Yesterday, it was international tampon day (who knew!?).
Embarrassed? Feeling awkward? I hope not, but realistically, many of you are cringing right now.
And the result of this? We rarely talk about menstruation and its effect on health in open forums, including the all-important vocal health.
So, let’s start easy…
Hormones. They have a lot to answer for: puberty, libido, sex, children, periods, bone density, fat metabolism, mood, heart health, skin quality, attractiveness, weight, hair, muscle mass, gender transformations (cue Caitlyn Jenner reference)…
…but how do they effect your voice?
The most obvious transformation vocally is when a teenage boy’s voice ‘breaks’ as a result of the hormone testosterone. A female voice goes through a similar break during puberty although not as obviously as their male counterparts.
But what about periods?
(Men who may be tempted to avert their eyes and minds, particularly Musical Directors/Directors/Singers involved in the performing arts industry, I would encourage you to endure. You will, no doubt, work with women in the future, and this ‘female’ topic could potentially affect the sound produced)
HAPPY VOICES SCIENCE TIME:
During menstruation, the vocal cords essentially fatten up due to an increased blood supply caused by hormonal shifts. This thickening process in the female larynx is known as ‘menstrual dysphonia’ and is often manifest with hoarseness, vocal fatigue, less vocal dexterity and loss of the higher notes in the range. What, historically, might have regarded as an ‘old wives tale’ follows the exact same logic as the masculine vocal drop in teenage years.
Hormones affect the voice. Period.
In fact, during the golden age of European Operas, female singers were granted ‘grace days’ to allow for vocal rest during their periods. Fast forward a few centuries to the 1990s, and two of the most iconic singers of all time, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, are reporting the same vocal problems as a result of the monthly cycle.
Watch from 2 minutes –
So, if you are similarly affected, what can you do?
Start the pill.
Dr Filipa La of Sheffield University noted that:”Singers tend to have a more erratic voice around premenstrual and menstrual phases of the cycle.They have less vocal control, and suffer vocal fatigue and also hoarseness.”
As a result, research was carried out and it was found the pill/birth control lessened monthly hormonal shifts with positive impacts on the voice reported as more ‘stable’ with ‘a more controllable range’.
For more information, see this article discussing the connection between the contraceptive pill and pitch.
Visit a vocal therapist or ENT!
Vocal therapy will be tailored to your needs and your voice. Hopefully, with regular visits and appropriate exercises, you can overcome loss of vocal control and enjoy singing every day of the month.
If your voice is hoarse and you are unable to hit those notes, let your MD/director/musical supervisor know. As embarrassing as it all may be, look at the facts; hormones affect the voice, and your team could be able to help you with regards to key, to volume or even just psychologically.At least they know this is something more outwith your control.
Generally eat better/exercise (DUH)…but seriously DO THIS ONE!
Come on, I wouldn’t be serious if I didn’t mention this one. The relationship between your hormones and your voice are highly dependent upon having a healthy bod. Imagine you put the wrong type of fuel in a car, leaving it out in the cold for too long or driving it so hard that it breaks down. Just like machines, your body needs love too! If you keep yourself in a healthy, happy condition, your hormonal effects will tend to pipe down and stay calm.
Nod, understand, and support… And watch this youtube video. Knowledge is power.
Listen to your performers; I’ll wager they know their voices better than you. Give them options: key changes, optional notes, mic boost, vocal rest…the more understanding you are, the better you are as a musical director.
Like my tips?
If you would like to read more or organise a one-to-one singing lesson at so that you can use your voice like never before, head over here to learn more about my singing lessons available in Glasgow.