mass and mucous membrane thinning also begin to affect the larynx, which contains the vocal folds, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

Degrading of the neuromuscular junction, an interface between the nerve that signals the vocal muscle to work and the muscle itself, also contributes to aging-voice symptoms such as breathiness or weakness in the voice or being too fatigued to finish a conversation, Johnson said.

Aging isn’t the only culprit, he said. Smoking, asthma, allergies, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lumps on vocal folds, and head and neck cancers can also cause voice problems, Johnson said.

He plans to continue his research with another study coming up soon in which he’ll use and MRI and high-speed imaging to study changes in vocal folds, and he’ll be recruiting younger and older adults for that, he said.

Another study he hopes to do in the future would involve the effect of group singing training on vocal function in older adults, he said.

Meanwhile, adults don’t have to just sit back and wait for age-related voice changes to happen, according to Johnson. There are things people can do to help protect their voices.

“The evidence we have points to use it or lose it,” Johnson says.

A pamphlet he has from the University of Utah’s National Center for Voice & Speech advises the following:

— Drink 48-64 ounces of water a day to keep vocal folds hydrated and less prone to damage.

— Sip water if you clear your throat a lot, because frequent throat-clearing can irritate vocal fold tissues.

— Try relaxation techniques to avoid stress, which can lead to forceful voice use and possible tissue damage.

— See your doctor about acid reflux symptoms, which can lead to voice problems. Hoarseness and breathiness may also be a sign of something wrong.

— Caffeine, alcohol and some medications dehydrate the vocal folds and reduce their ability to maintain vibration, and smoking irritates the lungs, larynx and vocal tract.

— Talking loudly over long periods can lead to a voice disorder, so consider getting a microphone or vocal training.

Johnson also advises older adults to read out loud to one another, or even out loud to themselves, to keep their voices active. He knows this can be a challenge for older adults living alone.

So maybe talking to yourself isn’t so bad?

“I don’t think it is,” Johnson said.


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Singer spotlight: Andrew Lipke

Posted on Nov 14, 2013

Had an opportunity to take in the Andrew Lipke set in Wilmington this past summer when he opened for Leon Russell. Andrew is an East Coast guy and performs in the Philly region often so go check him out.

Here is a two-song you tube from a past Andrew performance. The second song, a haunting, minor-key ballad, “Up to Here”, at the 9:15 mark of the video best demonstrates his great rang as well as his creative blend of mid voice and head voice.




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Hey all…

The article below from the NY Times is nothing short of amazing.

I copied and pasted here instead of a link because the NYT has viewing limits online and then they want a subscription before any additional viewing. Enjoy!


Is Music the Key to Success?


Published: October 12, 2013

 CONDOLEEZZA RICE trained to be a concert pianist. Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, was a professional clarinet and saxophone player. The hedge fund billionaire Bruce Kovner is a pianist who took classes at Juilliard.

 Enlarge This Image

Anna Parini

 Multiple studies link music study to academic achievement. But what is it about serious music training that seems to correlate with outsize success in other fields?

The connection isn’t a coincidence. I know because I asked. I put the question to top-flight professionals in industries from tech to finance to media, all of whom had serious (if often little-known) past lives as musicians. Almost all made a connection between their music training and their professional achievements.

The phenomenon extends beyond the math-music association. Strikingly, many high achievers told me music opened up the pathways to creative thinking. And their experiences suggest that music training sharpens other qualities: Collaboration. The ability to listen. A way of thinking that weaves together disparate ideas. The power to focus on the present and the future simultaneously.

Will your school music program turn your kid into a Paul Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft (guitar)? Or a Woody Allen (clarinet)? Probably not. These are singular achievers. But the way these and other visionaries I spoke to process music is intriguing. As is the way many of them apply music’s lessons of focus and discipline into new ways of thinking and communicating — even problem solving.

Look carefully and you’ll find musicians at the top of almost any industry. Woody Allen performs weekly with a jazz band. The television broadcaster Paula Zahn (cello) and the NBC chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd (French horn) attended college on music scholarships; NBC’s Andrea Mitchell trained to become a professional violinist. Both Microsoft’s Mr. Allen and the venture capitalist Roger McNamee have rock bands. Larry Page, a co-founder of Google, played saxophone in high school. Steven Spielberg is a clarinetist and son of a pianist. The former World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn has played cello at Carnegie Hall.

“It’s not a coincidence,” says Mr. Greenspan, who gave up jazz clarinet but still dabbles at the baby grand in his living room. “I can tell you as a statistician, the probability that that is mere chance is extremely small.” The cautious former Fed chief adds, “That’s all that you can judge about the facts. The crucial question is: why does that connection exist?”

Paul Allen offers an answer. He says music “reinforces your confidence in the ability to create.” Mr. Allen began playing the violin at age 7 and switched to the guitar as a teenager. Even in the early days of Microsoft, he would pick up his guitar at the end of marathon days of programming. The music was the emotional analog to his day job, with each channeling a different type of creative impulse. In both, he says, “something is pushing you to look beyond what currently exists and express yourself in a new way.”

Mr. Todd says there is a connection between years of practice and competition and what he calls the “drive for perfection.” The veteran advertising executive Steve Hayden credits his background as a cellist for his most famous work, the Apple “1984” commercial depicting rebellion against a dictator. “I was thinking of Stravinsky when I came up with that idea,” he says. He adds that his cello performance background helps him work collaboratively: “Ensemble playing trains you, quite literally, to play well with others, to know when to solo and when to follow.”

For many of the high achievers I spoke with, music functions as a “hidden language,” as Mr. Wolfensohn calls it, one that enhances the ability to connect disparate or even contradictory ideas. When he ran the World Bank, Mr. Wolfensohn traveled to more than 100 countries, often taking in local performances (and occasionally joining in on a borrowed cello), which helped him understand “the culture of people, as distinct from their balance sheet.”

It’s in that context that the much-discussed connection between math and music resonates most. Both are at heart modes of expression. Bruce Kovner, the founder of the hedge fund Caxton Associates and chairman of the board of Juilliard, says he sees similarities between his piano playing and investing strategy; as he says, both “relate to pattern recognition, and some people extend these paradigms across different senses.”

Mr. Kovner and the concert pianist Robert Taub both describe a sort of synesthesia — they perceive patterns in a three-dimensional way. Mr. Taub, who gained fame for his Beethoven recordings and has since founded a music software company, MuseAmi, says that when he performs, he can “visualize all of the notes and their interrelationships,” a skill that translates intellectually into making “multiple connections in multiple spheres.”

For others I spoke to, their passion for music is more notable than their talent. Woody Allen told me bluntly, “I’m not an accomplished musician. I get total traction from the fact that I’m in movies.”

Mr. Allen sees music as a diversion, unconnected to his day job. He likens himself to “a weekend tennis player who comes in once a week to play. I don’t have a particularly good ear at all or a particularly good sense of timing. In comedy, I’ve got a good instinct for rhythm. In music, I don’t, really.”

Still, he practices the clarinet at least half an hour every day, because wind players will lose their embouchure (mouth position) if they don’t: “If you want to play at all you have to practice. I have to practice every single day to be as bad as I am.” He performs regularly, even touring internationally with his New Orleans jazz band. “I never thought I would be playing in concert halls of the world to 5,000, 6,000 people,” he says. “I will say, quite unexpectedly, it enriched my life tremendously.”

Music provides balance, explains Mr. Wolfensohn, who began cello lessons as an adult. “You aren’t trying to win any races or be the leader of this or the leader of that. You’re enjoying it because of the satisfaction and joy you get out of music, which is totally unrelated to your professional status.”

For Roger McNamee, whose Elevation Partners is perhaps best known for its early investment in Facebook, “music and technology have converged,” he says. He became expert on Facebook by using it to promote his band, Moonalice, and now is focusing on video by live-streaming its concerts. He says musicians and top professionals share “the almost desperate need to dive deep.” This capacity to obsess seems to unite top performers in music and other fields.

Ms. Zahn remembers spending up to four hours a day “holed up in cramped practice rooms trying to master a phrase” on her cello. Mr. Todd, now 41, recounted in detail the solo audition at age 17 when he got the second-highest mark rather than the highest mark — though he still was principal horn in Florida’s All-State Orchestra.

“I’ve always believed the reason I’ve gotten ahead is by outworking other people,” he says. It’s a skill learned by “playing that solo one more time, working on that one little section one more time,” and it translates into “working on something over and over again, or double-checking or triple-checking.” He adds, “There’s nothing like music to teach you that eventually if you work hard enough, it does get better. You see the results.”

That’s an observation worth remembering at a time when music as a serious pursuit — and music education — is in decline in this country.

Consider the qualities these high achievers say music has sharpened: collaboration, creativity, discipline and the capacity to reconcile conflicting ideas. All are qualities notably absent from public life. Music may not make you a genius, or rich, or even a better person. But it helps train you to think differently, to process different points of view — and most important, to take pleasure in listening.


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Hey everyone…

I would like to invite you to a special event on Monday October 21st at 730pm at Harcum College in Bryn Mawr PA.

I will be conducting a seminar to discuss my contemporary vocal instruction program. The seminar is titled, You can sing, and it will focus on the various aspects of my vocal instruction program and will include a question and answer period so that I can answer your most pressing questions about voice lessons.


So come on out to  Harcum College, Kevin D. Marlo Little Theatre;  750 Montgomery Avenue, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010.  

Check out the link here to the Harcum website announcement on the seminar for more details.

Hope to see you there!!



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Music polls & the greatest singers

Posted on Aug 22, 2013


I’ve always been fascinated with music polls and especially polls of “the best singers of all time” and how these polls are compiled.

 Whether it’s Rolling Stone, bloggers, websites or any other media outlet, perhaps the specific criteria should be listed? And perhaps they should be listed by music genre, such as the best Rock singers of all time.

Is it misguided to place Michael Jackson or Paul McCartney on the same list as Axel Rose? Clearly, McCartney and Michael, as well as Stevie Wonder have crossed genres much more that Rose. I am intentionally leaving out talent comparisons here, for this blog at least, as talent comparisons from one artist to another can be a lengthy and quite volatile topic.  

I share below a link to a poll from a couple years ago with the title of “The 20 best singers ever”. I have left out my most subjective opinions here, because, well I could go on for days about who is, and who is not listed on a particular poll, and also why a given artist is ranked with a particular number in a list.

As an example, Freddie Mercury is second in this poll while Stevie Wonder is 9th?  Really? And how much weight are record sales given in the rankings? It’s all interesting to ponder- I think.

Check out the link here and send me some comments on this poll. 






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Summer, hydration and singers

Posted on Jul 21, 2013

Well we all know that proper hydration of our bodies on regular intervals is important but especially during the heat of summer- and now as we roll into the dog days of summer.  

Let’s look back at the wonderful resource from the Duke University Voice Care Center and on page 2 within the link below the topic of hydration is addressed thoroughly.

The lead sentence says so much: “Vocal hygiene” can be thought of as the care and feeding of the voice. It refers to the things we do to keep the voice healthy.

 Read on: http://www.dukehealth.org/repository/dukehealth/2010/12/22/13/57/10/0598/DVCC%20vocal%20health.pdf

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Phoebe Hunt

Posted on Jul 8, 2013

Singer-Songwriter Phoebe Hunt is far from a household name, but if the output from her debut solo album and follow-up live disc are any indication, she will go far. She is well steeped in folk, pop and bluegrass- and just an amazing overall talent.

I just love Phoebe’s vocal timbre and overall command of her mid voice and head voice which shines amongst the careful vocal arrangements in each of her tunes.

Check her out:


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What’s new?

Posted on Jun 29, 2013

…Well, What’s New was a wonderful standard covered but many legendary singers such as Frank and also Linda Ronstadt among many others.

But no, this blog title is not about the song but just to let you all know some changes are coming here to my voice instruction site over the next few weeks. New and improved will be the goal, yes. And to stay with the cliches….stay tuned. Happy Summer.



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