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Thread: Singing without throat/tongue tension

  1. #1
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Mar 2012
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    Singing without throat/tongue tension

    Hello there Vocalisters-

    I have a question specifically regarding the throat tension that comes about by the strong reflex of the swallowing muscles- the digastric muscles.
    Ive been working with a mature age student who has studied vocal technique (in her 20s), and has recently decided to take up singing lessons again. Unfortunately, after many years of singing without a teacher, she's developed some detrimental habits- one of which has severely affected her ease of producing sounds in her mid/head voice. It seems she's fallen into that trap of "bigger sound is better", and she's experiencing difficulties.

    The swallowing muscles seem to engage REALLY strongly around Bb4- getting worse as she ascends.
    The tension in her lower jaw/neck area is not only audible (her mid to head voice will cut off like she's gagging- cutting off the air) but is causing her pain as well. Its somewhat frustrating as weve worked for several weeks now on this issue, and although I know this is not a problem that can be fixed overnight- I dont get the feeling were making progress, or that the tension is letting up. it's a little discouraging.

    Ive had her do several things- amongst others- vocalizing gently while placing hr fingers under her jaw and monitoring when it tightens, vocalizing on the ng sound, singing with less air- thinking of that small, pointy sound, singing scales on the pure vowels- helping her notice lack of tongue involvement in the back of the throat, vocalizing with closed lips and humming with her tongue sticking out

    Im stumped, and am running out of ideas- Id be grateful for your thoughts/exercises/solutions, especially if you have encountered this pesky problem in your own teaching or singing, and how you went about breaking it down to instill a better functioning voice.

    Thanks, and sorry for the rather long post-

    Virginia

  2. #2

    Singing without throat/tongue tension

    Hello Virginia

    Thanks for posting your question, but please realise that this new forum/mailing list for
    theVocalist is still in BETA testing stage and is not yet the official home of theVocalist.
    Therefore your question should be posted to the current home for theVocalist;
    http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/theVocalist

    Regards,
    John

  3. #3
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Mar 2012
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    2
    Shall do, John...
    Thanks for your message. I'm kind of new at this!

    Virginia

  4. #4
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Mar 2012
    Location
    Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
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    1
    Hi Virginia,

    I've had this problem myself and one type of exercise that really helped is tongue extensions. There are a number of ways to do this that I learned from my Somatic Voicework™ training. The simplest is to look up at about a 45 degree angle, let the jaw drop and rest the tip of the tongue on the lower lip. Do easy 5 note scales or slides on a bright // vowel in this position consciously reminding the muscles in the neck to stay soft. If the tongue tip retracts, try holding a straw horizontally against the lower lip, keeping it there with the underside of the tongue. If that is difficult, I've also used a piece of clean gauze to hold the tongue in the extended position. It takes time to recondition those muscles to NOT be active during phonation, so celebrate each tiny release!
    Cheers,
    Craig,
    www.youcansing.ca

  5. #5
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Mar 2012
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    3

    From the pupil's side

    I have a similar background, the technique being used on me concentrates partly on warm-up to loosen all the muscles in the area, including the oesophagus, together with buildup of muscle tone to improve control, and also day-to-day work to eliminate ex-centric vocalisation. I'm happier vocalising from my tonal centre routinely than from the unvoiced stressed-up vocal cords, having the advantage of no urgent demands now being made on my attention, and so I'm quite comfortably reseating my voice in a different register. The upper remains open to me, but I can now notice the choice between the forced register and the open one.

    Part of my problem was a high-stress precision job which required quick reactions. As such, there was no time to "slow down, you move too fast", but now I've moved on happily I can release that. Another aspect is that voice practice has moved on so much since I learned to sing forty years ago there's no end of adjunctive techniques to help which just didn't exist then, not least in the spiritual and emotional side: fortunately I am not new to meditation, which aids no end in the sense of opening. That's something you don't mention, but which is a key to releasing those muscles quickly, as it overrides the mental control which causes the problem.

    Part of what I'm doing to rebuild is not to go straight to song work, but rather to run the glissando from my natural tonic upwards and back again to ensure the passagio is unbroken, rather than breaking the openness in the way you describe. It may seem strange to talk of passagio in a female voice, but it exists, particularly in the lower voices: I first met it as a boy treble, singing in the alto register, and it became a serious question for a while learning to handle my adult voice. Eventually relaxation and confidence bridged the break, together with projective techniques producing tone outside the head.

    Another trap leading to this is weak volume control: again, practice, practice, practice. I sympathise with your pupil in that my working environment and vocal power were antagonistic, leading me into a thoroughly unhealthy subvocalisation technique, which I'm now able to reject in favour of controlling the volume itself.

    Hoping this opens a few doors to you from the pupil's side. The key is to discover what is locking in her psyche, and possibly to find other techniques to work around it. Warm-up for sure, and finding a better technique to circumvent the passagio, possibly also volume control.

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