Professional Singers

When a problem affects the professional singing voice

Many singers are constantly afraid of their voice.

When singers develop a disorder or disease of the singing voice (dysody) and lose the feeling for their voice as a result of this disease, they need highly competent support. The treatment and care of the professional singing voice are the main focus of our work. The MEDICAL VOICE CENTER is the only center of its kind to offer its patients work with a voice rehabilitation coach, who takes over the therapeutic work on the disturbed singing voice. This person is familiar with the concerns and needs of the professional singing voice as well as possible dysfunctions and their regulation. As an integral part of the multidisciplinary voice team, the opera and concert singer Jale Papila works as a singing voice rehabilitation coach with the affected singers, always at eye level. In addition to the medical, pedagogical, and therapeutic competencies, the singing voice rehabilitation coach’s professional stage experience is invaluable for the therapy.

Performing Artist Support Center

For professional singers, the MEDICAL VOICE CENTER offers a unique service. Through the multidisciplinary team, we ensure that their most valuable tool, your voice, receives the best possible treatment. This includes advice on singing technique, performance, as well as the health and hygiene of the voice (both physical and emotional) and also the transfer back to the stage in everyday life.

In the world of professional singing, it is often conveyed that only those who are vocally resilient and healthy can succeed in this profession. Vocal injuries, however, unlike injuries in high-performance sports, tend to be seen as a stigma. As a result, the affected singers usually do not dare to talk openly about their voice problems for fear of a negative impact on their singing career and confront their worries with themselves.

They are often left alone with their fears and thoughts that there might be „something bad“ with their voice and whether voice surgery might be necessary – the inner tension grows.

The high vocal load of professional singers leads to overstrain

The vocal demands on professional singers in their everyday professional life are very great. Unlike most other professional voice groups, they not only use their voice for their profession, but their voice represents their profession. Thus, professional singers depend on an unrestrictedly functioning, healthy, and powerful voice to reliably perform their profession.

Almost all professional singers are confronted with the fact that their voice is no longer fully functional temporarily or over a longer period in the course of their career. The high vocal and physical stress in this profession increase the likelihood of overstraining the voice: performances and rehearsals often have to be mastered within a short time – not infrequently in different parts, at changing locations under difficult acoustic conditions. Often the performance also includes dancing and speaking. It is not always possible to cancel a performance in the event of an infection, even if the voice is not fully capable. As a rule, everyone has a good regeneration system that allows the voice to recover with sufficient rest. However, if voice complaints do not subside despite sufficient rest or if the voice needs more and more time to regenerate, these singers need help.

Consult a doctor immediately if you suspect to have a voice problem.

Professionelle Singstimme
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Typical voice problems in professional singers

Voice problems in professional singers often manifest in the speaking voice as well as in the singing voice. Affected singers perceive changes in their vocal sound, vocal functions, and vocal resilience and are usually able to name them well due to their pronounced body sensation.

Typical problems that may indicate a voice disorder in professional singers are, for example, decreasing resilience and rapid signs of fatigue in the singing and speaking voice. The voice increasingly requires a longer regeneration period. A busy to hoarse voice sound can often be heard, especially after rehearsals and performances, but also after practicing at home. Increasingly, note onsets no longer succeed smoothly, but only with increased pressure and are often delayed. As a rule, piano singing is difficult or no longer possible, and the ability to swell (Messa di Voce), especially from loud to soft, no longer functions well. Often the notes are broken off. Affected singers report that they constantly feel „sung off“, that their voice sounds dull or rough, that they no longer feel their „voice fit“ and that they have difficulties in the register transitions (passaggio). High notes can only be mastered with increased effort, i.e. with increased air pressure and high volume. Many affected professional singers also describe a loss of sound, a so-called „hole“ in the middle register. The range of notes that would otherwise be available and necessary for professional performance is increasingly reduced – especially the high notes are no longer retrievable. The speaking voice, on the other hand, is elevated in many cases after singing.

Affected professional singers also often complain of „tension pains, feelings of pressure and a twinge in the throat“ during or after singing and speaking, as well as increased mucus production and a need to clear the throat. Singing is increasingly strenuous and cannot be sustained for long.

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Possible causes of voice problems in singers

The causes of long-lasting voice problems in singers can be manifold. Only rarely is there a single underlying aspect. Instead, the voice problems must always be seen in a bio-psycho-social context. In addition to vocal overload, difficult workplace conditions due to dust or dry air in the theater or the fear of not being able to fulfill a required performance can play a role, to name just a few factors. Often in the „world of professional singing,“ stress is cited, for example, because of an excessive performance workload or permanently prevailing competitive pressure. Grief, emotional upheaval, and fear of the future can also significantly influence the voice and thus the quality of one’s performance. Physical limitations, e.g. during or after infections or as a result of an accident, can also be partly responsible for the disturbance of the singing voice.

In most cases, a functional disturbance of the singing time – the so-called functional dysody – can be primarily diagnosed with the described complaints. Typical is that a habitual vocal performance is no longer retrievable. The vocal difficulties can either develop insidiously over a longer period, or they can occur suddenly, e.g. after extreme vocal stress. Secondary, organic changes of the vocal folds, such as in the form of contact granulomas or vocal fold swelling (so-called phonation thickening) can also develop.

Organic vocal fold changes such as cystspolypsnodules, or hemorrhages can also be causative of the voice complaints.

Stage fright

Anxiety and voice in professional singers

Singers are under immense pressure when they have voice problems:

If the „instrument voice“ no longer functions, as usual, this quickly leads to uncertainty, anxiety, and stress in professional singers, and subsequently to typical physical reactions such as shallow breathing and increased muscle tone, which have an additional aggravating effect on vocalization. A professional singer’s fear of not being able to reach the high notes in a performance, for example, due to their vocal complaints can be enormous. To achieve the usual performance, those affected develop compensatory strategies, often unconsciously, which can lead to a permanent problem in the longer term.

Parallel to the voice problem, a variety of fears quickly arise. There is often fear of no longer being able to meet the high vocal demands of the profession. Since many singers are under a lot of pressure to meet deadlines due to tight stage schedules, the fear often also relates to whether the voice will be okay again in the short time until the next performance. Fear of the future often plays a role for professional singers. The fear of perhaps losing their job in the theater or never being able to sing and perform again and the fear of damage to their reputation are immense.

What should professional singers do?

Especially if you are worried about your voice, it is important to get clarity and a diagnosis from an ENT specialist or a phoniatrist. At the MEDICAL VOICE CENTER, you are in the best hands with the specialists Prof. Markus Hess and Dr. Susanne Fleischer. They perform a painless endoscopic examination of the larynx and vocal folds to determine whether any abnormalities are visible on the vocal folds. In most cases, these are functional voice disorders that have not yet manifested organically. In these cases, voice work with the voice rehabilitation coach and/or logopedic therapy will be indicated. Since voice complaints are often accompanied by muscular tension pain in the neck-shoulder-neck area, manual or osteopathic treatment can be included in the therapy. If an organic voice disorder is detected, further steps are discussed together with the doctor and the voice rehabilitation coach. Even in these cases, we ALWAYS try to get the voice problem under control first with conservative means, i.e. with the rehabilitation of the high-performance singing voice. In some cases, however, surgery will be unavoidable.

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Rehabilitation of the high performance singing voice

Professional voice users (singers, actors, and speakers) are a unique category of patients with special vocal needs resulting from the demands of their profession. Rehabilitation of the professional singing voice is always focused on these special needs. Therefore, regardless of whether a functional disorder or an organic voice disorder is present, it is recommended that professional singers and speakers entrust themselves to a specialist in the rehabilitation of the high-performance singing voice, known as a voice rehabilitation coach, who is extensively knowledgeable in the field of the singing voice and all related functions as well as genres. Jale Papila is one of the few voice rehabilitation coaches with in-depth knowledge in the areas of the functional anatomy of the voice, voice pathology, disorders of the professional singing voice, and voice rehabilitation. Jale Papila specializes in working with the professional singing voice and works as part of the MEDICAL VOICE CENTER’s multidisciplinary team, which includes a phoniatrist, a phonosurgeon, speech therapist, an osteopath/psychotherapist, and a voice educator. As a voice rehabilitation coach, she provides an important link between the physicians and high-performance singers, helping to ensure that the essential aspects of treatment are translated into the professional singing voice. In addition, Jale Papila lectures at professional meetings and congresses and is in constant exchange with medical and therapeutic colleagues.

Jale Papila – Voice Rehabilitation Coach

As a concert and opera singer with extensive stage experience and a vocal coach, Jale Papila can empathize with your concerns and needs. Most importantly – you are no longer alone with your voice crisis. As an experienced voice rehabilitation coach, she can ensure that you receive the best possible treatment and voice rehabilitation. Voice rehabilitation provides you with comprehensive and discreet support from the moment your voice disorder is diagnosed, all the way back to the stage.
Rehabilitation work with Jale Papila is in no way a substitute for your own voice teacher. Rather, should you be supervised by a teacher you trust, we encourage you to collaborate when possible.