Quick Tips For Eliminating Vocal Strain
Lets Talk About Vocal Strain
I recently posted a poll on my Facebook page asking my followers if they had ever experienced Vocal Strain. Of all the singers who took part:
- Over half of them experienced vocal strain quite often.
- Just less than half said that they had indeed experienced vocal strain, but not recently.
- Absolutely NONE of them claimed to have never experienced it at all.
This wasn't a surprise result for me, after all vocal strain and tension is without a doubt the most common complaint that singers bring to my studio. What does surprise me is that despite being extremely common, many singers either don't address it, don't know how to address it, and often worry that it makes them less credible as a singer. (Can you relate to this? I certainly can.)
This topic is so ridiculously important to me and is a big part of the reason that I became a Vocal Coach. I sang with effortless ease for many years so when I did encounter vocal difficulties, I fearedthat I had simply lost my 'talent.' I didn't know where to look for advice, and ended up quitting singing for 3 years.
Do yourself and your Vocal Folds a favour, and read the following.
N.B. This article will give some hints and tips for relieving Vocal Strain and Tension. However you can speed up the process with a one-to-one individualised assessment, which will isolate the cause and offer a targeted plan of action. (For more details email me: firstname.lastname@example.org)
What actually is Vocal Strain?
The act of singing requires the Vocal Folds to vibrate as efficiently as possible. If you experience a sense of strain whilst singing, it means that you are inadvertently utilising muscles that are not required for sound production (these are often found in the neck, jaw and tongue.) Excess tension significantly decreases the range of movement of the muscles in the larynx, making it much more effortful to make sound (it usually doesn't sound great either, if I'm being perfectly honest..)
Here are some of my favourite tried and tested tips for eliminating Vocal strain
- I've said it before, and I will say it again, for the love of Beyonce, drink enough water. When we're dehydrated, the vocal folds are unable to vibrate effectively. This causes us to compensate and engage muscle that we do not need in an attempt to 'help them out.' By drinking the recommended amount of water, (2 litres, spread out across the day) your bodily tissues will be sufficiently cushioned, allowing them to work more effectively, and decreasing your chances of vocal strain.
- Warm up and warm down. The purpose of warm ups are primarily to stretch out the vocal folds and encourage them to vibrate in the most efficient manner. This will discourage unnecessary muscle engagement, and allow your muscles to relax. Repeat this after your singing session, and you are essentially pressing the re-set button to counteract any muscle fatigue that has built up .(Read my blog on warming up here: https://gemmamilburn.com/blog/warming-up-for-singing)
- Make it visual- singing is a motor skill and training motor skills requires sensory feedback. Try practicing the phrase or note that is bothering you, whilst looking at your face in the mirror. You might find that as you approach the part where you usually tense up, that you'll be tempted to divert your attention elsewhere. The key is to keep focussing on your face! I really challenge you to try this one, even if you feel self conscious. You will be amazed by how adding this visual element you will instantly have much more control over your actions, and therefore the amount of tension that you experience.
- Stop forcing it. Its an extremely damaging vocal myth that powerful singing comes from just 'going for it' and pushing your voice in the same way that you might push yourself in the gym. This approach is often the primary cause of tension in the first place. Powerful singing is actually the result of flexibility, coordination and awareness developed over time. Think of it this way, is there any other situation in life where forcing something is a good strategy? Not in my experience, and it certainly not when it comes to the voice.
- If you are a professional vocalist, someone who sings a lot, or simply want to wipe out any tension in one foul swoop. I strongly recommend going for a Laryngeal Massage or Myofascial Release treatment. Massage increases blood flow to any tense muscles, allowing toxins to be released and dynamic movement to be restored. The results are relatively quick, but if you repeat the behaviour that caused the tension in the first place, they certainly won't be permanent.
Vocal Strain is not ideal, or necessary. However it is a common and frustrating part of a singer's life. Although us singers are basically superheroes, we are still human. As humans we all get tired, we get ill, and we get injured. All of us. So if you rely upon your voice in order to make a living, then you will need to be actively taking steps towards preventing strain.
Thank you so much for reading this blog! Please post any questions or comments below, or email me: email@example.com