Musical Stuttering A True Scenario and a Genuine Phenomenon Features
Free
Features  |   October 01, 2004
Musical Stuttering
Author Notes
  • Beth L. Macauley, is an assistant professor in the department of communicative disorders at the University of Alabama. Her area of expertise is neurological communication disorders. Contact her at bmacaule@bama.ua.edu.
    Beth L. Macauley, is an assistant professor in the department of communicative disorders at the University of Alabama. Her area of expertise is neurological communication disorders. Contact her at bmacaule@bama.ua.edu.×
  • Karen D. Steckol, is professor, chair, and clinic director in the department of communicative disorders at the University of Alabama. Contact her at ksteckol@bama.ua.edu.
    Karen D. Steckol, is professor, chair, and clinic director in the department of communicative disorders at the University of Alabama. Contact her at ksteckol@bama.ua.edu.×
Article Information
Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Fluency Disorders / Features
Features   |   October 01, 2004
Musical Stuttering
The ASHA Leader, October 2004, Vol. 9, 8-18. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.09182004.8
The ASHA Leader, October 2004, Vol. 9, 8-18. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.09182004.8
Imagine the surprise. During a doctoral committee meeting of a graduate student in the department of Music, you hear a description of a disorder that sounds very much like what we in communication disorders know as stuttering.
The disorder plagues brass players worldwide but has not been studied because of the embarrassment and shame of the musicians and the assumption that it is a physical problem possible to resolve through proper technique. However, as you listen to the student say that the problem exists “when the vocal tract and respiratory system lock up and become so tense that the note won’t come out,” you think that sounds suspiciously like primary characteristics. And when the student adds that “you become increasingly frustrated and ashamed and begin to fear certain notes and avoid solo pieces,” you think that sounds like the emotional component to speech stuttering and are more and more convinced of the similarities.
When the French horn professor in the room explained that a doctoral student in horn performance was struggling so much with this behavior that the student had begun to grimace and blink his eyes when the behavior occurred, you think these could be secondary characteristics. You can’t contain your excitement and exclaim, “Do you realize that everything you’ve described has a parallel behavior in speech stuttering?” They look at you with blank faces and ask you to explain.
Speech stuttering is a disfluency; it stops the forward flow of speech. The behavior the musicians described is a musical disfluency that stops the forward flow of music. Speech stuttering has three core behaviors: repetitions, prolongations, and blocks, each of which may also occur during “musical stuttering.” In speech stuttering, the disfluencies tend to occur at the beginning sound of words, and in musical stuttering, the disfluencies tend to occur on the first note the musician is to play.
People who stutter can predict in which sounds, words, and situations they will stutter. Brass players can predict on which notes, songs, and solos they will block. A person who stutters will become more fluent when talking in unison with another person whereas a brass player will be more fluent when playing in unison with another musician. A person who stutters may develop secondary behaviors such as eye blinks and head nods to escape the core behaviors that brass players also experience.
Individuals who stutter may develop fear and shame about their stuttering and avoid talking in situations in which they know they will be disfluent. The brass players with persistent musical stuttering also develop fear and shame about their performance and avoid playing in situations in which they know they will be disfluent. In one example, a professional musician retired because he was unable to play the horn fluently and could no longer perform solos. Speech stuttering has both physical and emotional components and musical stuttering appears to have both as well.
Techniques and Remedies
The music professors and the student were amazed at the parallels. They had always assumed that musical stuttering was only a physical problem that could be remedied with proper teaching techniques and relaxation exercises. But there was no consensus about which teaching technique was “correct” and no musician wanted to discuss it because it was so embarrassing-who wants to hire a professional musican who blocks on a note and can’t start the solo?
When the musician finally does push the air through the tight vocal tract, the note comes out as an uncontrolled “blat.” This behavior appears to be a forbidden topic among professional musicians and there are very few papers that discuss or describe the behavior. The music department faculty acknowledged that feelings and emotions could play an important role in the severity of musical stuttering and the student’s doctoral project evolved from a technical discussion of teaching techniques to a musical stuttering survey given to professional brass players.
After the meeting, the French horn professor invited Beth Macauley of the department of communicative disorders at the University of Alabama, in practice for 14 years, to observe a lesson with the doctoral student in horn performance who was struggling with musical stuttering. We entered the room and the professor asked the student to play a well-known French horn solo. The student rolled his eyes, shook his head, and said, “But you know what will happen.” The professor responded that he wanted Macauley to see it.
The student put his horn to his mouth, took in a deep breath, and as he went to release the air, his throat tightened, his neck muscles tensed up, his chin began to tremor, and his embouchure (lip configuration for playing the horn) became so tight that no air could exit the vocal tract and no note was produced. He moved the horn off his lips, took a deep breath, and tried again. This time the same terrible blocking behavior occurred, but he closed his eyes tightly, nodded his head, and was able to get out a “blat” sound.
The professor stopped him and said, “I’ll bring you in.” He then directed a measure and the student came in without a problem on the first note and proceeded to play a very beautiful-and fluent- musical phrase. The discussion at the end of the lesson between the three of us convinced us even further of the parallels between speech stuttering and musical stuttering.
As of the writing of this article, the musical stuttering prevalence and characteristics survey has been completed and the manuscript is in preparation. We have also received an internal grant to complete a pilot study on fluency-enhancing behaviors for musical stuttering based on speech-stuttering literature. It is our hope that more speech-language pathologists will take an interest in musical stuttering and assist the professional musician in dealing with this behavior.
References
Cochran, M. (2004). A comparison of the characteristics of musical stuttering and speech stuttering. Doctoral document, the University of Alabama, Department of Music.
Cochran, M. (2004). A comparison of the characteristics of musical stuttering and speech stuttering. Doctoral document, the University of Alabama, Department of Music.×
Frederickson, B. (1997). Arnold Jacobs: Song and wind. Chicago, IL: Windsong.
Frederickson, B. (1997). Arnold Jacobs: Song and wind. Chicago, IL: Windsong.×
0 Comments
Submit a Comment
Submit A Comment
Name
Comment Title
Comment


This feature is available to Subscribers Only
Sign In or Create an Account ×
FROM THIS ISSUE
October 2004
Volume 9, Issue 18