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The Importance of an Integrated Approach To Vocal Health

If you’re interested in trans voice training, protecting your vocal health may not be the first thing you’re concerned about. You want to find the voice of your dreams, and you want to find it as soon as possible- but did you know that maintaining a healthy voice is not only part of your training process, but is actually the key to your long term success? At Seattle Voice Lab, we believe that developing your voice in a healthy manner will enable you to achieve your goals sooner and will ensure that your voice is comfortable, confident and sustainable for the rest of your life.

Throughout your voice training there are three types of specialists that will work together to support your vocal care: your voice teacher or voice coach, your ear/nose/throat physician (ENT), and your speech-language pathologist (SLP). Each of these specialists provide different expertise. In this article we will describe these unique fields and explain the various scenarios that they can help you with. At SVL, we put your vocal health first, and empower all of our students to use the collaborative team of voice teacher, ENT, and SLP to support true vocal care and success.


Would you like to learn more about our unique approach to trans voice training?


The Role of a Voice Teacher

Your voice teacher or voice coach is a trained professional who will help you to transform your voice with a process called  “trans voice training.” They will teach you a series of exercises that will gradually change the way you use your voice, thereby changing the way your voice sounds. Throughout your training, your teacher will monitor your progress, making adjustments when needed while gradually increasing the level of difficulty. A good teacher will adapt the process of trans voice training to fit your unique voice desires, and will also keep a strict eye on your vocal health to ensure that your new voice is comfortable and sustainable long term. 

It’s important to remember that not all voice teachers are alike. Some teachers have highly qualified backgrounds, while others may have little or even no training. There is no accreditation process that is necessary to become a voice teacher. For this reason, it is extremely important that you investigate your teacher’s qualifications ahead of time.

To help you with this process, we’ve put together a list of questions that will help you determine if a teacher is qualified to instruct you:

  1. Does the teacher specialize in trans voice, and if so, how long have they been teaching trans voice?
    • A teacher who offers singing or speaking lessons is not automatically qualified to teach trans voice. Trans voice is a unique specialty, and your chosen teacher should have training and experience in this field. Some schools of trans voice will have a guiding method that all of their teachers use, however this is not always the case. Many schools have a roster of instructors who each use their own personal method, which can make it difficult to determine what type of training you are going to receive. At SVL, all of our instructors have been trained in the unique method of trans voice developed by our founder, Claire Michelle. Our groundbreaking curriculum demystifies the art of voice training and gives you the tools you need to find your true voice. We are proud to have helped thousands of trans voices from all over the world! Are you curious to learn more? Click here.
  2. What is the teacher’s educational background?
    • A qualified trans voice teacher will often have a college degree in vocal performance, music education or speech-language pathology. A teacher with a bachelor’s degree has completed a four year program in their field of study. A teacher with a master’s degree has completed an additional program after their bachelor’s degree. Now, a degree isn’t everything, and there are amazing teachers out there who did not go to college for voice. Some teachers have spent many years as performers, so even though they don’t have a college degree, they still have the knowledge needed to guide students. However, being a talented singer does not automatically qualify someone to teach, so make sure to read the bio of your prospective teacher carefully. At SVL we are proud to offer you a roster of top notch teaching professionals. Each teacher at our school has been meticulously selected for their educational background, experience, and effective teaching personality. Click here to meet the team!
  3. What is the teacher’s rate of success? Do they teach at a trustworthy voice training school? Do they have positive reviews? Do you like the sound of their voice? Do you like the way their student’s voices sound?
    • One of the best ways to choose a voice teacher is to listen to the voices of their students. If you like what you hear, then it’s a good bet that the teacher’s method is going to agree with you. Click here to listen to some of the fabulous students of Seattle Voice Lab.
  4. When in doubt…trust your gut!
    • The right teacher will put you at ease and create a non-judgmental and supportive environment for you to thrive in. They will help you to understand your unique challenges and talents, and create a game plan for your success. And, they will always encourage you to develop your voice in a healthy and sustainable way. The right teacher for you is out there, but there is always a chance that you won’t find them on the first try. It’s important for you to trust your gut, and don’t ignore things that don’t feel right to you. A good teacher will never give you exercises that cause pain, or encourage you to develop an unhealthy technique for quick results. They will never put you down, waste valuable lesson time, or use unprofessional language. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a teacher if they aren’t the right fit. You have the power to choose what is best for you.

The Role of an ENT

An ENT (ear, nose and throat physicians) is a general specialist for everything involving these parts of the body. An Otolaryngologist is also an ENT, but they have more specialized training in the voice. Otolaryngologists and ENTs are often used interchangeably in medical contexts. These physicians focus on the diagnosis and treatment related to ear, nose, throat, head, and neck conditions. Since the field is so broad, some ENTs complete a voice focused laryngology fellowship with advanced medical training. This makes them specialists in treating voice disorders and voice-related conditions.  This fellowship often includes hands-on surgical inventions, stroboscopy, voice evaluation and working with a multidisciplinary team to help their patients maintain or improve their vocal health and quality. They offer medical, behavioral and surgical solutions, collaborating with speech-language pathologists and other professionals for comprehensive care. Their expertise helps individuals maintain healthy vocal function and quality.

ENTs can diagnose common ailments like tonsillitis, sinus infection, or strep throat, which can have an effect on your speaking/singing training. There are also other conditions like dysphonia, which can only be diagnosed by an ENT or an SLP. An ENT can provide vocal care by performing examinations, videostroboscopy (imaging to see your vocal folds in real time), medical procedures, prescribing medication, and/or referring you to a speech language pathologist for therapy. In this way, they can work collaboratively with your SLP and voice teacher to ensure that the health of your voice is protected during trans voice training.

The Role of a Speech Pathologist

A Speech Pathologist (also called a Speech-Language Pathologist, SLP,  Voice Therapist, or Speech Therapist) is a healthcare professional who diagnoses and treats speech, language, and swallowing problems. What makes an SLP different from an ENT is that they provide behavioral therapy. SLPs can address a wide range of issues, including dysphagia (swallowing disorders), dysphonia (voice disorders), language disorders, fluency (stuttering), cognition/memory disorders, hearing, social communication and more. Your SLP will work collaboratively with your ENT to ensure that any vocal issues are being property treated.

So how is the role of your SLP different from your voice teacher? Your voice teacher provides training to help you change the gender presentation of your voice, while your SLP provides speech-language therapy to bring your voice back to a healthy, functional baseline prior to voice lessons or in tandem with lessons with clearance from their ENT and/or SLP.  Some SLPs also provide gender-affirming voice care, but not all are trained to provide this nuanced support. This is where the voice teachers of SVL come in to give you the support you need! As Seattle Voice Lab we work in harmony with your SLP and ENT to guide you through your voice transition with health and confidence.

Common Vocal Conditions

Dysphonia

Dysphonia is a short term, or long term change in your voice. Symptoms may include: raspiness of the voice, breathiness, weakness, voice strain and voice fatigue, increased vocal effort, voice pain or discomfort, hoarseness, loss of power, a change in your vocal pitch range, or a change in your fundamental speaking frequency. Dysphonia can be caused by a wide range of occurrences, including vocal lesions (vocal fold nodules, or polyps), compensatory muscle tension, voice strain, acid reflux, emotional challenges, unsustainable vocal technique training, or as an unwanted side effect of vocal fold surgery. Dysphonia can only be diagnosed by an ENT or SLP. If you are experiencing dysphonia symptoms for 2 weeks or more, SVL recommends that you pause your training and see your ENT for an evaluation. Your ENT will be able to properly diagnose your condition and provide you with your best options for treatment, they can also refer you to an SLP for speech therapy if needed. Seattle Voice Lab recommends that you obtain clearance from your ENT before returning to voice training. In this way, the full team of ENT, SLP, and voice teacher can be united in helping you reach your voice training goals in a healthy and sustainable way. 

General Vocal Fatigue

In the process of trans voice training you may experience general vocal fatigue. This may happen if you practice your exercises incorrectly, forget to warm-up, or if you don’t allow yourself adequate time to rest. For many people, this fatigue is short term and will resolve after a few days of rest and proper hydration. A good voice teacher will be able to tell when your voice is growing tired and will encourage you to rest. If you find that your voice teacher is pushing you to the point of exhaustion, then it may be time for you to seek a new instructor.  If you are experience voice fatigue consistently for more than 2 weeks, seek out an ENT for an evaluation.

Dysphagia

Dysphagia is a condition that makes it difficult to swallow. In some cases, dysphagia can be the unwanted side effect of vocal fold surgery or tracheal shave surgery. If you think you are experiencing dysphagia, your ENT and SLP can help you by diagnosing the condition and performing further testing to determine what the cause may be. Your SLP can provide treatment for dysphagia by administering swallowing therapy to help you improve your ability to swallow.

How Seattle Voice Lab Can Help

If you want to find the voice of your dreams, why waste precious time with training techniques that lead you to an unsustainable voice? At SVL, we put your vocal health and sustainability first, and it is this commitment that has created an incredible rate of success for our students. Let us help you find the voice that will give you a lifetime of happiness and confidence. Click here to connect with the friendly staff of SVL, we can’t wait to meet you!

Update- This article was updated on 1/24/24 with a more detailed description of the role of ENTs.