Singing Best Practices
Respiratory training, frequent singing, and mindfulness of vocal fatigue and expectations are practices that are recommended specifically for older singers in order to address the complications they face. While there is no empirical evidence currently available to say what other benefits these techniques bring, I was able to find that singing has many scientifically proven benefits to older people.
In order to answer your question, I first focused my research on finding relevant data from recently published academic articles. I also specifically researched the areas of vocal exercises, vocal ranges, sitting vs. standing, hydration, the best repertoire for the older adult choir (senior citizens' choir). I also focused on research findings that related to singers aged 60 or over. I found that this topic has a limited amount of empirical research focused on it. There is very little academic focus on this area, and I believe that this is because research into the best practices for older singers has fewer beneficial outcomes than other areas (such as the psychological and physical impact of singing in older people) and therefore it has remained on the sidelines.
For this reason, I have extended my search to include recently published online articles, rather than limiting to academic papers, as there is not enough data here. However, I have attempted to focus on finding data from other well-informed and reliable sources, such as the Washington American Choral Directors Association, and the Voice Council.
Next, I searched through recently published academic articles on the topic of the benefits to older adults when these best practices are put into use. However, after a thorough search, I have found that the practices that have been identified in section one, have not been empirically studied in recent research or even past research. Again, I believe that this is because there are limited applications of the outcomes of this type of research, and for this reason, it is yet to be focused on.
However, I was able to find a lot of data on the various benefits that singing brings to older people in general. Due to the lack of data available to the question, I have provided extra data on these benefits as they may be of interest. I have also included an older study from 2012 in order to provide more depth.
— Respiratory Training: A diminishing respiratory potential is something that all aging singers must face. However, there are exercises that can reduce its impact. It is suggested that 12-15 minutes of vocal exercises done daily, paying close attention to proper breathing at all times, will help this. In addition to this, whole body exercises can improve respiratory potential. A specific recommended exercise is the "count out loud" exercise. This is to breathe in 4 cumulative sips of air, and with each sip, feel a little more expansion around the rib/abdominal area. Then, exhale to 4 counts while counting out loud. Then repeat counting to 8, 12, 16, 20, as high as you can while maintaining a free speaking tone.
— Be Mindful of Vocal Fatigue: It is recommended that older singers, in particular, be wary of when their voice is tiring so not to damage it. This can be noticed by listening out for a drop or crackle in pitch. When this happens singers are advised to take a break and do some vocalizing through a straw, or some scales using a lip or tongue trill.
— Practice regularly: As with many skills, if singing is not practiced regularly then the ability to do so diminishes. This is particularly true with aging singers, especially if they have fewer opportunities to sing as they get older. Therefore, it is recommended to take steps to continue to sing regularly. For instance, this could be engaging in a daily warm-up routine. A 2017 study found that "frequent singing moderates the effect of aging on most acoustic parameters". They found that frequent singing was enough to preserve the stability of pitch and amplitude with age.
— Be mindful of the "tions": The "tions" refers to the previously mentioned respiration, along with body position, phonation, audiation, articulation, resonation, and emotion. These apply to all singers but older singers also have to contend with their expectations. There are many challenges that are associated with older singers simply because of the changes in their body. This includes the thinning of the vocal folds. These folds "deteriorate, losing their elastic and collagenous fibers." This makes them become stiffer and less smooth which can lead to vocal changes.
To combat these changes, older singers should address the "tions." Firstly, they should achieve optimal alignment by maintaining good posture. Then they should practice auditory feedback by attempting to match their voice to various pitches. This is followed by phonation that works to address thinning vocal folds by practicing singing in different ranges. Older singers should also practice resonation by working different palettes and should practice articulation by running through fast-moving note exercises. Both older singers with dentures and younger singers with braces have similar articulation issues.
In terms of emotion, singers across several age groups can have a difficult time tapping into the emotional component. However, older singers can have an advantage here because they can draw on their significant life experiences. Older singers should also come to terms with the fact that they cannot perform the same way as they did in their youth. They can, however, manage these changes by incorporating key changes, and "the judicious use of commas, which will allow for more opportunities to breathe without compromising" the singing piece.
BENEFITS OF THE BEST PRACTICES
As discussed in the methodology section, there have been no academic studies looking into the effects of the best practices.
BENEFITS OF SINGING FOR OLDER ADULTS
— Parkinson's Disease: A 2017 study has found that participating in group singing activities can improve quality of life in patients with Parkinson's disease.
— General Well-being: A study conducted in Finland has found that singing in a choir as an older adult promotes general well-being, both psychological and physical. These findings remained even when socioeconomic factors were controlled for. For older people, singing also has the impact of boosting their social relationships, sense of meaning and sense of accomplishment, which all contribute to their general sense of well-being.
— Emotional Benefits: A number of studies have found that group singing can improve mood, increase positive feelings and reduce negative feelings in older people.
— Dementia: Group singing has also been shown to improve quality of life in older people with dementia.
— Psychophysiological Effects: Singing has been shown to aid relaxation and reduce stress in older people. Older singers have higher levels of Immunoglobulin A, an antibody that strengthens the immune system, and lower levels of cortisol, known as the stress hormone.
POSSIBLE CONTINUED RESEARCH
In understanding what types of information are and are not publicly available on this topic, I’ve suggested a few other routes you may be interested in researching. For example, you may wish to further explore the benefits of singing for older people as I have uncovered above.
Or you may wish to understand what other topics are currently being covered relating to singing in older people.
To sum up, I have found that the techniques of respiratory training, frequent singing, and mindfulness of vocal fatigue and expectations are practices that are recommended specifically to older singers in order to address the complications they face. However, I found that there is limited academic research surrounding this topic, and for this reason, there is no data to show how these methods provide any other benefits to singers. I was able to find additional information that tells us that singing can be beneficial to older people in many ways, such as improving their general well-being as well as their emotional well-being.