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Do More by Doing Less – 3 Tips for Efficient Singing

Woman on Stage

When we are singing at our best, we have the feeling of no feeling – says Dr. Jenevora Williams.

When you sing, what are you feeling? Are you working hard, do you feel your whole body involved? Have you got lots of space, or plenty of buzz?

Often our feelings can be deceptive. Your mouth and tongue are very sensitive at the front, where you feel the texture and quantity of the food going into it. At the back of the mouth and in the throat, the sensation is very limited. In the larynx itself, we feel almost nothing.

Our main muscles of breathing are the diaphragm for inhalation and the inner layer of abdominal muscles for exhalation. The diaphragm has no feeling at all – you have no idea how contracted it is.

The core support muscles in the abdomen have very little feeling in them as we’re contracting to some extent all the time we are sitting or standing.

So the main things we use for singing – breath supply and sound production – these have little or no awareness of feeling connected with them. It doesn’t mean we can’t control them, it just means that our sensory feedback is limited.

1. Make space in the right place

The pay-off for this is tension in the jaw, causing limited movement of the soft palate and back of the throat. Also, the flattened tongue will just fill the back of the throat and press on the top of the voice box or larynx, limiting the larynx movement and upper pitch range.

If you want ‘space’ in the throat, you’re better off just dropping the jaw in a relaxed way, and feeling your tongue filling your mouth.

It’s counter-intuitive but it will give you much more flexibility in the bit that matters – the part of the throat that is just above the larynx.

  • If you feel a ‘stretch’, you’re doing too much.
  • If your mouth feels full of tongue, then it’s out of your throat.
  • You will make the most space when you let go and do very little.

2. Support the sound, invisibly

You know that you have to breathe well in order to ‘support’ the sound – but what does that actually mean? And, more importantly, what does it feel and look like?

If you feel like you are really using your abdominal muscles, you’re probably doing too much. These muscles are the same ones that are used for lifting heavy weights as well as stabilizing the torso against more effortful activities.

A big shout needs less effort than sit-ups. Breath management is much more about coordination than strength.

And what does it look like? Can you see your shoulders or ribs rising and falling with each breath? If so, that’s getting in the way of the muscles in your neck which stabilize the larynx. Can you see your belly dancing? If so, you may be pumping more than you need to.

An efficient breath in and out will use the minimum of effort: it will be almost invisible.

  • Effective breath management will not feel like much effort
  • Economizing the effort will reduce the movement
  • Aim for ‘secret breathing’ and you’re more likely to be using the right muscles

3. No need to squeeze or hold

Are you worried about over-working or constricting the sound? The best way to release tension around the larynx is to feel less going on. That’s really difficult, isn’t it?

We are programmed to think that the harder we work, the better results we’ll get.

What can we physically do in order to actually do less? This is a gradual learning process of letting go, of softening, of releasing the sensations on the outside.

It starts with good alignment of the whole body, then moves on to efficient breathing, then we can let go of jaw, tongue, and throat.

  • Great advice! I’ve been a singer on stage for 30+ years and I’ve never had any ‘formal’ singing training or education. I must have been singing the wrong way all those years, but somehow it worked for me. However, now that I am more ‘mature’, I had to learn to change my evil ways and follow some of the instructions from this forum. One is, loosen up my chest and sing with my entire upper body, not just the throat. Another one is to learn to take a breath at the right time in the different songs. Nothing worse than to get out of breath before a phrase is completed. The third thing is something, I believe, many singers don’t consider: use the Microphone and the mixer with all its EQ’s, Limiter and Compression. I’ve seen singers trying to reach the audience by singing louder than the PA system. I’m using the Bose T1 Tone Match, which I have programmed so, that even if I sing with a relatively low volume, the sound is strong. I can easily sing for 3 hours, even at 68. Use good equipment for your vocals and don’t force your vocal cords. Stay relaxed and let the Compressor and Limiter do the job they’re designed for. Trial & error is here the key.

  • Bruiser

    Sounds like great advice Wolfgang, I have my first lead singing gig next week at 56, lol.
    Also having ‘no ‘formal’ singing training or education’ I greatly appreciate you passing on your knowledge of experience.

  • Barbara Ferris

    what is efficient breathing? Have been singing for years with lots of coaching when in my 20’s. The vocabulary has changed a lot since then. So I know what efficient means to me but maybe an explanation woud help and how is this achieved? Oh, been singing for over 40 years as I am 73 now and still singing. As long as the vibrato keeps sounding good, then I will keep “workin it”.

  • Freya Astrella

    Hey Barbara, I’d say efficient breathing can often mean not over-doing it. We singers like to spend a lot of time on breathing – especially during our training – so we end up like a pair of bagpipes!

  • Iain Roy Orbison

    yes – finally a post that I can 100% agree with…