4 Ways Tension is Holding Back Your Voice
I very nearly called this blog post, The Four Horsemen of the Singing Apocalypse but I figured it might be a teeny bit dramatic.
These four common tensions in the body do however have a huge impact on your sound and the ease with which you move through your registers, so it's pretty important to get them under control.
GOOD TENSION AND BAD TENSION
There are a few problems with body tension when it comes to singing, the first being that we assume that some body tension is fine and often don't know which tension is good and which isn't.
I know when I was learning how to sing, I had bucketloads of tension and figured that was how singing was supposed to feel. I always thought singing was a difficult skill to learn and should therefore feel as though I was trying fairly hard.
If you hold this belief, please write it down on a piece of paper and ceremoniously burn it.
Here's what I tell singers. You want to control your voice using your breath and support which means you'll have a slight engaged feeling in the torso, but never gripping, pulling in, pushing out or a hard tightness.
Because you're controlling your voice in this area, everything from the neck up should be relaxed.
WHERE TENSION HIDES (BEHIND THE BIKE SHEDS)
The jaw tends to have a few moves in its tension arsenal kit that interfere with our sense of freedom and resonance.
The first one is to grip and stay frozen in place. You want the jaw to drop softly and naturally. I often get students to sing as if they're a little dopey (or on serious anaesthetic) to really let go of the tightness in their jaw.
Singing on the repeated sound Buh or Mum is good for releasing jaw tension.
If you would like an exercise on the Mum sound that you can start practicing with, make sure you pop your details below (plus I'll be sending more goodies after that)!
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The other trick that the jaw plays on us is jutting forward, especially when we feel we're singing something difficult and need to work harder.
The best way to get a sense of whether or not this is happening is to place your fingers on your chin and notice if you're pushing into your fingers or dropping the jaw naturally downwards as you sing.
Oh this guy is one of the sneakiest. He can tighten and pull back as soon as you have your awareness on anything but him. Think of him as the naughty toddler of the group.
The tongue will behave particularly badly when you are going up higher in your range, especially in your head voice.
Keep him chilling out with the tip behind your bottom teeth and keep focused on him when you're going up to higher notes. As long as you keep him as the sole focus, you'll be able to keep him soft and out of your way.
I don't know about you but my shoulders must hold all of my fears, doubts and worries. We often tighten our shoulders in our daily lives without even realising it and this tends to amplify when we sing.
Do your shoulders raise up closer to your ears as you climb to higher notes? Do they roll forward and cause you to hunch? Do they simply grip and hold in place without releasing?
Singing in front of a mirror is a good way of alerting you to the fact that you might be holding extra tightness here. Unfortunately tense shoulders usually mean a tense neck and throat area which is never a singer's idea of a good time.
Let your hands drop to your sides and let them be heavy. Allow gravity to help to keep your shoulders soft (or you can hold light hand weights or bottles of water).
One of the most common places singers hold tension is their abs. Now my dear, holding your abs won't give you more power or support and certainly doesn't result in a rock-hard six pack, so LET IT GO.
Try this on for size: Inhale and start talking while you squeeze and release your abs. No sound/power/resonance difference right?
Now pull your belly button right in as if it could touch your spine your abs and pay attention to the very base of your throat. If you focus on that spot you'll notice that gripping the abdominal muscles like that actually grips the base of the throat too!
When supporting the voice properly, the abdominals move as we release air but they’re much more flexible and it’s using more of the transverse abdominis not the rectus abomdinis.
Check out the video below to see what I mean.
Want to learn more about how you can let go of the tension in your body, increase your resonance (plus reconnect to the joy of singing)?
Sign up to watch my full length workshop on the first piece of the puzzle - your breath management.