Updated: Nov 5, 2018
As a vocal coach one of the most common things I'm hired to help singers with, is how to avoid vocal fatigue and sing without strain or tension. In the video below, the amazing singer/musical theatre performer Steph Panecasio graciously allowed me to film a coaching session in which we worked on just that. (Click the image below for video) and although the video is just a short snippet, I will completely dissect the process in the post below)
What is vocal strain?
Vocal strain occurs when the vocal folds can't vibrate as fully as they need to in order to cleanly create the pitch you are attempting to hit. (the folds move through vibration cycles from roughly 110 cycles a second and up, the higher the pitch the more cycles per second they vibrate) This is usually caused by some form of tension in the body, caused by either;
- incorrect breath support.
- or inadequate vocal conditioning in regards to the technique you are attempting.
Finding the problem!
Breathing: Steph is a highly proficient singer with a wonderfully warm tone and it's almost immediately evident that she is correctly supporting her breathing with her diaphragm.
On her inhale her chest and shoulders stay relaxed, she breaths deeply, her diaphragm drops, and her lungs fill.
When she sings, she evenly compresses the diaphragm (doesn't squeeze!) allowing for stable and consistent support. This is what accounts for her even tone and powerful projection! Steph gets a big ol'tick of approval on the breath support!
If you are unsure about your own breathing habits, then going back to basics and practicing proper breathing is where you should start!
Vocal Conditioning: Singing is no different to any other physical activity that requires specific and controlled muscle movements, coordination, and muscle memory. You need to spend time isolating those muscles and training them to behave and react the way you need them too.
In this session we discovered the problem was that Steph was attempting to place her sound further back in her mouth, with her soft pallet not elevated enough.
Her lower to mid range will work just fine like this, but it's not at all conducive to sustaining those higher belt notes!
Due to the huge amount of effort she was exerting to reach and and sustaining those high notes with her sound placed/resonating in a less than ideal position, Steph was tensing her tongue, jaw, and throat whilst enunciating. That was the root of the problem, and the reason for the vocal fatigue.
Fixing the problem!
The first thing we did was lift that soft pallet and open up the back of the throat.
The soft pallet will naturally lift when we yawn and when we laugh (two things my students do a lot of in my lessons, ha!) emulating this when we sing opens that space at the back of the aural cavity and allows for those higher tones to resonate more clearly.
Next, we took the enunciation out of the equation and attempted to sing the motif on a soft "Da" sound, focusing on keeping the tongue and jaw relaxed. It's staggering how often tongue tension/ placement can be a huge part of your singing woes! Finally, we used some "mhm and "nhn" consonants to move the sound so that it resonated behind the nasal cavities which took a lot of the pressure away from the throat. (creating Glottal pressure, a full explanation of this requires its own post)
In conclusion; Open clear pharynx, relaxed muscles, and correct air pressure/placement and we were on our way to a stronger, healthier, performance!
At no point should singing cause any discomfort to your throat. If your voice is sore, hoarse or easily fatigued whilst singing, make sure you are breathing correctly, keep your body and your face relaxed, and drill your scale work! Steph Panecasio is currently playing "Wednesday Addams" in the Hills Musical Theatre companies production of the Addams Family musical, showing this month! from the 9th of November until the 17th of November. tickets available herehttps://www.hillsmtc.com/tickets
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Until next time,
Lets sing some stuff!