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Acquire: Voices at Altitude

I am in Denver, CO for the National Speakers Association Influence conference.  Denver is the Mile High City, literally 5280ft above sea level.  Most everyone knows that altitude has physiological effects that impact health.  They might even know they should hydrate and perhaps pace themselves, particularly if it is hot.  

What many people fail to notice is the effect that altitude has upon the voice.

The voice is a wind-powered, brain-driven instrument.  It is the result of oscillation of the thyroartenoids (the vocal folds) in response to neurological impulse causing specific air flow.  Voice use is in fact not the primary job of the respiratory system, nor is it the primary function of the vocal folds.  Herein lies our dilemma.

At altitude, even the relatively medium altitude of 5280ft oxygen, the air pressure outside your body is much lower than at sea level. It is just harder to breathe. Importantly for your physiology if the brain is having a hard time getting the oxygen it expects it will prioritize survival and the voice is not a survival function. Luckily, our bodies want to adapt and if we give it some help it will compensate a little faster.

Here are some simple tips for navigating your voice at altitude so you can avoid injury and maintain your vocal control.

  • Hydrate.
    • Whatever you are drinking it is not enough. It isn’t just the altitude, many of these places have arid climates.
  • Eat Lightly and Well.
    • Your body is working hard to keep you oxygenated. Give it the food fuel: Raw and slightly steamed veggies in quantity and go light on everything else.
  • Watch the Alcohol.
    • Your body will respond very differently to alcohol at altitude. In fact, the effects of alcohol both pleasant and unpleasant are amplified. Hi
  • Move your Psoas
    • The tension caused in your body while oxygen is challenging can end up right in the musculature of the breathing process. Keep moving gently, do forward bends, and support the Psoas. For more on this read this.
  • Hum along
    • Keep your vocal folds by using gentle, closed mouth humming and sustaining pitches on /u/ and /i/. This will serve as a gentle stretch for the voice and keep air moving.

Gina Razón is the principal voice specialist at GROW Voice LLC, a full-service voice and speech studio in Boston’s Back Bay.  She has over 16 years of experience both as a teacher of voice and speech, and a voraciously curious voice user.  Gina has worked professionally as a classical singer for over a decade and more recently as a professional public speaker.  For more information on the studio or to book Gina visit

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