by Kevin Stuckey, M.Ed, CCC-SLP and Julie A. Daymut, M.A., CCC-SLP
Children and adults can suffer from voice disorders that affect the pitch, loudness,
and overall quality of their vocal productions. A speech-language pathologist (SLP) can
help these clients to vocalize easier and in a more productive manner.
Read the information below to learn more about the components of
voice as well as to get a practice activity for each voice component.
Remember—before beginning any voice treatment, the client should
receive an evaluation by an ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat Doctor).
Components of Voice
Use the following, as adapted from Voice Choice!™ by Sandra
Schwartz, M.S., CCC-SLP, to help your clients make easy vocal productions!
Respiratory support and airflow through the glottis (the space between the
vocal folds) is the “driving” power of the voice. Therefore, it is important to establish
appropriate breath support and airflow as the baseline or starting point for vocal
production. The concept of airflow is somewhat abstract and can be difficult to teach.
Therefore, targeting “breathy sounds” (i.e., voiceless plosives) during speech will drill the
concept of airflow through the glottis.
Practice Activity—Have the client exaggerate breathy onsets of the initial consonants
of the words to get the air started. For example, heat and face would be h-h-h-eat and
f-f-f-ace. Make sure he/she does not whisper. In the beginning, model the productions for
Voicing refers to the vibration of the vocal folds. Refer to this as the “buzzing
sound your vocal cords make.” The goal is to control voicing without pushing or
“squeezing” the vocal folds too tightly during phonation and speech. To help
demonstrate this concept, have the client place his/her hands on the larynx (voice box)
while making a buzzing sound to feel the vibration. Contrasting voiced and voiceless
continuant sounds such as /s/ vs. /z/ and /f/ vs. /v/ teaches the concept of “turning the
voice on and off.”
Practice Activity—Begin by having the client produce isolated, sustained productions of
the minimal pair sounds, /s/ and /z/ (“sssss” vs. “zzzzz”) and /f/ and /v/ (“fffff” vs. “vvvvv”).
Emphasize turning the voice on and off. In the beginning, model the productions for
Easy onset refers to the contact of the vocal folds during the production of a word
beginning with a vowel. The goal is to produce easy closure of the vocal folds into the
airflow to produce the vowel sound vs. a hard closure (attack) of the vocal folds and
pushing a burst of air through. This hard closure produces a staccato or attacked sound
during the vowel production and is abusive to the vocal folds.
Practice Activity—Have the client practice saying /h/ and vowel onset minimal pairs (i.e.,
hear and ear). Focus on using an “easy” onset on the vowels. In the beginning, model
the productions for the client.
Resonance refers to the vibratory properties of the sound/voice above the glottis.
This includes the oral and nasal cavities which shape the sound or give the voice its tonal
quality. Although the vibration occurs at the laryngeal level (or glottis), vocal production
should be focused at a higher level. Establishing a “higher” focus of the voice is helpful
because it reduces tension at the level of the voice box and produces a resonant tone to
the voice. The client should be able to “feel” the facial bones and nasal cavities vibrate
by placing the fingers at the sides of the nose while humming.
Practice Activity—Have the client “hum” before saying the resonant words. For example,
money would be mmmmoney (there is no break between humming and the word). In
the beginning, model the productions for the client.