Monday, September 29, 2014

Singing Stimulates 'bodymind' Thus Enhancing Vocal Production

Rinta, Tiija, and Graham F. Welch. "Should Singing Activities Be Included in Speech and Voice Therapy for Prepubertal Children?" Journal of Voice (2008): 100-12. Print.
The King's speech. Dir. Tom Hooper. Perf. Colin Firth. Alliance Vivafilm, 2011. Film.


After the Academy Award winning movie, "The King’s Speech" was released in 2010, the topic of singing benefitting those with voice disorders became a fascinating conversation starter to the public that helped promote the fields of Speech Pathology, Neurolaryngology and Vocology. Simply put, singing stimulates areas in the right hemisphere of the brain, which would then assume the function for damaged left speech areas.  For many decades the theory has been used on people of all ages producing surprising results. Does this actually work? As "The King’s Speech" tells the story about a man, Bertie (Colin Firth), who suffered from psychological trauma causing a debilitating speech impediment, is suddenly crowned King George VI of England. Based on the true story of King George VI, this educative movie follows the Royal Monarch's quest by using singing as an activity to find his voice. There is a good amount of research on this theory and how it works. In a lot of research, it is incredibly unfortunate that speaking and singing have tended to be regarded as two completely separate sets of behaviours in clinical practices. The treatment of speech and voice disorders has focused on the client's speaking ability, as this is perceived to be the main vocal behaviour of concern. However, according to a broader voice-science perspective, given that the same vocal structure is used for speaking and singing, it may be possible to include singing in speech and voice therapy. Researchers like Tiija Rinta and Graham F. Welch explain in their "Should Singing Activities Be Included in Speech and Voice Therapy for Prepubertal Children?" a theoretical framework is proposed that indicates possible benefits from the inclusion of singing in such therapeutic settings. Although Rinta and Welch focuses this paper on children, the framework has said to be adaptable for adult clients as well. Like the true story of King George VI and many other literature reviews, this article demonstrates theoretically why singing activities can potentially be exploited in the treatment of prepubertal individuals suffering from speech and voice disorders.

The model Rinta and Welch presents demonstrates how the different factors that influence our vocal functioning and vocal products interact and influence each other. All the intra- and interindividual factors influence one another and shape the individual’s singing and speaking competencies. The individual’s speaking and singing competencies then influence the quality of his or her vocal output, both in speaking and singing, similar to how King George VI conquered his impediment.

Their theory demonstrates that a complex combination of human physiology and its relations to the psychological side indicate that singing activities may influence the entire 'bodymind'. They explain that  neural networks connect all the various physiological and anatomical elements of the body to each other which that are used for processing sound, also connect the physiological and psychological sides of the individual to each other, forming a connection that Rinta and Welch identified as the ‘bodymind’. According to Rinta and Welch’s research, our bodies and minds are interconnected via neuropeptides and its receptors. Therefore, they argue that it is reasonable to talk about the bodymind rather than a separate body and a separate mind. An example is used by using neuropeptide connections throughout the body that act as the processing of emotions. Auditory stimuli are also refined by the connections and is recorded in the neurological networks by an evoked emotional response. Once these activities are used in the form of a holistic approach in a therapeutic or educational setting by focusing on the complex makeup of humans, Rinta and Welch say that vocal behaviors may be enhanced. However, there are considerable gaps found in the literature that concerns children’s vocal functioning, vocal qualities, and therapeutic methods for speech and voice disorder treatment.


Voice is an integral part of our being and living. Either in speaking or singing, using voice is a way of allowing one's thoughts, feelings, and emotions to be expressed and communicated. I could not help but appreciate and think about "The King’s Speech" while reading this article. Yes, Rinta and Welch focused their paper around children, but since this 2008 article, more research has proven that the theory works on adults as well. As a singing teacher and singing health researcher, I strongly believe that singing stimulates positive well-being, thus enhancing health benefits. I believe that in order to reach a common ground or language with clients who have a speech disorder, music is always there to save the day. Music plays a large role in the history and culture of many societies, often formally incorporated into various life events. In particular, singing is an extremely prevalent form of music making in many cultures. Ethnomusicologists have postulated that the origin of human polyphonic singing, or group singing with multiple pitches sounding simultaneously, may be intimately related to the evolution of human language, speech, and intelligence. Perhaps because of this relationship, nearly every culture in the world has exhibited some tradition of singing.

Neurologically, I personally believe that the singing mechanism has a fascinating function. During the production of healthy singing, various motor skills are enhanced and aid in the neurological function within the brain to the larynx. I teach singing to a group of children who all are diagnosed with a type of vocal paralysis. I find that through the use of proper alignment, breathing skills, artistry, diverse facial expressions and musicality; motor skills are naturally developed and therefore aid neurological function to the larynx (Superior Laryngeal Nerve and Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve). Rinta and Welch divulged into a topic that may seem like new research because their theory has not been frequently tested. However, I appreciate the theory because it brings a holistic approach to clinical practices that embodies a healthier sense of well-being, or what they describe as 'bodymind'. Let’s face it, wouldn’t we all like to experience positive well-being in clinical practices?

1 comment:

Bradley Christensen said...

Hey Doug,
Great link between the article “Should Singing Activities Be Included in Speech and Voice Therapy for Prepubertal Children?” and the movie The King’s Speech! It is an incredible fact that the brain has the plasticity to alter itself to its particular needs if injured. That the right side of the brain can assume the function for damaged left hemisphere speech areas is comforting to know. I say comforting, because anyone has the chance of suffering from a brain injury, and it is nice to know that with therapy, the brain can overcome come various obstacles.

What struck me in your summary was that while there is research being done on the benefits of singing in speech therapy, speaking and singing are treated as “two separate clinical practices.” Is it not obvious that in singing, one supports their sound through the breath? And while the breath we draw in enters our lungs, to sing, we use our entire body (This is why I enjoyed the ‘bodymind’ concept).

Your teaching – working with children who have vocal paralysis, fascinates me! It would be amazing to see some of your lessons, to see the benefits and impact your teaching clearly has on these kids. Considering that the authors are asking if singing should be included in voice therapy, I look forward to further research showing that it should be! Perhaps you should publish a paper based on your own experiences… Thanks for this Doug!