With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season now upon us, the holiday stress that often comes with it can take a toll on our voices.
Singing is very physical--if our bodies are holding unnecessary tension, this will affect our tone and our ability to express ourselves freely.
Today I want to share with you some of the best tips I know of that help to eliminate tension so you can boldly and freely create your dream voice!
First things first: so how do you know if or when you are straining when you sing?
The most obvious way to tell is if you feel any pain or soreness after you sing. Other indications include a turkey neck that shifts out of place when you go for a high note, veins that bulge out of your neck, and tension underneath your chin.
Sam Smith, Adele, Meghan Trainor, and John Mayer have all recently undergone vocal surgery from straining and/or simply pushing their voices too far.
Don't let this happen to you! As always, remember: "Self-care is #1!"
I want you to challenge yourself everyday and push yourself to your limit--just never go past it! There is never a need or justification to cause vocal damage to yourself. But at the same time, don't let fear hold you back from discovering your dream voice.
If you truly love your voice, become aware of the tension in your body and use these tools to release the strain so you can enjoy singing with freedom and prevent injury.
Here are my 5 Tips for how to sing without straining!
TIP # 1: IF IT HURTS, STOP!
You are the best source for knowing whether you are pushing yourself past your breaking point. Often, your breaking point can be tied to improper technique, which causes vocal straining. You should never feel pain in your jaw, vocal chords, neck or face. If you feel pain, STOP!
Knowing when to stop is related to understanding the crucial concept of good tension in your singing. For example, when creating those ideal 6-pack abs, you must learn to isolate your abs from your neck muscles. When you lift your body to do a sit-up, you should be using your ab muscles without straining your neck. It can be tempting to use your neck muscles to assist your abs for that final set of sit-ups, but this will only cause strain in your neck, it will not benefit you in creating a 6-pack.
Similarly, when you go for a 'money' note, your abs, intercostal ribcage muscles, arytenoid and thyroid vocal chord muscles should be engaged with a fair, healthy amount of tension, but there should be no strain in your neck or tension from using the wrong muscles that surround the outside of your vocal chords.
Creating additional tension in the wrong places can cause real problems, pain and struggle. Strength and muscular training involves isolating and strengthening the correct muscles, while releasing and freeing the incorrect ones. You are the only person who can dictate when something feels like good tension and when it doesn't. This brings me to...
TIP # 2: DON'T MAKE ANOTHER SOUND ON AUTO-PILOT
One of the most powerful ways to eliminate strain is to start talking to your body while practicing. You have the power to communicate with your body--your instrument--and you should be in the driver's seat sending mental cues to your body, telling it what you want it to do and how you want it to feel!
Don't make another sound on auto-pilot. Because singing starts with activating your breath, don't even breathe on auto-pilot. Feel and focus on each breath you take in and release.
Similarly to the way we create an active mind-body connection in yoga, start your vocal practice by using a simple deep-breathing meditation.
Try this: Close your eyes and focus your mind entirely on your breath. If you start thinking of anything other than your breath, repeatedly go back to feeling air move into your diaphragm and out of your body until you no longer are distracted by your thoughts.
TIP #3: RULE OF TONGUE: SING WITH YOUR TONGUE OUT
Another great way to eliminate vocal strain is to sing through a song while sticking your tongue out!
- Try singing through a song sticking your tongue out or holding on to your tongue with your thumb and index finger. If at any point your tongue jolts or shifts back into your throat, you will know exactly where you need to focus your attention to eliminate strain.
- Try this a few times until your tongue stays forward and relaxed naturally.
- Another tip is to put your thumb under your chin to make sure your chin feels loose and free while you sing.
TIP #4: BUSTING JAW TENSION
Tension held in the jaw is one of the most common places for singers. Left unchecked, jaw tension can affect your sound and cause injury.
- Try opening your mouth for 10 seconds & breathing into the tension. Repeat 3 times.
- Also try holding a pencil between your teeth while you sing without biting down on the pencil!
TIP # 5: NO TURKEY NECKS ALLOWED!
Singers can hold a lot of tension in their neck and shoulders. One way to tell this is happening is if your neck shifts or budges out of place from where it naturally rests when you speak. This is often called a turkey neck.
To help release this buildup of tension in your neck, bring your ear to your shoulder, your chin to your chest, and breath into the tension for 15 seconds. Do this 3 times and repeat for the opposite side. Stretch your neck throughout your practice sessions and your body will feel considerably more relaxed!
Tension blocks the pathway for sound to travel freely and for your authentic voice to shine through. It also causes unnecessary strain that can leave your voice feeling tired, in pain or in worst cases, injured past repair--requiring you to undergo vocal surgery.
Emotions are the body's response to the thoughts that arise in our minds. Don't stuff your feelings like a turkey this holiday! If you feel stressed or tense, try these exercises before you sing and pay extra special attention to what your body needs to feel relaxed and free.
I'd love to hear how these tips for relieving tension work for you, or what works best for you to relieve tension in your voice! Just write me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Remember: even if the holidays can be straining, that doesn't mean you have to strain when you sing!