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Mapping of Vocal Risk in Amateur Choir

Article · April 2016

DOI: 10.1016/j.jvoice.2016.03.002


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Milka Rosa Mara Behlau

Universidade Federal de São Paulo Universidade Federal de São Paulo


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Mapping of Vocal Risk in Amateur Choir
Milka Rosa and Mara Behlau, São Paulo, Brazil

Summary: Objectives. The study aimed to investigate and map the existence of vocal risk in amateur singers, ana-
lyzing the contribution of general voice signs and symptoms, specific singing handicap, and generalized anxiety.
Study Design. This is a cross-sectional study.
Methods. The sample comprised 526 volunteer amateur choristers—186 male and 340 female—(mean age of 42.07
years) from different choirs in the region of São Paulo. Three questionnaires were used: the Voice Symptom Scale (VoiSS),
the Modern Singing Handicap Index (MSHI), and the Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7-item (GAD-7) scale.
Results. The mean total score obtained on the VoiSS was 17.57, which is almost two points higher than the prot-
ocol’s passing score (16). The choristers who scored higher or equal to 16 points (51.5%, n = 271)—considered at vocal
risk—and the group who scored less than 16 points (48.5%, n = 255)—healthy group—were analyzed separately. The
risk group presented a mean total score of 26.34 on the VoiSS and 20.97 on the MSHI, with higher deviation on the
impairment subscale, followed by the disability and handicap subscales, along with mild anxiety. The healthy group
presented a mean total score of 8.27 on the VoiSS and 6.11 on the MSHI, also with higher deviation in the impairment
subscale, followed by disability and handicap, and a minimum level of anxiety.
Conclusion. Even in leisure activities, vocal care is necessary for the correct use of the singing voice, which demands
individual adaptations. The use of protocols for voice symptoms and singing handicap has revealed the possibility of
amateur choristers to present vocal risk.
Key Words: voice–dysphonia–singing–quality of life–self-assessment.

INTRODUCTION in a population or group for a period of time, that is, the pos-
There are many amateur choirs that are affiliated to schools, re- sibility of acquiring a voice disorder, in our case related to singing
ligious groups, communities, or other organizations that develop activities and/or other situations of vocal use.8
this activity for self-gratification.1 The choir singing practice is Teachers and singers are professionals who present higher fre-
used as a tool for motivation and social integration,2 contribut- quency of voice disorders than the general population,9 and
ing for personal development, increasing self-esteem, and functional dysphonia is the most frequent diagnosis10 among voice
preserving emotional balance.3 Some authors4 have mentioned professionals. It is even less frequent among amateur choris-
that this activity therapeutically relieves tension and sadness of ters, who sing in choirs as a hobby. These choristers are rarely
daily life. They also report the importance of music for the submitted to vocal screening. They may not receive education
elderly.5 on proper voice use for speaking or for singing.11 Because of a
Developing a healthy vocal singing technique in the choir is lack of specific preparation, amateur choristers may present symp-
essential for singing.1 Vocal misuse and abuse may cause some toms that may lead to a vocal handicap. Less experienced singers
voice disorders.6 In amateur choirs, the singers are not techni- may be at a greater risk than professional singers.12 In other words,
cally trained musicians; thus, they do not have the necessary skills the greater the singer’s experience, the lower the potential of a
to consistently and reliably produce the sounds requested by the vocal handicap.13
conductors while avoiding vocal injuries.1 In these choirs, the In a Swedish14 and an American15 study, the subjects with higher
conductor is usually the only member with musical training. Many vocal risk are singers, followed by consultants, teachers, lawyers,
choristers make rehearsals their only source of knowledge on pastors, telemarketing operators, salesmen, and health profes-
vocal techniques.1 sionals. Singers present high prevalence of abnormal findings
The socialization provided by singing in a choir has broad- on videolaryngostroboscopy examinations, ranging from reflux
ened the objectives of learning how to sing to a point where today to lesions caused by vocal abuse and tension on the vocal folds.16
there are actually more lay than professional choirs. This brings It is known that voice professionals have higher occurrence of
the layperson closer to musical achievement, but on the other vocal problems.15 When it comes to amateurs, the mean number
hand one should take vocal care into consideration in order to of problems reported in this population can be considerably high,17
avoid risks.7 Risk may be defined as the likelihood of a disease and may be related to the lack of orientation regarding vocal well-
being or lack of singing-specific vocal techniques.
It is also known that, usually, not even voice professionals,
Accepted for publication March 2, 2016. who depend on specific vocal training18 oriented to their needs,
Presentations in Congress: The Voice Foundation’s 44th Annual Symposium: Care of
the Professional Voice, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, 2015; the 14th Foun-
undergo vocal screening. Speech language may contribute to the
dation Otorhinolaryngology Congress, São Paulo, Brazil, 2015; and the 23rd Brazilian Speech- early identification of vocal problems, preventing phonotrauma
Language Pathology and Audiology Congress, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, 2015.
From the Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology Department, Universidade Federal
and ensuring good vocal function for a better professional
de São Paulo—UNIFESP, São Paulo, Brazil. performance.19 They may present symptoms related to vocal
Address correspondence and reprint requests to Milka Rosa, Rua 15 de Novembro 1356,
Jundiaí, SP, 13201-305, Brazil. E-mail: milkabrosa@gmail.com
health,7 such as throat clearing, secretion, hoarseness and dry
Journal of Voice, Vol. ■■, No. ■■, pp. ■■-■■ cough,20 or even neck pain or sore throat after long conversa-
© 2016 The Voice Foundation. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
tions, along with hoarseness or aphonia.21 On the other hand,
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jvoice.2016.03.002 there are other aspects related to vocal behavior that can have
2 Journal of Voice, Vol. ■■, No. ■■, 2016

an influence on vocal risk, such as technical difficulties, lack of content, and length of the study. After this initial contact, the
knowledge on voice production, wrong vocal classification, in- researcher scheduled an appointment with each choir conduc-
correct use of voice, and lack of vocal training on warm-up and tor on when to answer the questionnaires. Because of problems
cool-down techniques.22,23 in schedules, only 35 choirs were included in the study. The initial
The symptoms might lead to a handicap on their choir ac- data included 786 questionnaires filled in by choristers.
tivities, which are more easily observed in less experienced singers The data collection procedure included answering the per-
than professional singers.12 In other words, the longer the sin- sonal identification and characterization form, the Voice Symptom
ger’s experience, the lower is his or her vocal handicap.13 Modern Scale (VoiSS),33 the Modern Singing Handicap Index (MSHI),24
singers with vocal complaints present higher self-reported hand- and the Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7-item (GAD-7) scale.34
icap compared with individuals without vocal complaints and The choristers answered the questionnaires at their residences
with subjects who do not sing.24 Similarly, for church amateur or at the choir rehearsal site after the researcher provided a verbal
singers, the handicap is higher in individuals with voice altera- explanation about the aims of the study. The questionnaires were
tions, and similar between men and women, regardless of age, then returned to the conductor, and then to the researcher. The
voice type, and associated use of professional speaking voice.25 data were collected between September 2013 and January 2014.
Other studies have reported that women present more voice dis- Subjects were selected using the following criteria: older than
orders than men, and that the most frequent complaints are related 18 years, to be a member of the choir for over 6 months, and
to the lack of vocal technique.17 The vocal self-image or self- to correctly fill in all of the questionnaires. These data were ob-
assessment is also directly related to the vocal experience level, tained from each questionnaire. Subjects who were excluded were
being most commonly positive in experienced singers and neg- those who presented with hearing impairments, as well as neu-
ative in less experienced singers.26 rologic, psychiatric, or psychological conditions, which could
The presence of three or more vocal symptoms27 should be prevent them from appropriately answering the questionnaires.
seen as indicative of a possible voice disorder, presenting a vocal The data regarding the inclusion and exclusion criteria were ob-
handicap in their choir activities, possibly evolving into dys- tained from the answers of the participants.
phonia and affecting their quality of life.28 However, these After the inclusion and exclusion criteria were applied, the
symptoms may be linked to emotional factors, such as mood dis- final sample comprised 526 individuals from 35 choirs, 340
orders associated with concerns and constant stress regarding females and 186 males, with ages between 18 and 89 years (mean
their vocal health29 and degree of trait anxiety.30 age of 42.02 years). Figure 1 presents the flowchart of the cho-
If, on one hand, choir singing has positive influences on cho- risters included in the research.
risters’ emotional state, providing relaxation and well-being,31 The choirs selected for the study are maintained by univer-
on the other hand anxiety may hinder their performance.32 Some sities, schools, churches, companies, hospitals, foundations,
factors tend to increase anxiety, such as difficulty with music, institutions, or private funding. Their repertoire is eclectic, from
physical health, and characteristics and behavior of the conduc- folkloric songs to sacred music, and playing a cappella or ac-
tor, among others.32 Studies with amateur singers have shown companied by a piano or other musical instruments.
that anxiety is common among children and young choristers, Self-assessment questionnaires are convenient tools to screen
suggesting that anxiety could occasionally distract them from singers who might be at risk for vocal injury. The question-
or interfere with their performance.32 Researchers interested in naires are inexpensive and easy to administer. These protocols
investigating anxiety in musicians have been usually studying are very subjective. They characterize the impact of a disease
professional singers; relatively few studies have focused on the or disorder on an individual’s quality of life.35 They have been
experience of amateur choirs. developed as a means of quantifying the impact of dysphonia.
The following were the aims of this study: In addition, they have been proven useful in helping conduc-
tors map the vocal risk of amateur choral singers for the purpose
(1) to investigate the existence of vocal risk in amateur of referral to otorhinolaryngologists and speech language pa-
singers; and thologists. Even in leisure activities, vocal care is necessary to
(2) to map the vocal risk and analyze the contribution of prevent vocal alterations.
general voice signs and symptoms, specific singing hand- The identification form was composed of closed and open ques-
icap, and generalized anxiety. tions on four aspects: identification data, chorister’s profile, general
health, and vocal self-assessment (Table 1).
METHODS On the term “profession,” participants were classified in seven
A cross-sectional questionnaire study was carried out after ap- categories, according to the vocal demand and the style of voice
proval was given by the Research Ethics Committee of the and speech expected for each profession. This classification was
Universidade Federal de São Paulo (CEP-UNIFESP n° 842.117). based on the categorization adapted from Shewell.36 An extra
The participants who were selected signed a free and informed category (“others”) was developed by the authors to comprise
consent form. The invitation for participation in the study was all the professions in the present study (Chart 1).
carried out through amateur choir conductors by phone or in person. There are several self-assessment questionnaires translated into
Initially, 38 amateur choirs from the city of São Paulo, Brazil, and are validated for Brazilian Portuguese. In this study, par-
were invited, which was equivalent to 926 choristers. The con- ticipants answered three questionnaires: the VoiSS,33,37 the MSHI,24
ductors were provided with information about the purpose, design, and the GAD-7 scale.34
Milka Rosa and Mara Behlau Mapping of Vocal Risk in Amateur Choir 3

38 choirs contacted
926 choristers

Phone contact or
in person

35 choirs 3 choirs
786 choristers 140 choristers

Accepted to participate in Could not participate in

the study the study due to schedule

Distribution of the

721 65
questionnaires questionnaires
returned not returned

526 195
valid questionnaires
questionnaires excluded

- Older than 18 years 89 33 14 59

- In the choir for over 6 choristers choristers choristers choristers
months Did not fill the Under 18 years Diseases In the choir for
- Complete fulfillment of questionnaires entirely old under 6 months
the questionnaires

7 4 3
choristers choristers choristers
Hearing Neurological Psychiatric
impairments conditions conditions

FIGURE 1. Flowchart explaining questionnaire’s selection.

The VoiSS38 self-assessment questionnaire is a vocal symp- The maximum score for the limitation domain is 60 points, for
toms scale used to reflect physical, communicational, and the emotional domain 32 points, and for the physical domain
emotional symptoms implicit in an adult’s dysphonia.35 VoiSS 28 points, and the maximum total score is 120 points. The passing
is considered a rigorous and psychometrically robust protocol score is 16 points,33 which means that the higher the scores in
for vocal self-assessment,39,40 providing information about func- this protocol, the higher the perception of the general level of
tionality, emotional impact, and physical symptoms of voice voice alteration regarding impairment, emotional reactions, and
problems, including their consequences for all aspects of life. physical symptoms reported. Scores lower than 16 indicate vocally
This protocol has been validated for Brazilian Portuguese as healthy individuals.
Escala de Sintomas Vocais (ESV).33 This version presents 30 in- VoiSS undoubtedly provides significant results, although it is
terrogative questions, each one scored from 0 to 4, according not specifically designed for the singing voice. To meet the needs
to the frequency of occurrence: never, rarely, sometimes, almost of this public, Italian phoniatrist Franco Fussi41 developed the
always, and always, respectively. From these questions, 15 regard MSHI and the Classical Singing Handicap Index, which are
the limitation domain (functionality), 8 the emotional domain adapted from the American protocol Voice Handicap Index.42
(psychological effect), and 7 the physical domain (organic symp- The MSHI protocol, which contains specific aspects of modern
toms), which produce partial scores. Both the total score and the singing styles, has a translated and culturally adapted version
scores for each domain are calculated by the simple sum of points. for Brazilian Portuguese.24 It is composed of 30 items, divided
4 Journal of Voice, Vol. ■■, No. ■■, 2016

into three subscales—disability, handicap, and impairment—

Sample Characterization (n = 526) According to Gender,
with functional, emotional, and organic domains, respectively.
Singers’ Profile Data Regarding the Use of Singing Voice, The answers are marked with a 5-point scale, according to the
General Health Data, and Vocal Self-Assessment frequency of occurrence: 0 = never, 1 = almost never, 2 = some-
times, 3 = almost always, and 4 = always. The higher the score,
Characterization n %
the greater the voice handicap observed by the individual singing.
Gender The GAD-7 scale34 is a valid and reliable self-assessment
Female 340 64.63
Male 186 35.36 screening questionnaire43 for anxiety signs and symptoms. The
Profession translation into Portuguese language was done by Pfizer (Copy-
Artistic 35 6.65 right © 2005 Pfizer Inc., New York, NY), and there is evidence
Informants 62 11.78
of its validity in Brazil.44 It has been proven to be a valid screen-
Leaders and sellers 37 7.03
Did not answer 16 3.04 ing tool to detect anxiety.45 The scale is composed of seven items,
Others 320 60.83 and each question receives a score from 0 to 3 according to the
Support 43 8.17 frequency of occurrence: not at all, several days, more than half
Transmitters 11 2.09
Voice of command 2 0.38
the days, and nearly every day. The scores are calculated by the
In how many choirs participates as singer? simple sum of points and vary from 0 to 21, evaluating the fre-
1 choir 380 72.24 quency of anxiety signs and symptoms in the last 2 weeks. The
2 choirs 106 20.15 scores are classified as minimum risk (0–4 points), mild risk (5–9
3 choirs 27 5.13
4 choirs or more 11 2.09
points), moderate risk (10–14 points), or severe risk (15–21
Did not answer 2 0.38 points); thus, the higher the score obtained, the more anxious
How many hours of practice per week? the individual considers himself or herself. Scores of 10 points
Up to 2 hours 245 46.57 or higher are considered positive indicator of anxiety signs and
2–4 hours 177 33.65
4–6 hours 59 11.21
symptoms. Statistical analysis adopted a significance level of 5%
More than 6 hours 40 7.60 (0.05).
Did not answer 5 0.95 The Tukey multiple comparison test was used to analyze the
For how long have participated in the choir? means for the pass and fail groups and for all the VoiSS ques-
6 months to 1 year 98 18.63
1–3 years 141 26.80 tions, as this test is used to test all the differences between the
More than 4 years 276 52.47 two means.
Did not answer 11 2.09 The equality of two proportions test is a nonparametric test
Use the voice in other activities?
that shows whether the proportion of answers of two deter-
Yes 169 32.12
No 342 65.01 mined variables or their levels is statistically significant. This
Did not answer 15 2.85 test was used to compare the pass and fail groups on the dis-
Perform vocal warm up? tribution of the variables profession and levels of anxiety, which
Yes 502 95.43
No 23 4.37
are qualitative, as well as to compare between genders regard-
Did not answer 1 0.19 ing the distribution of the variables pass and fail and levels of
Perform vocal cool down? anxiety.
Yes 64 12.16 Analysis of variance is a parametric test frequently used to
No 425 80.79
Did not answer 37 7.03
compare the means through variance. This test was used to analyze
Have had voice problems? the MSHI scores by comparing the means of the pass and fail
Yes 100 19.01 groups, as well as to compare the genders and the pass and fail
No 421 80.03 groups on their performances in all the questionnaires used in
Did not answer 5 0.95
Have ever had voice treatment?
this study.
Yes 46 8.74 The total sample was divided into pass and fail, according to
No 374 71.10 the results obtained from the VoiSS screening, which is consid-
Did not answer 106 20.15 ered an appropriate tool to classify the presence of voice
Have consulted an ENT specialist?
Yes 94 17.87 deviations.33
No 420 79.84
Did not answer 12 2.28 RESULTS
Have consulted a speech language pathologist?
The mean total score on the VoiSS protocol for the sample was
Yes 52 9.88
No 463 88.02 17.57, which is almost two points higher than the passing score
Did not answer 11 2.09 of the instrument (16). The sample was divided into pass and
Vocal self-assessment fail based on this score. The pass group included 255 subjects
Excellent 19 3.61
Very good 85 16.15
(48.5% of the sample) with scores lower than 16 points, and the
Good 312 59.31 fail group included 271 subjects (51.5%) with scores of 16 points
Fair 102 19.39 or higher (Table 2).
Bad 6 1.14 Pass and fail responses were analyzed according to the pro-
Did not answer 2 0.38
fession and the anxiety degree of the subjects (Table 3).
Milka Rosa and Mara Behlau Mapping of Vocal Risk in Amateur Choir 5

Categories Vocal demand Professionals

Long periods using the voice with Psychologists, architects,

frequent moments of silence; reduced administrators, analysts, engineers,
intensity, sometimes dealing with high nurses, pharmacists, doctors, and
levels of stress. computer technicians.

Short periods using the voice with high Army sergeants, cops, players, barmen,
intensity and presence of background traders of the stock change,
Voice of command
noise. Weather or smoking may be auctioneers, pastors, postmen, and
damaging factors. outdoor workers.

Long periods using the voice with Receptionists and telemarketers.

microphone and earphone. High levels
of stress with possible aggressiveness
Transmitters towards the listener, and little body

Uninterrupted periods of speech, Speech-language pathologists,

varying the number of listeners and the lecturers, teachers, and people working
size of the space. High levels of in advertising.
Informants responsibility with the group of listeners,
using the voice to inform, persuade,
inspire, etc.

Usually short uninterrupted periods Attorneys, politicians, sellers,

speaking (less than the informants) at managers, and business men and
high intensity, but with high relevance to women.
Leaders/Sellers the use of voice in order to influence

Long periods of high vocal energy, high Singers, actors, broadcasters, and
level of ability to play a role and journalists.
emotionally convince. Body movement
Artistic variation is necessary. Usually has
vocal training.

Short periods of voice use without great Retired men and women, students,
vocal demand. housewives, cooks.

CHART 1. Categorization of voice professionals according to the use of voice (adapted from Shewel, 2009).

The subjects who failed the screening were mostly from the
professional category “informants,” which includes teachers, lec- TABLE 2.
turers, speech language pathologists, and advertising people34 Mean Total Score on the VoiSS Protocol, According to
(Chart 1). the Passing Score (16)
Regarding anxiety, there were significant differences between VoiSS Protocol
the pass and fail groups for subjects with minimal, mild, and
moderate anxiety degrees. Screening n % Total Score
On the MSHI, statistically significant mean differences were
found between the groups in all subscales. The subjects who failed Pass 255 48.5 8.27
Fail 271 51.5 26.34
the screening obtained the higher means on the subscales im-
Total 526 100 17.57
pairment (10.53), disability (6.56), and handicap (3.87) (Table 4).
6 Journal of Voice, Vol. ■■, No. ■■, 2016

Numeric and Percentage Distribution of the Choir Singers Regarding Their Profession and Anxiety Degree, According to
the Screening Results on the VoiSS Protocol
VoiSS Screening
Pass Fail
Profession and GAD-7 n % n % P value
Artistic 15 5.9 20 7.4 0.491
Informants 19 7.5 43 15.9 0.003*
Leaders and sellers 23 9.0 14 5.2 0.084†
Did not answer 8 3.1 8 3.0 0.902
Others 156 61.2 164 60.5 0.877
Support 25 9.8 18 6.6 0.186
Transmitters 8 3.1 3 1.1 0.104
Voice of command 1 0.4 1 0.4 0.966
Anxiety degree (GAD-7)
Minimal 161 63.1 87 32.1 <0.001*
Mild 86 33.7 139 51.3 <0.001*
Moderate 7 2.7 41 15.1 <0.001*
Intense 1 0.4 4 1.5 0.200
Note: Two-sample test for equality of proportions.
* Significant value (P ≤ 0.05).

Values tending toward significance.
Abbreviations: GAD-7, Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7; VoiSS, Voice Symptom Scale.

When the genders were compared on the VoiSS screening, screening results. There was a significant difference between
it was observed that women failed more than men. They also genders only in the disability subscale for the subjects who
present higher anxiety levels (Table 5). passed the screening, and a tendency toward significance
On the other hand, the performances were very similar between in the impairment subscale for the ones who failed it
men and women on the MSHI protocol, considering the VoiSS (Table 6).

Distribution of Choir Singers According to the Results on the MSHI Subscales, Considering the Screening Results on the
MSHI and VoiSS
Screening n Mean Median Standard Deviation CV (%) Min Max CI P value
VoiSS screening
Pass 255 1.85 1 2.87 155 0 20 0.35 <0.001*
Fail 271 6.56 5 5.78 88 0 31 0.69
VoiSS screening
Pass 255 0.94 0 1.88 200 0 16 0.23 <0.001*
Fail 271 3.87 2 4.70 121 0 22 0.56
VoiSS screening
Pass 255 3.33 2 3.98 120 0 24 0.49 <0.001*
Fail 271 10.53 10 7.18 68 0 34 0.86
VoiSS screening
Pass 255 6.11 4 7.31 120 0 42 0.90 <0.001*
Fail 271 20.97 18 15.39 73 0 87 1.83
Note: Analysis of variance test.
* Significant values (P ≤ 0.05).
Abbreviations: CI, confidence interval; CV, coefficient of variation; Max, maximum score; Min, minimum score; MSHI, Modern Singing Handicap Index; VoiSS,
Voice Symptom Scale.
Milka Rosa and Mara Behlau Mapping of Vocal Risk in Amateur Choir 7

and fail) were related to the subjects’ professions and anxiety

Distribution of Choir Singers by Gender, According to the
levels (Table 3). The survey confirmed that subjects in the cat-
Results on the VoiSS and GAD-7 egory “informants,”36 which includes teachers, lecturers, and
others, revealed a significant prevalence of fail results (P = 0.03).
VoiSS Screening Female Male Consequently, the impact of voice changes may interfere with
and GAD-7 n % n % P value the amateur singer’s voice in other areas of life that are unre-
VoiSS screening lated to musical activities10,46 (Table 3). This overlap of activities
Pass 153 45.0 102 54.8 0.031* increases their voice demand, which may increase the risk of
Fail 187 55.0 84 45.2 vocal alterations. A vocal alteration for a singer can be even
VoiSS screening greater, as this might interfere with his or her professional life.47
and GAD-7 Amateur singers present an intense vocal demand when the hours
Pass of professional use and singing voice use are considered together.48
Minimal 88 57.5 73 71.6 0.023* It is known that vocal care is recommended even when singing
Mild 60 39.2 26 25.5 0.023* is considered an amateur activity, as the amateurism in this mo-
Moderate 5 3.3 2 2.0 0.531
dality, with no specific orientation, can lead to voice alterations.49
Intense 0 0.0 1 1.0 0.220
Vocal overload50 may increase the risk, and the sum of vocal
Minimal 54 28.9 33 39.3 0.090† abuses may lead singers to a higher risk of presenting with vocal
Mild 97 51.9 42 50.0 0.776 symptoms.10
Moderate 33 17.6 8 9.5 0.084† Anxiety and stress cause physiological changes in the body,
Intense 3 1.6 1 1.2 0.794 and consequently the structures that compose the vocal tract are
Note: Two-sample test for equality of proportions. also affected, which results to modifications in vocal emission.51
* Significant values (P ≤ 0.05). In this study, the GAD scale34 was used to measure the state of

Values tending toward significance. anxiety. In general, the anxiety levels were low, prevailing in
Abbreviations: GAD-7, Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7; VoiSS, Voice
Symptom Scale. minimal and mild degrees, which indicates that amateur choir
singing does not contribute to increasing anxiety (Table 3). Many
professional singers mention mood disorders and stress related
All the questionnaires used in this study were to their vocal health, probably due to expectations regarding the
compared—VoiSS (screening), MSHI, and GAD-7—and sta- future of their careers. Hence, emotional factors are apparently
tistically significant differences were found in all groups. The different for amateur singers, who do not suffer this pressure with
highest total mean was obtained in the VoiSS screening (17.57), their singing.29 The choristers in the present study were from the
for the subjects who failed (26.34). The lowest means were for region of São Paulo, a city that, due to its complexity, may present
the subjects who passed the VoiSS screening (8.27) and the ones a higher probability for the individuals to develop psychologi-
who passed the MSHI (6.11). No traces of anxiety were found cal problems and behavioral disorders.52 However, choir singing
among amateur choristers, as the total means, for both groups, is seen as a leisure activity, contributing to the reduction of stress
were below the passing score for the GAD-7 (10), as shown in among participants. Our results confirm previous findings that
Table 7. showed that amateur group singing produces positive emotions,
The mean values for each question of the VoiSS protocol were influencing the emotional state as well as the immunologic func-
compared according to the results on the screening (pass or fail). tions in human beings. Thus, musical behavior possibly has a
The three higher means were for Q7—coughing or throat clear- positive influence on general well-being and health.31
ing (1.33), Q16—difficulty speaking in noisy environments (1.21), The MSHI protocol is recommended to verify the impact of
and Q1—difficulty being heard by others (1.17) (Table 8). a voice alteration in singers. The MSHI protocol and its subscales
were analyzed according to the VoiSS screening results, showing
DISCUSSION significant differences between the pass and fail groups. The highest
This study initially investigated the existence of vocal risk in mean was observed among the subjects who failed the screen-
amateur choral singers using the VoiSS, which is a self- ing in the impairment subscale, followed by the disability and
assessment screening instrument that presents the perfect the handicap subscales (Table 4). Because the participants are
classification.33 The results for the total sample showed the mean amateur singers and singing is not their primary source of income,
value above the passing score (16), suggesting possible vocal the results did not show great handicap, and the emotional subscale
risk in the studied population (Table 2). Then, the participants presented the lowest mean in this protocol.17,53,54 Choristers are
were grouped according to their screening results—pass (48.5%) aware when there is something wrong with their voice, and they
and fail (51.5%)—with the aim to further study the population are able to indicate their limitation in the self-assessment.
at risk for voice problems. Such classification was idealized to The analysis of gender distribution on the VoiSS screening
facilitate the understanding of the relationship between voice (Table 5) showed that women presented greater potential for voice
symptoms and vocal risk, and its overall impact on the quality problems, as 55% of them were classified as fail, whereas 45.2%
of life of choir singers. of the men composed this group. In previous studies, women
Thus, using the equality of two proportions test in the statis- not only had a higher lifetime prevalence of voice disorders
tical analysis, it was observed that the screening results (pass (46.3% vs 36.9%), but also had a higher prevalence of chronic
8 Journal of Voice, Vol. ■■, No. ■■, 2016

Distribution of Choir Singers by Gender, According to the MSHI Subscales, Considering the Screening Results on the
VoiSS Screening and MSHI n Mean Median Standard Deviation CV (%) Min Max CI P value
VoiSS screening
Female 153 1.43 1.0 2.12 148 0 10 0.34 0.017*
Male 102 2.48 1.0 3.64 147 0 20 0.71
Female 187 6.66 6.0 5.96 90 0 31 0.85 0.693
Male 84 6.36 5.0 5.37 84 0 23 1.15
VoiSS screening
Female 153 0.82 0.0 1.43 175 0 7 0.23 0.239
Male 102 1.12 0.0 2.39 214 0 16 0.46
Female 187 4.11 2.0 5.04 123 0 22 0.72 0.225
Male 84 3.36 2.0 3.84 114 0 17 0.82
VoiSS screening
Female 153 3.14 2.0 3.39 108 0 17 0.54 0.690
Male 102 3.60 2.0 4.74 132 0 24 0.92
Female 187 11.04 10.0 7.52 68 0 34 1.08 0.078†
Male 84 9.38 8.0 6.26 67 0 26 1.34
VoiSS screening
Female 153 5.39 4.0 5.70 106 0 31 0.90 0.154
Male 102 7.20 4.0 9.13 127 0 42 1.77
Female 187 21.81 18.0 16.32 75 0 87 2.34 0.180
Male 84 19.10 16.0 12.98 68 0 55 2.78
Note: Analysis of variance test.
* Significant values (P ≤ 0.05).

Values tending toward significance.
Abbreviations: CI, confidence interval; CV, coefficient of variation; Max, maximum score; Min, minimum score; MSHI, Modern Singing Handicap Index; VoiSS,
Voice Symptom Scale.

voice disorders than man.55 This may be due to the fact that there anxious in the GAD-7 scale than men.17,58 Unlike professional
are more women than men in professions who predispose them- singers whose livelihood depends on vocal well-being,
selves to present with voice complaints; these include professions amateur singers may not recognize the significance of a vocal
related to educational activities, as teachers have a higher rate handicap.
of self-reported voice disorders than those in other occupa- The literature reveals that, in general, performing musicians
tions. Furthermore, women not only reported higher rates of voice as a group are more anxious than nonmusicians. Female singers
disorders; in general, they also reported more chronic voice have been shown as significantly more highly trait anxious than
disorders.55 It has been hypothesized that women are more vul- the female non-singer population. However, it cannot be con-
nerable to voice disorders because of structural differences in cluded that female singers are more highly trait anxious than male
their laryngeal anatomy, as women have shorter vocal folds and singers.59
produce voice at a higher fundamental frequency.55 Previous In a previous study developed with music college singing stu-
studies have identified differences between male and female teach- dents, no difference was found between male and female subjects
ers in the report of voice problems. It has been shown that women regarding musical performance anxiety.59
were significantly more likely to report voice problems associ- On the other hand, men and women presented very similar
ated with teaching.55,56 Hence, women are more likely to present outcomes on the MSHI protocol when the VoiSS screening results
vocal disorders57,58 and, with minimal difference, women are more were considered (Table 6).
Milka Rosa and Mara Behlau Mapping of Vocal Risk in Amateur Choir 9

Distribution of Choir Singers According to the Results on the Instruments Used in the Study
Instrument n Mean Median Standard Deviation CV (%) Min Max CI P value
VoiSS screening
Pass 255 8.27 9 4.26 52 0 15 0.52
Fail 271 26.34 24 9.27 35 16 68 1.10 <0.001*
Total 526 17.57 16 11.61 66 0 68 0.99
VoiSS screening
Pass 255 6.11 4 7.31 120 0 42 0.90
Fail 271 20.97 18 15.39 73 0 87 1.83 <0.001*
Total 526 13.77 9 14.24 103 0 87 1.22
VoiSS screening
Pass 255 3.91 4 2.80 72 0 16 0.34
Fail 271 6.24 6 3.43 55 0 18 0.41 <0.001*
Total 526 5.11 5 3.34 65 0 18 0.29
Note: Analysis of variance test.
* Significant value (P ≤ 0.05).
Abbreviations: CI, confidence interval; CV, coefficient of variation; GAD-7, Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7; Max, maximum score; Min, minimum score; MSHI,
Modern Singing Handicap Index; VoiSS, Voice Symptom Scale.

When all the protocols used in this study were compared appropriate voice use could enhance the amateur’s choral singing
(VoiSS, MSHI, and GAD-7), as shown in Table 7, it was ob- experiences. A qualified speech language pathologist could be
served that the VoiSS screening presented a total mean of four an invaluable asset to an amateur choral singing group by pro-
points higher than the mean observed when the performance on viding training in vocal hygiene and effective voice use.60
the MSHI protocol was selected. The results agree with the lit-
erature for the subjects who presented scores close to 20 on the
MSHI, as church amateur singers have presented a total mean CONCLUSIONS
of 23 points on this instrument.25 Even in a population that develops vocal activity for pleasure
Another study24 showed that amateur singers with com- or leisure, it is important to know the profile of the amateur cho-
plaints presented 26.91 points and those with no complaints 16.91 risters in order to understand more broadly the risks and factors
points using the MSHI.24 In the GAD-7 scale, both groups were that might diminish vocal health.
below the passing score (≥10 points). This suggests an absence Based on the analyses performed in this study with amateur
of high anxiety traits in amateur choristers, although they live singers, it may be concluded that there is vocal risk in this
in a stressful city. Because singing is a leisure activity, not a pro- population, higher for female singers and those with profes-
fessional one, the degrees of anxiety among this subject group sions classified as “informants” (speech language pathologists,
were minimal to mild.52 Thus, these protocols can assist speech lecturers, teachers, and people working in advertising). The anxiety
language pathologists and choir conductors in the selection levels of the choristers were low, indicating that the activity is
procedures. not anxiogenic and may actually contribute to reducing stress
The mean values for each question of the VoiSS protocol were common to those who live in big cities.
compared according to the results on the screening (pass or fail). There are vocal symptoms that place this population at po-
The higher means were found for the questions “Do you cough tential risk, and they are related to the higher handicap observed
or clear the throat?” (1.33), “Do you have difficulties speaking in singing.
in noisy environments?” (1.21), “Do you have problems calling The combined use of two protocols identified a higher number
people’s attention?” (1.17), and “Do you have problems singing?” of choristers with potential problems than the use of these pro-
(1.10). It was found that all the means presented values close tocols separately.
to one point, which corresponds to an answer between “rarely” Because amateur choristers appear to be at higher risk for voice
and “sometimes” (Table 8). Therefore, this score does not rep- injury, an educational initiative on vocal health and well-being
resent great vocal risk. Although this population sings as an seems warranted. The evaluation instruments used in this study
avocation, the impact of singing on the voice can have impli- would appear to be of benefit for speech language pathologists
cations for its use in the workplace. Amateur choristers who and choral conductors. The results of the screening process may
present with voice complaints or symptoms should seek assess- indicate the need for referral to a medical professional for further
ment from a medical professional. Greater understanding of assessment and training.
10 Journal of Voice, Vol. ■■, No. ■■, 2016

Mean Values on the VoiSS Questions
Questions of VoiSS Pass Fail Mean Total P value
1. Do you have problems calling people’s attention? 0.80 1.52 1.17 0,199
2. Do you have problems singing? 0.71 1.47 1.10 0.001
3. Does your throat hurt? 0.48 1.27 0.88 <0.001*
4. Is your voice hoarse? 0.30 1.02 0.67 <0.001*
5. When you talk with a group of people, do they have difficulties hearing you? 0.24 1.00 0.62 <0.001*
6. Do you lose your voice? 0.27 0.97 0.63 <0.001*
7. Do you cough or clear the throat? 0.92 1.73 1.33 Ref.
8. Is your voice weak/low? 0.37 1.30 0.85 <0.001*
9. Do you have problems speaking on the phone? 0.08 0.42 0.25 <0.001*
10. Do you feel bad or depressed due to your voice problem? 0.03 0.58 0.31 <0.001*
11. Do you feel something stuck in your throat? 0.28 1.04 0.67 <0.001*
12. Do you have swollen nodules in your neck? 0.03 0.30 0.16 <0.001*
13. Do you feel embarrassed due to your voice problem? 0 0.40 0.21 <0.001*
14. Do you get tired talking? 0.15 0.91 0.54 <0.001*
15. Does your voice problem make you stressed or nervous? 0.04 0.49 0.27 <0.001*
16. Do you have difficulties speaking in noisy environments? 0.64 1.75 1.20 0.714
17. Is it difficult to talk strong (high) or to yell? 0.39 1.38 0.89 <0.001*
18. Does your voice problem bother your family or friends? 0.03 0.31 0.17 <0.001*
19. Do you have a lot of secretion or phlegm in your throat? 0.49 1.37 0.94 <0.001*
20. Does the sound of your voice change during the day? 0.32 1.16 0.74 <0.001*
21. Do people seem to get irritated with your voice? 0.07 0.45 0.26 <0.001*
22. Do you have stuffy nose? 0.62 1.32 0.97 <0.001*
23. Do people ask you what is wrong with your voice? 0.02 0.22 0.12 <0.001*
24. Does your voice seem hoarse and dry? 0.08 0.73 0.41 <0.001*
25. Do you have to make an effort to speak? 0.06 0.69 0.38 <0.001*
26. How often do you have throat infections? 0.66 1.22 0.94 <0.001*
27. Does your voice fail in the middle of a sentence? 0.16 0.83 0.50 <0.001*
28. Does your voice make you feel incompetent? 0.03 0.36 0.19 <0.001*
29. Are you ashamed of your voice problem? 0.01 0.23 0.12 <0.001*
30. Do you feel lonely because of your voice problem? 0.02 0.14 0.08 <0.001*
Total score 8.27 26.34 17.57
Note: Tukey test.
* Significant value (P ≤ 0.05).
Abbreviation: VoiSS, Voice Symptoms Scale.

Acknowledgment 7. Braun-Janzen C, Zeine L. Singers’ interest and knowledge level of vocal

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