Episode 45 – Karin Titze Cox, speech pathologist | Straw video PREMIER! | Muscle tension in singing | Is whispering really bad?

Ask the expert…. Karin Titze Cox MA, CCC-SLP. Plus the premier of the new video series on straw technique with Dr. Ingo Titze.

Yes, todays episode is a big one. Our expert is a true vocal pioneer, and she answers your questions on external muscle tension, whether whispering is bad for you, and she also gives some advice to a listeners voice recording. Really useful stuff from Karin Titze herself! You’ll have to tune in to the podcast below if you want the sneaky premier of the new videos on straw technique; an essential tool for EVERY singer and speaker.

Episode 45 - Speech Pathologist Karin Titze Cox


Karin Titze Cox – our expert!

Today we have Karin Titze Cox as our expert, and what an expert she is! Speech Pathologist, board member and governor of the Pan American Vocology Association (PAVA), published voice researcher and all round voice science buff. She also enjoys educating the pubic on the science with her father and fellow voice researcher, Dr. Ingo Titze.

She has kindly agreed to come on the show and answer some of your questions on vocal health, science and anatomy in general.

Question 1

“Here’s my question for Karin Titze! What’s your opinion on extrinsic (external) muscles being used in singing. How can you tell if they are being activated and is ok to rely on them. Or should we be trying to disengage them as much as possible? If so, is this the idea of where support comes in?” Matt, UK

The larynx and it’s interaction with the vocal tract is a big area in singing. Larynx positioning can shape our instrument in ways that increase resonance and acoustic power, and modern research has seen an amazing benefit to sustainable singing and vocal fold function from increased resonance. The extrinsic muscles can lift and lower the larynx and change the shape of the spaces above the vocal folds. This makes them fairly crucial in shaping the vocal tract, capturing resonance and shaping tone, so to say that no external muscle activity should be used is incorrect. We want them to be flexible and well managed without excessive levels of tension, but not disengaged. That would be a very boring sound! Instead, if we use higher levels of external muscle activity to shape our sound (to scream, for example) then that’s not a problem as long as we can return back to normal afterwards. We also don’t want those external muscles to inhibit vocal fold function, like pitch raising, either. Tune in to the podcast for Karins full answer.

Question 2

Is it true, or is it myth, that a whisper makes you more hoarse? If so, does a scientific explanation exist? Sigrid, Norway

Karin does not know of any scientific evidence that a whisper makes you more hoarse. However, the whisper puts the vocal folds in an artificial positioning where the front portion is squeezed together and the back portion is quite open. That creates the turbulent sound of the whisper.
There’s no contact or vibration of the vocal folds in whispering so there’s not much risk of trauma, like nodules or a polyp. The problem in whispering lies in the fact that the body can remember this unnatural setting, which creates a risk of it becoming default. Muscle memory, if you like. There are many cases where a chronic whisperer doesn’t know to get their vocal folds back to a normal vibrating pattern again, and has to retrain themselves to do it. The best advice here is to stay away from whispering altogether.

Question 3

Where’s the best advice and resources for someone who needs to learn more about formants and harmonics. I know it’s supposed to be important but I know absolutely nothing about it and get confused when reading anything in that subject. Help me find something simple and easy to digest! Nathan, USA

There are a number of websites out there that may help, but there probably needs to be more outreaching information available. If a fairly complex area which you can dig into, beginning with content on the NCVS website. If you’re getting confused with the voice science stuff, don’t get frustrated. It takes time. It also takes many conversations with like minded people before it begins to sink in and becomes useful. After all, you’ve been training it your whole career and it will only benefit you more in the end if you understand ‘why’ everything works the way it does. Knowing ‘why’ leads you to better exercise choices, and quicker progression, so why wouldn’t we want to know?!

Question 4

What’s the latest on vibrato and it’s speed? Why are my clients vibratos sometimes ‘bleaty’ and super fast, and what’s the best way to find the best sounding vibrato? Thank you to Karin Titze!

For a healthy vibrato, the general speed is determined by our reflexes. A vibrato that sounds ‘bleaty’ could mean the student is nervous, that their vibrato isn’t settled yet and possibly that their vocal muscles aren’t freely coordinated. Understanding someones true rate of vibrato is important in helping them to find the steady place, and the variations in vibrato. Sometimes as we age our vibrato can slow down a little bit, but this happens less so if that person has been singing all their life.
Speed of vibrato can also be entrained by imitation and group singing, as choir members have been recorded to have synced vibrato rates. A great reason for a teacher to be singing along with the students to help them model a steady vibrato!

Question 5

This was a listeners audio file with evidence of diplophonia; two sounds at the same time. This is often the result of either vocal injury, or of compensatory muscle tension when singing. Tune in at the top of the page for the full question, and the answer from Karin Titze, as it doesn’t translate well to words!

That’s it for the questions, but hang in there for a bunch of amazing extras!

Thanks to Karin Titze Cox for her time and expertise. As we mention earlier, there are a few brilliant tools being showcased at the end of the podcast.
1) The first is a simulator, built by Dr. Ingo Titze and his team, which models vocal fold movement, airflow and resonance behaviour in the vocal tract. THAT IS INSANE. How can you get this? You just have to go along to the Pan American Vocology Association website and join as a member. Not just for this amazing nerdy software, but to connect yourself to a brilliant bunch of people who want to interact with you too. They also want to find out what’s needed in the singing world, and to do that they need to be talking to everyday singers and teachers like us. Get yourself and along and quote ‘The Naked Vocalist’ as the reason you heard about the organisation.
2) We’re very excited about this. It’s the PREMIER of the Dr Ingo Titzes new straw videos, also presented by Karin Titze Cox. If you don’t know what a straw exercises is, then trust us; it’s essential to you as a singer or a speaker. It’s a three part series, but we’ve put them all back to back at the end of the episode. All twelve minutes of geeky pleasure. You’re welcome.

Thanks for tuning in. Please do join our mailing list for more great advice and singers info!

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Kerri says:

    Hi Guys, first of all thanks so much for all your amazing work! Love your podcast/videos! I have a question if I may about your thoughts on the benefits of the Straw Technique which Ingo Titze advocates and Lax Vox. The obvious difference is that Lax Vox uses a much wider in diameter straw, made of silicon and the method involves phonating through the tube into water. Especially since Ingo Titze talks about the straw needing to be thinner, would that make the Lax Vox method not quite as effective? What do you think are the benefits of phonating into a straw/tube in water. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. Thanks again on all your wonderful work!

    • Naked Web Monkey says:

      Hi Kerri! Thanks for the message. We’re currently looking into this, and also trailing the Lax Vox system thanks to the inventor! We’ll have him on the show soon. Ingo advocates a thinner straw in place of a larger straw in water. Water provides varied resistance because the water bubbles and back pressure is fluctuating with that, where as the straw is a constant back pressure. It would seem the straw might be a little more reliable in terms of judging back pressure, but water can be good because you’re encouraged to use balance breath flow, or the water would be going everywhere! We’ll have to get back to you though Kerri 🙂

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