Laryngeal biomechanics of the singing voice

J A Koufman, T A Radomski, G M Joharji, G B Russell, D C Pillsbury
Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery 1996, 115 (6): 527-37
By transnasal fiberoptic laryngoscopy, patients with functional voice often demonstrate abnormal laryngeal biomechanics, commonly supraglottic contraction. Appropriately, such conditions are sometimes termed muscle tension dysphonias. Singers working at the limits of their voice may also transiently demonstrate comparable tension patterns. However, the biomechanics of normal singing, particularly for different singing styles, have not been previously well characterized. We used transnasal fiberoptic laryngoscopy to study 100 healthy singers to assess patterns of laryngeal tension during normal singing and to determine whether factors such as sex, occupation, and style of singing influence laryngeal muscle tension. Thirty-nine male and 61 female singers were studied; 48 were professional singers, and 52 were amateurs. Examinations of study subjects performing standardized and nonstandardized singing tasks were recorded on a laser disk and subsequently analyzed in a frame-by-frame fashion by a blinded otolaryngologist. Each vocal task was graded for muscle tension by previously established criteria, and objective muscle tension scores were computed. The muscle tension score was expressed as a percentage of frames for each task with one of the laryngeal muscle tension patterns shown. The lowest muscle tension scores were seen in female professional singers, and the highest muscle tension scores were seen in amateur female singers. Male singers (professional and amateur) had intermediate muscle tension scores. Classical singers had lower muscle tension scores than nonclassical singers, with the lowest muscle tension scores being seen in those singing choral music (41%), art song (47%), and opera (57%), and the highest being seen in those singing jazz/pop (65%), musical theater (74%), bluegrass/country and western (86%), and rock/gospel (94%). Analyzed also were the influences of vocal nodules, prior vocal training, number of performance and practice hours per week, warm-up before singing, race, smoking, and alcohol consumption.

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