17.06.2019 change 17.06.2019

Winner of FameLab, Dr. Sielska-Badurek: Singing can help everyone

Photo: Fotolia Photo: Fotolia

Singing improves concentration, mood and is a good way to overcome barriers; it can help people at every stage of life, says the winner of the Polish edition of FameLab, phoniatrist Dr. Ewelina Sielska-Badurek. She suggests how to eliminate some of the problems associated with singing.

"Research shows that singing improves IQ in children, concentration, mood, it can open a person to showing emotions, it is a training in overcoming barriers" - phoniatrist Dr. Ewelina Sielska-Badurek from the Medical University of Warsaw, winner of the Polish edition of FameLab says in an interview with PAP. She adds that it is also related to the immune system: "Children who sing, get sick less often" - she says. In her opinion, singing or making music can help people of all ages.

"Singing is like sporting activity. It activates the whole body: you have to breathe deeper, take more air into the lungs, engage a large group of muscles" - she says. She reminds that when we do sports, there is an increase in endorphins, known as the happiness hormones. "Similarly with singing" - says the phoniatrist.

In her research, Dr. Sielska-Badurek focuses on voice emission problems in singing. She works with vocalists and people who want to sing. The researcher says that voice emission problems in speech and singing do not have to co-exist. This means that people who have voice emission problems while speaking do not have to have these problems and when singing, and vice versa.

"Only 50% of vocalists are able to correctly create a voice in speech, and 40% correctly create a voice in singing" - researcher sums up the results.

She adds that in 60 percent cases, problems related to voice emission are associated with functional disorders (an irregularity occurs during the creation of the voice); and in 40 percent cases, they are related to organic abnormalities, for example abnormalities in the larynx or vocal folds (also known as vocal cords).

Asked about simple tips on how to improve the voice emission technique in singing, the researcher says: "The basic mistake people make is breathing with the wrong breathing track. When breathing in properly, both the chest and the abdominal wall should expand" - she says. She adds that in some people, breathing properly is impossible to due to a wrong posture.

She explains that she sees patients with an incorrectly positioned pelvis and over-emphasized lumbar lordosis. "And that makes it difficult to achieve the thoracic component of the breathing track and the abdominal muscles are tense. That`s when we often breathe incorrectly: either with the front wall of the abdomen or the tops of the lungs" - she says. She adds that the next element of the posture, which may make singing difficult, is excessive cervical lordosis, "the head extended forward causes tension in the neck, but also tension within the mandible" - the phoniatrist explains.

Another unfavourable factor is permanent stress. "At the moment of danger, you prepare your voice to sound ugly, loud because this sound is supposed to deter enemies. Today, many people function under stress, which is related to the tension within the muscles of the articulation organ and perinatal muscles. The first stage of dealing with disorders is realizing that these excessive tensions exist" - the researcher says.

When training the correct singing techniques, the researcher recommends the lax vox technique. "A silicone tube with a diameter of 1 cm and a length of 33 cm is placed in a water bottle. The tube outlet should be 1 cm below the water surface. Then you should start blowing into the tube and let bubbles out. This activates all the muscles of the vocal tract and forces proper breathing" - the researcher describes this method.

"There are many different singing techniques. 30 years ago, researchers wrote in scientific journals that popular singing techniques such as belting (performing musical songs) or growling (a technique used in rock music) are very unhealthy for the voice. Only now we have started to examine vocalists and we see that if someone has the right technique, this type of singing does not have to be harmful. We`re still learning about that!" - sums up the phoniatrist.

As part of her PhD, the researcher searched for methods to improve voice emission in singing. She realized that even if she would find such methods, there would be no objective way to check whether they were effective and how much they helped the patient. There were no systematic tools that would allow to diagnose vocal problems in singing. "I am one of the first people in the world who are looking for tools to evaluate the voice quality in singing, and this is a big niche" - the researcher says.

Thanks to Dr. Sielska-Badurek`s work, it was possible to collect and systematize all the knowledge about dealing with patients and measuring the effectiveness of therapy of voice disorders in singing.

One of the stages of research proposed by the researcher from the Medical University of Warsaw is a survey, in which the patient answers questions about the problems he or she experiences in singing. The next stage is the palpation examination - the doctor evaluates the functioning of organs participating in voice formation by touching the submandibular area (indirectly evaluating the tension of the tongue), side walls of the throat, examines muscle tone, abdominal wall and chest mobility.

The next part of the study is the perceptual evaluation of voice quality - the phoniatrist listens to the patient`s singing and speech. This allows to check if there is air, hoarseness, harshness in the patient`s singing or, for example, if the voice is weakened.

The videostroboscopic examination is also an element of this comprehensive diagnosis. By flashing the vocal folds with light of a certain frequency, the doctor can "deceive the eyes" and record what happens to the vocal folds that vibrate several hundred times per second during singing, and whether their functioning is correct.

"Until now, a person would come to a voice coach or speech therapist, sing, and the specialist would determine by ear that, for example, something was happening in the larynx, and refer that person to a doctor. The doctor would look into the larynx, usually with a laryngeal mirror, and say there was no pathology. The person would return to the voice coach and the search for the source of problems would continue, and the disorder (most often a functional one, as we know from today`s research) would continue to develop until, for example, voice nodules or polyps would appear as a consequence. As doctors, we would often wait until there was an injury and only then we would start treating it. Thanks to the protocols I have proposed, we have the opportunity to identify functional singing disorders and prevent them from developing" - the researcher says. In a large number of cases, it is possible to improve the singing technique so that the activities are performed correctly.

PAP - Science in Poland, Ludwika Tomala

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