We take you behind the scenes and describe what happens in a vocal massage session.
You don’t want to ignore singing pain. Some singers may actually think pain is a positive sign of good, hard vocal work!
This is not true. Learning to sing with technique that doesn’t strain the voice should a top priority on a singers’ journey. (Read more about this in “Singing Tension: How to Do It Right”.)
A vocal massage is no substitute for healthy singing technique, nor is it an alternative for having your voice checked out by a qualified specialist if you are feeling pain.
However, if you have addressed these areas, you may find a voice massage really helpful for renewing your voice in a heavy singing season.
It can also remind you of how little tension you should be feeling.
What Actually Happens in A Vocal Message
Each year I visit Ed Blake, a pioneering physiotherapist who has developed special massage techniques for vocalists suffering with muscle tension.
He is a research academic with the Royal Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital in London and he works closely with the British Voice Association and Estill Voice Model certified teachers.
Musical theater performers make it their duty to check in with Ed throughout their run of shows. However, this type of treatment is practically unheard of in pop and rock circles.
The standard ‘voice massage’ session with Ed is about 30 minutes long and is a cycle of different stretches and massages.
During the first you are asked to lay down and tilt your head to one side so Ed can massage the Sternocleidomastoid Muscles which run down the sides of your neck.
This is when you notice how unsymmetrical your posture is! One side always feels more tense than the other.
Since noticing this I have taken to using a backpack rather than a handbag.
Next, he asks you to sit up so he can manipulate the position of your larynx: he gently but firmly pulls your larynx forward, then (my personal favorite) pulls your larynx down as you raise your chin to the ceiling.
These exercises are repeated a few times each until Ed decides that you are free of tension.
Is it Worth It?
I’m not going to lie; it is rather uncomfortable!
I compare the sensations to banging your funny bone. But, at the same time you feel a deep stress and release.
Once Ed is done, he asks you to perform some simple siren voice exercises so you can feel and hear your newly revived larynx in action.
Of course this is no substitute to healthy habits and a robust technique, but it reduces underlying tension and creates a ‘blank canvas’ for your singing.
Muscle Tension Dysphonia is one of the most common voice disorders, but perhaps one of the least discussed.
Basically it means that tense muscles cause a disturbance in normal voice function.
There are many causes: Overuse, emotional stress, reflux, inefficient vocal habits, throat infection, or a combination of these.
There are also many symptoms: fatigue, aching, dryness, scratchiness, raspiness, breathiness, breaks, strain, or a combination of these.
Muscle Tension Dysphonia can be hard to spot because it doesn’t materialise in the same way as a polyp or nodules.
As well as performing a laryngoscopy, medical professionals may also assess your technique and lifestyle before arriving at a diagnosis.