Singing or Straining?
By Jeannie Deva - 10/07/2009 - 07:33 PM EDT
By Jeannie Deva, Author of "The Contemporary Vocalist", Originator of The Deva Method (R)-Complete Technique for Stage and StudioTM
You can hear it in the sound of your voice and feel it in your throat when it
happens. The muscles tense and your vocal tone sounds pinched and shrill. You’re
straining and if your voice doesn’t crack, you can consider yourself lucky.
Perhaps you only experience strain on certain occasions. You might think
it’s because you weren’t born to sing in certain keys or just have a naturally
low voice or the song is wrong for you (even though you love it).
it’s true; you can lower the key or simply cut out certain songs from your
repertoire. But, there is a hidden reason why you may find yourself straining.
Not knowing what it is makes it easy to blame it on other things. That, not
being the real reason, keeps the solution illusive and unobtainable. So, are you
ready for the unveiling of the guilty party?
What is Strain?
Strain occurs when you vocal folds cannot vibrate as fully as they need
to. At that moment, the muscles that govern them are fighting to do what is
needed of them, in conflict with an opposing tension. It would be like tensing
the muscles of an arm at your side while simultaneously trying to raise that arm
above your head. The imposed muscle tension is contradicting the necessary and
natural function which would otherwise allow you to easily move your arm.
Three Main Reasons Strain Occurs
1) Your Tongue
all the muscles of your body, the tongue is the strongest muscle for its size.
You use it more than you usually use most of your other muscles for: eating;
drinking; swallowing saliva; talking; singing.
Additionally, if you
overuse it when speaking or singing by articulating your words past what is
needed in their natural pronunciation, it can become stiff or tense.
root of your tongue is essentially connected to the top of your larynx (voice
box). The larynx is the cartilage tube running vertically in the front of your
throat. Check it out. Your Adam’s apple is part of it. If your tongue is tensed
when you speak or sing it causes a holding or stiffening of your larynx.
When your tongue pulls up or pushes down it interferes with the natural
position of your larynx. This effects the position and movement of your vocal
folds which are housed inside. It is the folds that must vibrate and create the
sounds and pitches of your voice. Restriction of your larynx adversely affects
the working of your vocal folds and the sound of your voice.
I am not
saying your tongue should not move. However, if you make it move more than it
naturally needs to, if you pull the back of it up as you “go for a high note” or
put too much emphasis on a consonant (which will ALWAYS cause it to needlessly
tighten and pull upwards) or push the back of the tongue down to "open your
throat", then you are unwittingly creating problems for yourself and you will
experience vocal strain.
I have created a number of exercises that help
limber your tongue and related muscles and help you achieve a previously
un-experienced ease and versatility of singing.
2) Air Overblow
There is such a thing as too much pushing out as you sing. The higher you
sing, the LESS AIR your vocal folds need for their vibration. And if you push in
your stomach/abdomen thinking this represents breath support, you may be
surprised by what I’m next going to say. By doing so, you are pushing in against
lower abdominal organs which in turn push up against your diaphragm and
subsequently push up against your lungs. This inward/upward pressure forces out
an excessive air flow that pushes up against your vocal folds like a tidal wave.
In my 35 years of researching the voice and teaching singers, I have
found that any time a singer releases their abdominal pushing, singing becomes
easier and their tone generally becomes fuller and more resonant.
lack of abdominal pushing however needs to be replaced with a more holistic
approach, one that utilizes the natural and factual design of your body. I’m
referring to the fact that the majority of your lungs are located in your back.
They are housed inside and affixed to the lining of your rib cage. When your
ribs expand, they open your lungs which pull in your breath. (Yes, the diaphragm
does have something to do with this process as well but frankly, the rib
movement is most important.)
If you breathe into your back and then
sing, you will find a marked difference in how your voice responds. Just be sure
to do this while permitting your abdomen to relax and move naturally rather than
manipulate it. For some, this can take practice as old manipulative habits are
discovered and released.
For the rest of the story on this and fast
acting exercises that help you work with your body’s natural breathing and
sound-making design, use my book: “Contemporary Vocalist
3) Lack of Conditioning
try to get their voices to do things for which they have not really prepared the
vocal muscles to accomplish – though it is well within their physical
capability. It is like this with any athlete. You have the muscles. They work a
certain way. They have a potential. It is proper exercise, NOT just attempting
to use them, that awakens the full potential. If, for example, you were to
attempt performing as a hip hop dancer without any muscle development through
limbering and strengthening exercises, you would see the correlation.
Well, vocal exercises – depending on what they are and how closely they
work with the body naturally – can definitely help. Your voice is the product of
muscle actions which, while small and hidden from view, can be developed. I have
spent the majority of my life developing an approach that is based upon physical
fact and does not depend upon or dictate any particular style. This permits you
to develop your whole voice and then “play it” the way you want as the creative,
expressive singer that you are or want to be.
Wishing you the very best!
NOTE: If you live near Hollywood,
California, Jeannie will be giving two workshops for singers and
singer/songwriters on Saturday November 7th. For info and tickets: www.JeannieDeva.com (click on "Workshops" on the Navigation bar.)
Deva is an International Celebrity Master Vocal Coach and Recording Studio Vocal
Specialist with a career that spans over 30 years. Her client list includes
Grammy Award Winners and American Idol Finalists as well as singers for Janet
Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Christina Aguilera, Broadway’s Wicked, Lion King,
Grease, Fame and Color Purple. She has worked with and is endorsed by engineers
and producers of Aerosmith, Elton John, Whitney Houston, Bette Midler, Celine
Dion, Fleetwood Mac and The Rolling Stones. Seen on E! Entertainment and TV
Guide Channel, Jeannie has been interviewed as a celebrity guest on numerous TV
and radio talk shows in both the US and Venezuela. Author of the internationally
acclaimed "Contemporary Vocalist" series and “The Deva Method®
Vocal Warm-Ups and Cool-Downs” CD, her articles on singing have been featured
over 400 times in magazines around the world. Performer Magazine calls The
Deva Method: “The closest thing to
getting cosmetic surgery for your voice.” Certified Deva Method teachers are located on the east and west
coasts of the U.S. as well as in Sydney, Australia. Ms Deva’s private voice
studio is located in Los Angeles and West Hollywood. She also teaches singers
worldwide via Internet web cam. www.JeannieDeva.com
"If you're looking for a way to better yourself vocally, The Deva
Method is right on target."
- Editors Choice
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