Voice care and acoustic characteristics in students of acting and other students

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Gordana Varošanec-Škarić

University of Zagreb, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dpt. of Phonetics



On the basis of the data about voice history 2 test was used to investigate the difference between the students of acting (n = 45) and other students (n = 45). T-test was used to calculate differences between the two groups in acoustic parameters. It was expected that students of acting spent significantly more time practicing voice exercises, that they took more acting instructions, generally spoke more in larger rooms and did warm up exercises (p < 0.001). But it was not expected that they smoked more then non professionals (p = 0.003) and that they drank alcoholic drinks as much as other students. Male students of acting had significantly lower f0 SD means (p = 0.015), which means that they had a more stable pitch throughout the phonation. They also showed a significantly higher Harmonics-to-Noise Ratio (HNR: p = 0.001) such as females (p = 0.01). The data showed the importance of the appropriate use of voice which reflected relatively good voice quality despite the bad living habits of the future professional voice users.

Keywords: voice care, students of acting, regular students, acoustic characteristics


Voice pedagogues, phoneticians, voice pathologists (Sataloff, Spiegel, Hawkshaw & Heuer, 1994) agree that regular training, voice practicing is necessary in vocal occupations such as singing and acting, in order to prevent vocal difficulties; and that professional actors have to acquire knowledge about their vocal mechanism, about voice protection from damage in vocally more demanding parts (Emerich, Titze, Švec, Popolo & Logan, 2005). Therefore the actor's voice is the target of numerous research, such as the assessment of perceptive dimensions of phonetic categories of voice setting and acoustic characteristics of voice timbre before and after voice and pronunciation exercises (Varošanec-Škarić, 2003), valuation of the voice range profile in sustained phonation and while reading dramatic texts in studio environment and on stage (Emerich et al., 2005), comparison of acoustic characteristics of the actor's voice before and after the performance (Ferrone, Leung & Ramig, 2004). As a part of voice care, what was analyzed using questionnaires about vocal problems were vocal habits and voice hygiene of young choir singers (Tepe, Deutsch, Sampson, Lawless, Reilly & Sataloff, 2002), effects of singer's voice warm up, for example physiological effects (Elliot, Sundberg & Gramming, 1995), effects on voice quality in acoustic measures (Amir, Amir & Michaeli, 2005), effects of voice warm up in objective analysis on a random pattern of students (Vintturi, Alku, Lauri, Sala, Sihvo & Vilkman, 2001). The pragmatic purpose of this research is to point at the objective parameters that give information about the current condition of their voice, on the basis of the values above pathological threshold if any.


Subjects. The total of 90 subjects have been recorded, 43 male (21 students of acting and 22 other students) and 47 female (24 students of acting and 23 other students). The students of acting (N = 45) are students of Academy of Drama – University of Zagreb and of International Study of Acting and Puppetry – Univ. of Osijek. Other students are students of Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences – University of Zagreb. The average age of all actors (male and female) was 21.07 years, all students 20.64 years, and the group of students of acting had larger age dispersion (SD = 2.40) than other students (SD = 1.67). The average age for male actors was 21.9 in the range from 18 to 27, other students 20.5 years in the range from 18 to 26, female actresses 20.33 in the range from 18 to 24, other female students 20.78 in the range from 20 to 24.

Voice history questionnaire. Voice history questionnaire for professional voice users was adapted according to the "Patient History Questionnaire for the Professional Voice User" (Ford, 1994: 356-360). The voice status form consists of five units which cover the description of the problem, past voice history, past medical history, personal lifestyle and voice use.

Recording. After filling out the questionnaire, students of acting and other students have, at the distance of 30 cm from the microphone and in studio environment, recorded three phonations of the vowel /a/ with comfortable tone and loudness. The measure of acoustic voice characteristics on the basis of phonation of the vowel /a/ is the customary procedure in measuring actors' voices (Varošanec-Škarić, 2003; 2005a; Ferrone et al., 2004). For the purpose of this research, speech in playing a role was not recorded, because it is natural that profiles of voice range in sustained phonation is different from emotional scene speech because of the larger pitch and loudness range (Emerich et al., 2005).

Acoustic parameters. On the basis of the middle of three phonations /a/ (3 x 3 s) with comfortable tone and loudness, the average values of mean, minimum and maximum average of f0, standard deviation of f0, local jitter (%) and shimmer (dB) and the deegree of acoustic periodicity, i. e. Harmonics-to-Noise Ratio – HNR (dB) were calculated by the PRAAT software (Boersma & Weenink).

Statistics analysis. χ2-test was used to analyze the difference between students of acting (n = 45) and other students (45) is analyzed according to the past voice history, past medical history, personal lifestyle and voice use. The difference between groups according to the acoustic parameters obtained on the basis of PRAAT were analyzed with t-test.

Results of the χ2- test based on the voice history between groups of students of acting and other students

It has been shown that groups of students of acting significantly differ from the group of other students in the category of voice use (6 dimensions: p < 0.0001), past voice history (2 dimensions: p < 0.001, 2 dimensions: p < 0.05), personal lifestyle (2 dimensions: p < 0.05) and in one dimension of past medical history (p < 0.05). (Respective arrangement is in table 1).

Insert table 1 about here
About half of all students had a voice problem and there is no significant statistic difference between groups.

In past medical history groups significantly differ in the dimension of visits to the voice and speech pathologists. Students of acting visit voice pathologist significantly more (p < 0.0001) and other students visit speech pathologist (p < 0.001). However, this difference is expected and does not say anything about possible voice illness of students of acting or about voice disorders of other students, since students of acting are obliged to take a voice pathology examination in the first semester of the first year of study, and in the group of students about half of the sample were students of phonetics who during their study have a semester course with a speech pathologist and they attend observation classes with speech pathologist. It is natural that such a request influences students of acting to take care of their voice during further education, if they notice problems with their voice or if other teachers refer them to a voice pathology examination if they notice that voice fatigue occurred and it manifests in obvious long hoarseness. They mostly mark that they went to see physician for their voice for prevention, throat control and past laryngitis. The phonetician also refers them to such an examination if the measured acoustic parameters of voice quality surpass the threshold of pathology, and even if they approach that threshold, for example, the measure of pathological threshold of shimmer and jitter. It is interesting that other students have more problems with neck muscles tension than actors (p = 0.005), while students of acting had significantly more symptoms of voice loss, which could be explained with the difference of the type of their study. Students of acting are more active, even during classes, because the exercises from artistic subjects (daily classes in acting and scene speech) and physical skills (scene movement) are composed in such a way, while other students mostly sit during classes, studying, preparing essays. Other students non-significantly more symptomatically clear their throat (coughing and similar) than actors (p = 0.08). It can be said that the avoidance of throat clearing using sound adaptors is one of the phonetic advice to actors which is easier to apply.

Concerning allergies and taking medication there is no difference between the group of actors and other students, but it is interesting that actors had more illnesses with less reliability (p = 0.02). According to gender, women indicate twice as more allergies than men, which is normal. Actors had slightly more laryngitis which could be explained with the fact that they are more speech exhibited and expressive, which is probably why they are more sensitive to laryngitis. Since the cause of illness was not tested it is possible that the difference occurred due to their increased health sensibility, i.e. they visit doctors regularly when they notice such difficulties, as they indicate them as mostly chronic difficulties (laryngitis, sinusitis, angina, bronchitis). Only future vocal professionals had an examination (one being a singer and an actress) because of the dry mucous membrane of the throat and the dry cough. Other students had similar illnesses, and if they specify laryngitis they do not specify it as a chronic problem. Two students who specified cold and laryngitis as acute were extracted from acoustic measures, so that the result between the groups could be comparable.

Voice use and personal lifestyle. Expected results based on the χ2-test were that students of acting significantly more train their voices (voice instructions, acting instructions – scene speech), act in plays and therefore speak more in large rooms (p < 0.0001), they do more warm up exercises before public appearance (before acting, singing, acting lessons) (p = 0.0003), speak more on TV or radio (p = 0.01) and non-significantly more practise solo singing (p = 0.07). However, the data that future elite vocal professionals, students of acting smoke more than other students, in spite the fact that they were given instructions on voice care, is surprising (p = 0.003), as is the data that they drink as much alcoholic and caffeinated drinks as other students. Additional t-test analyses has shown that male students drink significantly more alcohol than female students (p = 0.001), three times as much drinks a week (3.2 : 1.26). Students of acting eat their last meal non-significantly later (p = 0.064), on average around 9.08 pm and other students around 8.25 pm. However, the median of the last meal of actors shows a later time, actors gather together at around 9:00 pm (13), even 16 of them eat between 10 and 12 pm, and for students the median is at 8 pm (11). Therefore it can be concluded that actors take their last meal too late, considering the fact that possible negative consequences should not be ignored, i.e. reflux which can produce morning hoarseness (Tepe et al., 2002). The question arises on how bad lifestyle habits, which are not in accordance with voice care, influence the acoustic voice quality parameters. On the other hand they show the tendency of active involvement in sport activities, so in the category of voice use they significantly participate more in sport teaching (p = 0.02) and in the category of personal lifestyle they participate more in physical activities (p = 0.029), while other students are non-significantly more prone to loud cheerleading (p = 0.09).

Results of the acoustic analysis and difference between the groups, based on t-test

The comparison of acoustic variables between the group of future actors and other students.

The results show that male students of acting have significantly higher harmonic to noise ratio (table 2: 24.06 dB; p = 0.001). Further on, male actors have significantly less average deviations ƒ0 (p = 0.015). As all standard deviations ƒ0 were into account, one can conclude that their tone is more stable during the whole phonation than that of other male students. Standard deviation of fundamental frequency from the middle of phonation is just slightly lower for actors. Average ƒ0 values of both male groups are about equal, around 116 Hz, have similar minimum and maximum values, but with averagely slightly higher maximal ƒ0 value for other students. Jitter (in %) is averagely two times lower in the group of male actors, but that difference is not significant (0.288 % : 0.577 %; p = 0.06), and it is also obvious that average jitter dispersion is lower in the group of actors. Shimmer (in dB) is slightly lower in the group of actors.

Insert table 2 about here
It is interesting that female students of acting have significantly higher HNR than other female students (p = 0.01; table 2) meaning that they have more harmonic tone. It can be seen that jitter is non-significantly lower in the group of actresses (0.268 : 0.356; p = 0.058), and shimmer as well (in dB) (0.199 : 0.257; p = 0.075). The average value of fundamental frequency (in Hz) on the basis of phonation /a/ is about equal as that of other students (207.9 : 210.4), and lower values of average dispersions of ƒ0 show that that their tone is more stable than that of other female students, although not as significantly as in male's case.
Smoker’s and non-smoker’s voices

Male smokers have significantly lower average values of ƒ0 and minimal and maximal values of ƒ0 than non-smokers (p < 0,01) and non-significantly lower HNR and higher average values of local jitter (0.51 : 0.34%) and shimmer (0.29 : 0.27 dB) than non-smokers (table 3). Those higher average values are below the pathological threshold for local jitter (1.040 %) and local shimmer (0.350 dB). Female smokers have significantly lower average maximal value of ƒ0 than non-smokers (p = 0.04), non-significantly lower average value of ƒ0 and minimal value of ƒ0, and smaller range of ƒ0. Unexpectedly, female smokers have about equal, slightly lower average values of jitter and shimmer than female non-smokers, and HNR comparable with female non-smokers.

Insert table 3 about here
It is obvious that there is some difference between the results for acoustic parameters for female smokers and the results for male smokers and other students. That can be explained by the data of how long and how often they smoke, and also how often they drink alcohol. Female smokers, on average, smoke for a shorter period (4.19 : 5.5 years), and they also smoke a less amount of cigarettes than male smokers (0.61 : 0.85 packs per day). Female smokers drink significantly less alcohol a week than male smokers (p = 0.001). This is the probable reason for female smokers not to have such differences in acoustic parameters in comparison with female smokers.

Some bad personal habits of future vocal professionals despite the instructions of their pedagogues and theoretical knowledge about the disadvantages of nicotine and alcohol, are not characteristic only for Croatian students. This can be seen in the research carried out by Timmermans, De Bodt, Wuyts & Van de Heyning (2003; 2005) who tested the efficiency of voice exercises on 23 future vocal professionals, students of drama and radio directors. The research was conducted longitudinally, before and after the voice training and education on vocal hygiene. In perceptual and objective analysis voice quality improved after 18 months of work, but newly acquired knowledge did not have any influence on the prevention of smoking, vocal misusage (loud speaking), stress, last meal. That research has shown that the most productive period for hoarseness treatment is nine months, while perceptual evaluation, variables of jitter and maximal phonation time turned out to be much better after 18 months of work. It is discouraging that after 18 months even more subjects reported smoking, stress and late meal. Thanks to the voice exercises, e.g. phonetic exercises for voice improvement, some perceptual dimensions of phonetic settings can be evaluated better even after shorter period (Varošanec-Škarić, 2003), but unfortunately, as this research has shown, it seems that instructions about the voice care and hygiene does not influence the bad personal lifestyle, because the future actors continue to smoke, drink and eat their last meal relatively lately in spite of the knowledge of the disadvantages of such habits. Other researches have also noticed that smoking is popular in artistic and media society (Raphael, 1991; Broaddus-Lawrence, Treole, McCabe, Allen & Toppin, 2000; Timmermans et al., 2003; 2005), and some physicians notice the psychological lability and social insecurity caused by the actors’ obligation that, because of the risk of losing a job, they can’t miss a play and that in spite of laryngitis and other illnesses they must play, which brings even more problems (Mitchell, 1994). This could partially be ascribed to the constant stress and to the individual personality of future artists, but also to the schedule of obligations during the study, which in some measure makes completely normal lifestyle impossible, especially concerning the last meal. The disproportion between the artistic talent, social achievement, i.e. media exposing, fame and personal stability is very often. The reason is not only possible youth, immature personality, because that kind of bad personal lifestyle is characteristic for already famous professional actors. It seems that personal lifestyle of future singers, who learn western opera singing, is much better. This makes sense because the range of voice is extremely important for good functional singing voice. They are ready to accept proper personal lifestyle and quit smoking, drinking alcohol and eating late meal (because of the danger of reflux). As there are only a few subjects included in the research of singing voice, the statement above can not be fully claimed. The phonetician is not due to change bad life habits of future vocal professionals. Through the use of phonetic exercises (Škarić & Varošanec-Škarić, 1999), the phonetician should take care of the aesthetic quality of their voice.

Relatively good results of jitter and shimmer, as well as good results of HNR within the group of actors and significantly better HNR in comparison with the group of other students can be ascribed to the regular voice exercises. The research by Varošanec-Škarić (2003) shows that after voice exercise both male and female voices had non-significantly higher average value of ƒ0 and lower jitter, while male voices had lower shimmer as well, which can be explained by the fact that male voices usually have higher shimmer than female ones. Furthermore, voices that were after the exercises evaluated as significantly more stable turned out to have averagely lower values of shimmer and jitter based on the phonation /a/, those evaluated as less hoarse had averagely lower jitter values, and female voices evaluated as significantly less noisy had averagely lower shimmer values. The research shows that phonetic voice exercises are efficient because even in short period they can improve voice quality and positively influence the laryngeal and supralaryngeal setting. The research by Amir et al. (2005) shows that after the vocal warm up exercises frequency perturbation is significantly lower (p < 0.001), perturbation of amplitude is slightly lower (p < 0.05), while the amplitude of formants and HNR are higher (p < 0.05). Our research also brings better results in the group of actors than in the group of other students. Although the difference is evident, it is not also statistically significant, except for HNR of male and female voices of actresses. This can be explained by the fact that the recording was not performed immediately after the warm up exercises longitudinally, but in the same conditions. The students of acting show better results because of the continuous voice exercises. This is proved by the fact that the data for HNR are significant when comparing students of acting with other students, and not between the groups of smokers and non-smokers, which more would be more likely to expect. The most significant results for male smokers were those concerning ƒ0, and the only significant difference between male and female smokers was referring to maximum ƒ0. The reason for no other significant differences in acoustic variables except for maximum ƒ0 can be explained by the fact that the number of male smokers (24:19) was larger than that of female smokers (18:29). As stated above, the period of smoking and the amount of cigarettes they smoke could also be the reason for such results. Smoking contributes to the perception of the hoarseness, but in this research, that information was more associated with lower ƒ0 of male and female smokers in comparison with non-smokers. Since all of them are young people, it is easy to understand that significant differences for shimmer, jitter and HNR could not be attained, but it is indicative that smoking has more influence in shorter period on lower frequency-area, fundamental frequency and the range of ƒ0. Ferrone et al. (2004) conclude that the proper voice use contribute to the stability of all acoustic measures when comparing them before and after the play, and that there is not perceptual significant changes. Therefore, regular voice and warm up exercises prevent from the proved changes in voice quality, even after greater voice efforts such as the performance in the play.

Unfortunately, in spite of the instructions on the voice care, the proper voice use and right personal lifestyle of vocal professionals, which exclude smoking, alcohol, caffeinated sodas and late meals, the students of acting have bad personal lifestyle just like other students. Concerning bad personal lifestyle, male actors are more endangered group than female actors. On the basis of the comparison of the data about how long and how much they smoke and how much alcohol they drink, it can be concluded that maintaining bad personal lifestyle could bring even to much worse voice quality of future vocal professionals and other students.

Globally speaking, the data confirm the importance of proper voice use and care, which keep the voice quality of future actors in relatively good condition in spite of bad personal lifestyle. Adequate vocal technique can help in the prevention of vocal misuse symptoms.

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Škarić, I. i Varošanec-Škarić, G. (1999). Vježbe za glas i izgovor. In A. Bajc, K. Bucik, and S. Janežič (Eds.), Zbornik: Ustvarjalnost v logopediji (pp. 197-200). Vipava: Center za usposabljanje invalidnih otrok Janka Premrla Vojka.

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