We all like a quick and simple voice training tool, don’t we? Of course we do. Well, this one is a real help for anyone who turns rigid when approaching demanding song segments. It’s also a winner for anyone who focusses too much on the scariness of singing and has a hard time relaxing (world, raise your hands!).
It’s true to say our body expresses our thoughts and feelings. When we bottle out of the high note, we turn away from it like we’re about to be hit by a bus. When we fly at high C with our guns blazing, we often grit our teeth and brace ourselves. For that reason we need sneaky ways to give those emotionally-led muscles another job to do. Therefore, they can’t trap you and trip you up while you’re figuring things out. Vocal freedom ensues!
Here are a couple of things to try:
The Neck Turn
The ‘usual suspect’ is a more apt name for the neck. There are a lot muscles that run through your head holder, not to mention your larynx sits in it! Many of these muscles can exert a problematic pressure on your voice if they contract too tightly, and they could be tight because posture needs work. Maybe your head hangs forward a little? Another reason could be because of extended voice use or unhelpful singing techniques. Even stress and anxiety can cause neck muscles to tighten, so we need ways to relieve it!
Whatever the reason, you can use a constant head turn to begin to loosen the muscles and break them out of a habit. All you need to do is sing a verse of a song that feels a little uncomfortable whilst turning your head freely from side to side. Keep the chin positioned ever-so-slightly proud.
Pay particular attention to how your voice feels and sounds whilst doing it. If it feels or sounds a little better, neck tension could be something to deal with in the long term with your coach. But for now, spend a little time singing like it and get used to the experience. It might just stick on it’s own if you’re lucky!
The Body Swing
I’ve seen many singers turn into a railway sleeper when singing a tricky part, or just when singing in-front of someone. Pecs contract, shoulders raise up and abs go solid; it’s not a favourable environment for sounding or feeling great.
By swaying from side to side at the waist, we can relax many of those tensions and keep the muscles of the torso temporarily busy. Try it on a verse right now and see how you feel! Be sure to let your arms swing freely as you rotate and sing. Keep your feet in one place.
Bending At The Waist
It’s been said that if the body thinks it’s falling, muscles can relax. No, the advice isn’t to do your scales on a skydive. For one thing, that would be incredibly expensive. Instead, by swaying forward at the waist as you approach the higher part of a scale you can release all kinds of stiff muscle.
This tool is particular useful in extending the upper part of your range. That’s why we usually use it towards the top of a long scale. For example, take a two octave scale from E3. Start swinging forward half way through the scale so that you’re fully bent over by the top note. If you experience some more freedom on the top as a result, use it regularly for a short time to encourage a more permanent release of those notes.
Quick warning with this one: if you suffer back trouble this may render you permanently jackknifed. Go careful.
Mind over muscle
These exercises are really good ways of keeping problem muscles busy whilst you gain some freedom from their negative effects. Vocal massage can also help, which you can gorge on in this post. Another reason why these exercises can work is because they may also distract you and your runaway mind. Standing there swaying might be just enough to keep that “I’ll never make it… waaaaah” thought from flooding through your head, so definitely give each technique a go.
Stay in touch with your progress! If you have recurring tension that stops you from enjoying your voice, seek the help of a qualified vocal coach or book yourself a session with one of us here if you don’t have one.
Chris is also a writer for iSing Magazine, a founder/presenter of The Naked Vocalist podcast, a voting member of Pan American Vocology Association, and a teacher trainer/vocal coach with the Vocology In Practice network.
All that aside, he's a pure and true music fan with a penchant for Donny Hathaway and songs about heartbreak.