Let me begin with this: I am not a doctor or a medical professional, nor do I pretend to be. I am a voice teacher, a singer and actor, a practitioner of voice. These are some of my observations and experiences with the perimenopausal through postmenopausal voice. I bring my personal experience on this journey, as well as my work with many voices in the studio.
First and foremost, all voices are influenced physically by hormones: from puberty, pregnancy, postpartum, medical conditions, surgery, transgender voices, and peri-through-post—all of it. As I began my personal journey of “peri-through-post” and worked with female singers journeying with me, I decided to really delve into the function of what was going on, what the common threads might be, and how we could work with it and not fight the changes.
First, if you are wondering if you are entering perimenopause or if you are in the thick of menopause, please seek out medical advice! You aren’t hallucinating, nor have you lost your mind. Not all doctors are sensitive to this time of life or, frankly, have the knowledge to help, but there are many online resources that are. If your doctor dismisses your concerns, there is still help out there. Peri-through-post is becoming less taboo, which is long past due, and there are more and more resources and information available.
As we begin this phase of what I believe should be a journey of empowerment, we can begin experiencing many things, both physically and vocally. My philosophy is this: I believe the voice itself is fine. But where it chooses to reside is not always optimal and, thus, with these hormonal shifts during this time, we are often taken aback by how the voice is responding.
These are some of the major vocal signs of peri-through-post that I have observed:
- Sudden vocal fatigue
- Excessive phlegm and coughing
- Voice takes longer to warm up
- Vibrato changes in speed and space
- Range shortens
- Agility slows down
- Vocal timbre gets darker
- Vocal weight gets heavier
- Excessive dryness and “cracking” can occur
Now, you could say that these could be from other issues, and I agree—they could! However, if they are occurring in a singer of a certain age who hasn’t had issues with them in the past, this could indicate a peri-through-post voice experience. If they have experienced these issues previously, the symptoms can recur and often suddenly. Add other physical symptoms that occur during peri-through-post to that, and it may all become clear.
So, what do we do now? Shrug and give up? Shrivel away? Quit singing? Absolutely not! We don’t quit! We still have much to say! We begin with truly taking stock of where
we are, what we need to do to accomplish our goals, and how we set out to achieve it.
One of my goals in the studio is to make sure that every voice has the tools to sing as long as they want to in their lives, and that each singer has what they need to make their own decisions as to when they want to stop, slow down, or change course.
The first crucial step is to claim where you are in this process. There is no need for excuse or apology. This is a very empowering, change-filled time that needs to be embraced and celebrated and liberated, not hidden and shamed. Claiming this mindset will determine the practical adjustment you can introduce to your practice, your approach, and your ongoing singing life.
So, how do you determine these physical and practical adjustments? And how do you then begin to access them? In my experience, there are three initial approaches to the peri-through-post voice. These are to gain and regain elasticity, flexibility & agility.
These three functions laryngeally are crucial, in my experience, to keep the peri-through-post voice feeling accessible and restoring longevity, vibrance, and stamina. If we think about the access to the voice as functional, it will begin to parallel what you are doing (or not) with the rest of your body!
The decrease in estrogen causes the lack of collagen production and muscle mass throughout the body, including the larynx. The cartilage of the larynx thickens and gets heavier, the muscles get weaker, the elasticity doesn’t have the flexibility it used to. Stiffening and thickening happens. However, this is not the end of singing. This is just the beginning of what is possible in your artistic and singing life as you enter what should be claimed as an empowering era. Giving up is not an option—at least not in my world.
Working with a teacher who understands what is going on is crucial. That teacher doesn’t have to be actively going through peri-through-post—but as teachers, we need to embrace the science and the human being before us and discover together what that singer needs vocally, as well as the support they need to navigate this landscape. Discovering and creating functional exercises that achieve elasticity of mechanics, range of motion within the larynx itself, and more allows the singer to find out where they are on any given day.
True elasticity will give a home base of physicality and a starting point to the physicality of the voice. Your technique hasn’t forsaken you, nor have your hormones. Just like your body as a whole has changed over time, so has your larynx and all the muscles and soft tissue that support it.
The voice is figuring out how it wants to be, what it wants to do, in this new physical environment. Learning how to lean into this process without judgement allows you to explore the possibilities that exist for you. As teachers of the peri-through-post singer, we must stay pliable in discovery with them. And as singers of a peri-through-post voice, we must be okay to explore, throw out what doesn’t work anymore, and embrace new ideas. It’s okay if old exercises don’t work. It’s okay if you have to learn a new way to access your technique in your body so your voice responds. It’s okay if the repertoire changes. It’s just simply okay. We must be okay to play and get messy and find out what works.
You often speed through gentle stretching vocally, especially if you have been able to access that instrument quickly. When that isn’t a solid option anymore, you can get frustrated. However, spending time to discover elasticity and grounding in the larynx and the body through specific exercises and balances will allow you a place to land and to release from. Once the elasticity begins responding, you will then find more range of motion and literally more vocal range as you keep the flexibility anchored to that elasticity.
Flexibility can be both interval and articulation balance within balance of resonance, along with literal physical flexibility in the body and larynx. These go hand in hand, and if that physical flexibility begins to tighten, it can cause a great deal of tension, huskiness, and lack of vibrancy. If that flexibility is anchored to the elasticity, the agility of the instrument physically and acoustically then has permission to develop and balance. Nuance and texture of tone can return and reveal itself. Dynamics are found again. Vibrato has space to balance. The voice has found its physicality again and will respond with a willingness to cooperate!
I can truly say that every singer, including myself, that has discovered what their voice needs during this journey has indeed found more possibility and an ease to their singing than they may have ever had.
After you have discovered what is required to increase the needed elasticity, flexibility, and ability, will all the signs of menopause disappear? No. But you will learn how to navigate the landscape more effectively. You will get to know your instrument and your physicality in a new and more efficient way. You will inhabit a clearer mindset and develop more tangible tools to deal with the physical challenges that occur.
This knowledge leads to creating possibilities and a newfound focus on what you have to say in your singing life without worry or excuse. Explore and seek out resources that will enhance what you are discovering. There are answers. There are solutions. There is a whole singing life ahead for you—on your terms!