Often our knee jerk reaction is to ‘fix’ the problem, but of course there is an irony here- you can’t force yourself to relax. You can only allow yourself to let go. Awareness is the first and most important step. The next step is the willingness and patience to go with the process.
Often we learn when we stop trying so hard. I truly believe that learning to sing is really unlearning all of those unhelpful habits we’ve adopted. None of us came into this word all hunched up and ‘wearing our shoulders as earrings’ (as my Pilates teacher once observed!)
If you look at babies, you’ll see that they breathe freely into their abdominal area, and engage these muscles when they cry. Let’s face it, your average baby doesn’t have problems with projecting their voice!
Perhaps its our western obsession with having flat stomachs, but often we hold ourselves upright and breathe shallowly into our shoulders, which is the first thing we need to unlearn.
Being suited. booted and poker faced might be necessary in the corporate world, but it can leave us alienated from our bodies and disconnected from our voices. Psychology aside, if you’re at a computer for 8+ hours a day, chances are you’re going to suffer from some muscle tension.
So, whats the answer?
In my opinion- the answer lies, in part, with movement. I don’t mean the hardcore kind of movement, where you thrash around, overriding what your body is telling you- but the gentle, mindful kind where you listen to your body. (Think yoga rather than high intensity workouts- which might be great for weight loss but not for this!)
Try this- next time you sing, try ‘unlocking’ your body. You could walk gently or perform with your arms outstretched. You could try leaning against the wall while supporting yourself with the palm of your hands. Observe if anything feels different. Is there a change in vocal tone? Do you feel more free? Try and incorporate this exploration into your singing practice.
You know that phrase- where have you been all my life?
Well, that’s how I feel about The Inner Singer podcast. Mike Goodrich is a vocal coach based in Los Angeles, and started his podcast with the goal of providing encouragement and coaching to singers.
Mike covers topics such as mindset, confidence, and self belief. Being a singer is about more than sounding good- it’s about being a storyteller, and connecting with your audience. Often we know this intellectually, but can get bogged down in self criticism. Our left brain (logical, analytical) can dominate, where our right brain (creative, emotional) needs to shine.
If this strikes a chord with you, I highly recommend that you give his podcast a listen. Each episode has a relaxed, gentle pace to it- always with a gem of wisdom. Modern life can often feel rushed- there’s so much information out there it can be overwhelming, but Mike’s podcast just feels like warm, heartfelt advice from someone who has been there.
My first singing tip video is here! I hope you will find them useful- I keep them short and sweet, so leave a comment or message me if you would like more information. This exercise helps balance the air above and below the vocal folds- which helps them function efficiently and easily. This ultimately results in increased stamina, co-ordination and vocal range. Not a bad result for making silly sounds into a plastic tube!
As a voice teacher, it’s so important to keep learning yourself so you can pass on what you learn to your students. I’ve attended many vocal health events, but I’ve still learnt some fascinating and useful things from today’s session. Jenevora busted open a few myths as well, so here are some vocal health facts and tips you may not have known..
1)Resting your voice little and often is the way to go!
Break up your vocal practice/ rehearsals/ nattering on the phone with regular breaks. After a particularly demanding song, give yourself 2 minutes of rest before tackling the next one. ‘Breaking up’ your singing with mini- breaks will help your voice to recover more quickly.
Awareness is not only key to developing your voice, but noticing external factors (like busy traffic, or loud music) and it’s impact on your voice use is very important. If you are in a noisy environment, don’t spend the night shouting- find a quieter place to chat or have a dance instead!
3)Avoid Throat Sweets!
They may be packaged to appear healthy but there are a number of ingredients that irritate the vocal tract instead of helping it. Menthol might make your airways feel clear, but actually it just irritates and inflames you. Many throat sweets also contain anaesthetic, which may encourage you to ‘push’ through when actually you should be resting. Pain is there as an indicator that something is wrong. What to do instead of suck on throat sweets? Sip water! Not exciting perhaps, but the best remedy!
4)Dairy isn’t necessarily bad
A lot of singers avoid dairy like the plague, believing it to be a mucous forming nemesis! It might be if you have an allergy or intolerance, but in general, any mucous-forming effect wears off after 20 minutes. Everyone is different, so listen to your body and decide what affects you, and what doesn’t.
5)Yes, smoking and drinking really aren’t good for you..
..but you knew that already! Alcohol is incredibly dehydrating so should be avoided before performing or rehearsing. Cigarette smoke irritates your vocal folds (cords) and should be completely avoided. (If you need help quitting, the Allen Carr (not the ‘chatty man’ comedian!) method has helped a lot of people.) Smoking marijuana is even more drying and rough on the voice!
6)And that late night KFC isn’t such a fab idea either…
…which can be a bit of a problem for performers who are famished when they finish a set late in the evening. Unfortunately scoffing food down just before you hit the pillow is a recipe for acid reflux, which is the number one source of vocal problems. An over the counter treatment like Gaviscon Advanced will be beneficial, but always consult your doctor beforehand.
7)Warm up, don’t wear out.
Start your warm ups by jumping up and down on the spot- then follow with some gentle stretches and humming- don’t push your voice to extremes. Rushing straight to loud or intense vocalising could do more harm than good!
8)Living well prevents and cures…
Looking after yourself really is at the heart of keeping that voice healthy.
Get plenty of sleep
Rest your voice (take regular mini breaks!)
Stay hydrated (drink water and steam those vocal folds!)
Think positively (stress has an incredibly negative affect on the voice!)
Stay inspired (what’s good for your mind is good for your physical health too!)
and in other news…your voicebox (larynx) evolved from the gills of a fish.
You heard me. Of all the things I picked up from the session, this is the one that blew my mind the most. This doesn’t really bear any relevance at all to vocal health, but I really wanted to pass that on anyway. because wow.
Jenevora also showed us this weird and wonderful video of a quartet of larynxes. Worth a watch!
Going to galleries and exhibitions is one of my favourite things to do in any city (great to recharge creative batteries!) so I was particularly excited to discover that The Wellcome Collection in London is holding an exhibition on the human voice, appropriately titled ‘THIS IS A VOICE’.
The exhibition includes talks such as ‘What does your voice say about you?’ (FREE but ticketed, so be quick!) as well as live ‘voicings’ ( 20 minute vocalisations performed by various artists.)
It sounds obvious, but if you want to have a successful singing career (or just to sound the best that you possibly can) you need to look after your voice.
Singers differ from other Musicians in that they are BOTH the instrument and the player. If you had one guitar…just one..that you had to keep for the rest of your life, you’d want to take care of it, wouldn’t you. It’s exactly the same with your voice.
Both of these great establishments exist to help all of us keep our voices happy and healthy- by sharing what they know. Below are 8 must-read free to download fact sheets for singers. As we all know, prevention is better than cure!