Vocal Technique and Diabetes

For all those vocalists/opera singers/singers/musical theatre people:

I have been having trouble singing at different blood sugar levels, and I find when I sing using the same technique, I am singing three mildly different sounds (hypo-, normal and hyper-), and find myself trying to manufacture my “ideal” sound.

Any one have suggestions on how to fix this or explain this to me?

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Hi Thomas,

I don’t have D (my son does), but I AM a voice teacher. I have a couple of thoughts for you:

  1. Could the “hyper” sound be related to dehydration?
  2. When you’re low, remember that your body is working pretty hard for basic brain function, let alone highly coordinated manipulations of your vocal folds. Think about it – your limbs get jerky, why wouldn’t your larynx/soft palate/tongue, etc.
  3. Could your perception of the hyper/hypo/normal sound be explained by neuropathy? Have you recorded yourself in all three states and compared your sound, or are you going off of physical sensation alone?

I can’t say that I have much in the way of a fix for you, but would be happy to brainstorm with you further.

I have recorded myself and, to my ear, hyper is essentially dry, hypo has the tendency to slur diction, making my german absolutely disastrous, and normally, a good whole natural tone.

I’ve been having trouble trying to overcome the “jerkyness” off my larynx; one of my biggest problems is laringetal pressure when singing, so this only complicates it. Any suggestions?

Hmmm, again, I can’t really speak to the hyper/hypo/normal aspect, but it sounds to me like you’re trying to bear down too much when you’re singing – I’d bet anything that you’re overbreathing in general. Excess breath pressure can cause tightness throughout the entire rib cage, and can even mess with your shoulder girdle, where the muscle that controls your tongue is anchored.

A few things to try:

Vocal scans/slides/sirens – start by sliding downward over a relatively small interval (P5 is a good start) towards the middle of your range on your strongest (e.g. most consistent) vowel. Aim for consistency of vocal tone and vowel sound, and AVOID PUSHING, especially as you descend into your lower register. Think about “speaking” the sound more as you descend. You might also consider placing one of your fingers underneath your chin, near the base of the tongue, while you do this – the muscle should remain fluid and should NOT become rigid or hard as you sing.

Once that’s settling in nicely, begin working your next best vowel sound. Over time, begin combining them (this is GREAT for mixed vowel work in languages like German/French etc). You can then begin widening the interval of your scan, and working upwards – I am personally fond of having my students scan up & down whole octaves on “oo”, “ee”, and “ah” once they can scan downward without pressing.

There’s a great book that you might want to consider purchasing for yourself, titled The Diagnosis and Correction of Vocal Faults. There’s an edition available with a CD of examples on it that is VERY useful.

Good luck!

What a fascinating post!

I had undiagnosed blood sugar problems most of my life–a GTT in the 1970s showed me “pre-diabetic” back before there was a commonly accepted diagnostic standard so I don’t know how high I was going, but doctors told me to ignore it as I was thin.

I was a professional singer/songwriter at that time performing 5 hour gigs in bars first in New England and later in Nashville. My biggest problem was that my voice was so undependable. I never knew what I’d have to work with when I started to sing. I was a soprano and sounded a lot like Joni Mitchell when my voice showed up. My kids heard an old tape of mine and thought that was who it was. But when i was off, I pretty much had to sing blues style–Janis Joplin. That unreliability really kept me from breaking through to the next level.

I never considered that this might have had anything to do with blood sugar. But I did have an enormous number of sore throats, which continued until I got a diagnosis years later and brought my blood sugar down, at which time they completely stopped.