Human voice is a major component in communication and we
use our voices to connect with others through speech and songs. Each human
voice is unique like a fingerprint and voice use is culture specific-a feature
that is best observed in the singing voices of different kinds of music in the
world. New technologies have helped understand the human voice better in terms
of voice usage, voice problems, care and conservation of voice.
spoke to Dr.
Prakash Boominathan, PhD,
Professor, Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, Sri Ramachandra
University, Chennai, India. He also serves as a consultant speech language
pathologist and audiologist at several Hospitals and ENT Research centers in
Q. You are widely recognized as a Voice Expert dealing with
'supranormal' voices such as those singing classical music. What drew you into
the scientific study of Voice and Voice Management?
Actually my clients inspired me
to delve deeper into the science of Voice. As a Speech Pathologist/Therapist
and Audiologist, I help people overcome speech impairments such as stuttering.
My line of work also includes analyzing voice use, teaching a variety of
techniques such as proper breath support, relaxation and voice placement to
elite voice users such as professional singers, disc jockeys (DJs), radio
jockeys (RJs) to name a few, in order to optimize their speaking or singing
Research and therapy for Voice management
available in India until recently were based on western parameters because the
research outcomes were from western studies. When my clients approached me with
voice problems that were unique to Indian climate and culture I realized the
need for new surveys and procedures to explore the science of Voice in the
Indian context. It led me to study the vocal dynamics of singing voices,
especially of Carnatic singers.
Q. What is the Indian scenario in Voice management among singers
vis-ā-vis the practice in advanced countries?
In the west, every music school
has medical specialists like a laryngologist to analyze the structure of the
voice box of every student and a voice specialist to determine the use and the
scope of the voice box. Based on these observations a suitable pitch is
recommended for the student. Music schools also use the services of a
psychologist and a musician to evaluate the student's aptitude for learning
music. Only after these provisions are fulfilled students are admitted to music
classes. Even after admission the team of specialists monitors the vocal usage
of music students and helps them enhance their voice skills effectively.
Here in India people tend to
associate voice problems with voice disability and speech impairment
only and this is vastly different from voice care and conservation.
Students do not take music
lessons with such elaborate preparation as in the West and internalize the
pattern of singing set by their Guru. But the awareness of Voice Management is
slowly picking up. We have the latest technology in India to 'manage voices'
but people still are vastly ignorant about the kind of help they need and whom
to approach to preserve their voice and prevent it from injury.
What are some common voice complaints that
you've come across in singers and how do you treat them?
problems such as difficulty in maintaining the voice at a very high or low
pitch, singing long phrases through the range, breaking of voice while shifting
music scales, maintaining appropriate volume and depending on the microphone
for amplification adversely affects the quality of voice output. Often
singers fail to recognize the false vocal chords that vibrate in tension.
For treatment, a visual examination of the vocal chords by a
laryngologist is the first step. We also make a detailed study of the history
of use and nature of the voice, identify any abusive behavior of the voice and
suggest modification. With the help computerized gadgets we evaluate the pitch,
resonance volume and breath support and advice the voice user on the proper use
of breath, right postures, breathing exercises along with tips for vocal
hygiene and vocal diet.
elaborate on 'Vocal Hygiene' and
There are certain healthy practices called 'vocal
hygiene' that help maintain the voice box for a healthier voice. These include
avoiding voice abusive behavior such as smoking, drinking alcohol, screaming and
clearing throat often, to name a few.
Singing in unsuited registers or
scales and overusing voice may lead to voice problems.
Generally the Indian palate craves spicy, oily,
pungent and sour tastesall of which are bad for the voice. With western food
entering the Indian market, cheese and chocolate which are not favorable for a
good voice have added to the list of items in the bad 'vocal diet.' All of the
above and coffee, eating late and untimely meals stimulate reflux and gastro
esophageal reflux disease (GERD) affects voice.
Education is gaining importance in this part of the world in recent years.
Please tell us more about this?
attached to the 'Voice Clinic' in Sri Ramachandra University, Chennai which is
unique in many ways and the first of its kind in South India. We have an
interdisciplinary team of ENT surgeons, Speech Language Pathologists, Voice
scientists, Psychologists and musicians to provide a holistic support to
professional voice users such as singers, teachers, actors and broadcasters. We
conduct extensive research and training and offer medical, surgical and
therapeutic intervention services.
educate people in understanding Voice, a
three-month certificate course
was started in 2008 for professional
voice users as a collaborative effort of the Department of Indian Music
and the University Industry Community Interaction Centre (UICIC) of the
University of Madras and the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing
Sciences at Sri Ramachandra University. There has been an overwhelming response
from singers, teachers, entrepreneurs, communications experts and even a judge
who joined the course because he felt the need to project his voice in a municipal
court that can at times get too noisy to carry a voice.
Q. How can
a health portal like Medindia help the cause of voice care and help people
understand better about voice and avoid voice problems?
You can help spread awareness that voice problems
can be professionally rectified and also that home remedies can sometimes do
more harm than good in the long run. If the sudden onset of a hoarse voice
continues for long medical help should be sought because it could also be one
of the indications of laryngeal cancer.
We have outreach programs in schools where we
conduct free workshops to educate teachers on how to preserve or enhance their
voice quality and offer tips on voice care and conservation. You can help form
Support Groups among professional voice users where they can learn and exchange
notes on better voice management.
"Human voice is the most beautiful
instrument of all, but it is the most difficult to play."
Richard Strauss, German Composer
Medindia wishes Dr. Prakash Boominathan all success in
his exploration of the science of singing 'voices' in the Indian context.