You and Your Vocal Health (Or…. A legit reason to watch somebody’s tongue.)
Your singing voice should sound like your speaking voice.
There. We’re done here. It’s truly THAT easy. Veins should not be popping out on the side of your neck, your throat shouldn’t move when you try to belt, and you shouldn’t be having to breathe every four measures.
Fantastic examples of this are Neil Patrick Harris, Kate Baldwin, Jason Alexander, Tony Goldwin, Tony Danza, and Brian d’Arcy James. If you were in your kitchen and they started singing in another room, first off, bravo to you for getting NPH to your house, but second, you’d recognize his voice. His singing voice sounds just like he talks.
At the end of the day, remember the following phrase. Embroider it on a pillow if you have to. Say this over and over and know it to be true. Here it is:
IT SHOULDN’T HURT TO SING.
You may be ready to click off this post, heading over to check your Facebook and saying to yourself, “Whatever! I’m fine.”
But are you?
Are you really?
Are you ever sick during a run? Ever exhausted after a rehearsal where you didn’t dance? Throat drier than normal? Jaw tight? These are all symptoms we could write off as allergies, hard day at work, TMJ, etc. But they are also subtle symptoms of unhealthy singing.
Muscular comfort should be goal one.
There are horror stories of “voice teachers” saying to students things like, “You never want your mouth TOO open.” Or having them hold a pencil in their teeth and saying that’s as wide as you’re allowed. Or telling vocalists to suck on lemons (Don’t do this, btw, it dries you out) or to chug cold water (Please, no! This shocks your chords!). Or how about telling boys that because they are going through puberty, they should stop voice lessons. And the nightmare examples go on and on.
So how do we go about making excellent vocal health happen?
Just as an experiment, try a few of these suggestions. If it doesn’t work, and you don’t notice a difference, then fine. Maybe we’ll see each other next time.
If they do indeed make an impression, then seek out a vocal coach who can educate and guide you through this – not just one who wants to help you get high notes out and “sound good.”
1. Get rid of tongue tension.
Take the tip of your tongue, place it behind your bottom teeth, and push your tongue up and out of your mouth. This causes your jaw to drop straight down, and creates space in the back of your throat.
If you felt a pull down your neck, or a stretch in the back of your throat, you have tongue tension.
This exercise, no matter to what degree you have tension, is good for all of us to do continuously.
2. OPEN YOUR MOUTH!!
Hold three fingers up (like the Boy Scout Pledge). Now turn those fingers vertical, and place them in your mouth.
Or pucker up like you are going to give a big ole’ smooch. Put both pointer fingers on either side of your mouth – using the corners of your mouth as a guide. Now drop your jaw straight down. If your fingers moved, you went wide, so try again.
Now in that new space, try the tongue exercise from above. Feel the space you’ve created in the back of your throat? Hooray!
3. Use Your Face Space
Go back and do the “smooch” exercise. This time raise your eyebrows.
When you sing, this is ALL home base. Use it all – not just to go into head voice, or manipulate a difficult note.
4. Don’t cheat your diaphragm.
So often singers are told to connect their breathing with their singing, but it’s not clearly explained what that means. So as a start, try this:
You know how sometimes you’re watching tv, and the next thing you know, you’re awake, and the show is over? Well make that face. Then, place your tongue in the position from suggestion one. Now, to take in air, shape your lips around your tongue as if you’re going to get a strawberry out of the bottom of a milkshake, and try to yawn. Breathe in using that shape, and at the same time, push your belly button out.
How’d that go? More room?
Now this time, after you take that breath, float into a sound. Your brain is going to freak out for a second, and try to tense up your throat. Don’t let that happen!
And as a reminder, your shoulders do NOT help you breathe! They DO NOT.
5. Create a home base, then expand.
As we worked on in #3, you need EVERYTHING you have to sing. When #1-4 are working together, that should be your new normal.
Muscles are going to react differently at first, but once you gain strength, you’ll also gain range, stamina, and diaphragmatic power.
If even while reading this, you felt a difference, go immediately to your voice teacher, and ask them to help you work through the tension and strain you’re putting on yourself when you sing. And if your voice teacher can’t help you, or worse yet, doesn’t know how to help you, or even worse than that, doesn’t know what you’re talking about, then run. Run fast, and run far. Find a new voice coach.
Demand more. Expect more. Achieve more.
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