Here’s to another episode of 600SS! Audio, video and text below for ya!
How many ways are there to reduce unhelpful vocal tension?
We only got time for 2. Soz.
There’s probably double that number of ways to pick it up.
And let’s face it… nobody is going to be perfectly tension-free in pop music, which is a whole world built on celebrating imperfection. Tension or effort in certain places is actually good too, even though tension itself generally is painted as the enemy.
What we actually need is to get rid of are those unhelpful, insidious tensions that are stopping us from being efficient, from developing our voices, from expressing ourselves and from having longer careers. We often have a gut feeling that the tension we feel isn’t ‘good’ and doesn’t make us enjoy singing as much, so if you have a hunch then go see someone!
Check your tech
Lots of those tensions have their roots in how the whole singing system is working together, otherwise problems always return later. For example, someone might experience tension in the throat and larynx if you’re singing higher without enough breath.
Either way, before you get too deep into picking out specific tensions to get rid of, check in on your general technique first. As parts of our technique slip over time, we often see niggles arrive in the voice as a compensation.
If you haven’t worked on vocal technique yet, spend some time exercising your voice for a month or so. If you do this, you might find some of the problem tensions leave or lower on their own. SOVT exercises are good start if you lost with where to begin, so hop on Google and find a few to work with. A touch of self-massage might also help, so check out Chris’s popular article for more ideas.
Tension could also start in the mind. A tentative or nervous vocal delivery (because of a history of ‘bad’ feedback) might create unhelpful tension in your voice. That tension might be the only visible or audible problem, but before we go and release that tension physically we really need to check in on our mindset. Are we going in timid, worried or guns blazing? Could we be more calm and focussed on the process?
Into a couple of exercises
(check the vid at the top for quick demos)
Pumping the arms
This is a funny one because it’s kinda adding tension to loose some, initially. All you have to do is pump your arms so it shakes your whole body, whilst singing a scale or segment. Any vowel will do, but I like the semi-closed ones if the singer is particularly tense.
OH (like ‘old’) is often a useful one for the lower to mid range. All kinds of scales work, as this can create freedom in almost any register or range (related to contemporary pop music).
It works by shaking out the habitual rigidity around the body. That includes rigidity in your breathing muscles or in the way you stand. It’s also for anyone who holds tension in their throat by bracing or squeezing. The eventual sense of flow and how air moves easily to create sound is the thing to notice. Byproducts are that many muscles in the vocal tract are looser as a result, registers can feel less tight and restricted, and vibrato is encouraged.
You can use an emotional response like brimming excitement to move that forward. That emotional impulse shares a looser throat feeling and easy movement of air through the voice as pumping the arms. Of course, we want to get away from pumping the arms for the benefit of the performance 🙂
Eventually we will know the sense of airflow and looseness. With enough experience of it, we are able to encourage it without as much outside help from vocal exercises.
The EE vowel
Also written as /i/ and said like ‘feet’. In the way we’re using it, it’s similar to the Y-buzz in Lessac-Madsen Resonant Voice Therapy.
Using this in a specific area can help us to reduce tensions that are from a lack of energy and boost from our throat and mouth spaces. To generate more helpful resonance, basically. With good resonance, airflow and vocal registers balance themselves out much better, and we pick up less tension as a result. Perfect!
Y’know… the bit before the break. For guys, that could be anywhere around B3, C4, C#4. For girls, somewhere topping out at the E4/F4 sort of area. Focusing on that area, look at short scales like three tone scales to develop it.
Tune your vowel
First though, let’s tune this EE vowel properly. The podcast provides the demo, but we are creating an under vowel feeling of UH (as in mother) to help the larynx be settled. Not pushed down or raised up. We’re going to take the mouth shape of a light SH, where the jaw is super loose. Combine the feeling of the UH with the mouth shape of SH, and that will influence your EE vowel to be resonant and loose for this exercise. As a result of that, you may feel the ‘buzziness’ in the front of your face. That’s a good thing!
All that’s left is to run the exercises around that area of your voice to feel the buzz, but also notice the reduced tension and effort to create sound. If there is some tension creeping in, alternating the EE with an SOVT, like a puffy cheek, will help to settle it down gradually. Challenge it with vibrato, sustains, added fourths to the scale pattern to ensure that it’s steady and stable.
Why not combine the two?
You can totally be creative with this and combine techniques. Pumping or shaking the arms goes well with the Y-buzz approach to allow for airflow and looseness in the larynx. There are no rules!
Well, there you have it. Two things to try in your daily steps towards greatness. As always, stay in touch via our Facebook group and comment below. We’re always around to help.
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