Relaxation has often been championed as the cure for all things.
In singing terms, a relaxed or relatively passive sensation in the larynx is probably a good thing.
However, a general sense of physical relaxation in the rest of your body will only serve to make the voice work harder.
Anatole France (1844-1924) said, “Man is so made that he can only find relaxation from any kind of labor by taking up another.”
The Tension Question
There is certainly a difference between superfluous or unwanted tension and the good tension required to sing.
The easy way to determine the difference between good and bad tension is to ask, “Can I let go of this tension completely and immediately if I so choose?”
If the answer is “yes” then we are dealing with good tension.
If the answer is “no” then we are dealing with superfluous tension that is most likely the result of other imbalances that must be remedied.
The main thing is this: don’t put excess tension on your larynx, but use the rest of your body to support your singing.
Engaging Your Body
I’m going to get into the specifics of this next week, but now I want to encourage you to avoid the all too common tendency – especially when practicing alone – of drifting into a lazy and relaxed mode with your body.
Hours of mindlessly singing scales only makes you better at mindless scales.
Many singers end up only producing the same old sounds in the same old ways.
The whole point of learning new vocal technique is to discover more efficient co-ordinations to achieve your desired sounds.
Acquiring any new skill takes focused attention and effort.
The more you focus your mind on the muscular process, the sooner you will find yourself with new skills, sounds and freedom.
This exercise will reinforce the importance of your body in singing.
It involves some effort and could place some strain on your joints; if not done properly – so do check in with your doctor to see if you are up for this:
Clasp your hands together in front of your body and keep your head, neck, back and pelvis aligned. Thrust your bottom out behind you and bend your knees as low as you can – keeping your bottom tucked in to avoid arching the lower back. Do this slowly all the way down into the squat position and back up. Don’t lock your knees. Repeat this a few times. You should be able to draw a line of effort down form the base of the skull to the pelvis; it should feel solid, grounded and energized. Now try coming up from the squat without locking the knees and try singing a difficult passage from a song in your repertoire. Notice the level of voice effort compared to the level of postural effort. Relax your posture and try the same passage – notice that this feels more difficult.
My Reactions to This Week’s Peer Review Vids
Casey Raines – “Walking” (Original)
The first thing I would do is kick the tempo up by about 10bpm to remove any sense of “laidbackness.” You’re using great Twang on the bottom end of your range but it’s dropping on the high notes. Most people find that their internal perception of Twang is much higher in their upper range than what is actually coming out to the audience. I’d try rating how twangy the high notes sound to you on a scale of 1-10 then add 2-4 points internally to get it to come across edgier to the audience. You also might try raising this key a couple of semitones as well to add some more edge.
Brenda Robinson – “Alone” (Cover)
This is one of my favourite songs and your interpretation is really nice. Unfortunately Aproximate Pitch Syndrome strikes again. Your low notes especially are not quite hitting the pitch bull’s eye. Once you starting singing out on the higher end it improves, but you need to spend at least as much time on your ear as your voice.
Andrew Nicholson – Medley of songs (Original)
Another one for the Approximate Pitch Syndrome category. One of the most difficult things about riffing this much is that it can take you off accurate pitching very easily. The other problem with this much riffing is that it can also take you away from the meaning of the song and put the focus back onto the vanity of overly-melismatic singing. Most audiences would rather hear one honest word/note than 25 ego-driven ones. Try simplifying your interpretations and getting back into the words.
Dane Chalfin is a leading industry vocal coach and voice rehabilitation specialist. His clients include well-known artists and actors and his teacher training courses attract professional vocal coaches and singing teachers from around the world. He is also Principal Lecturer in Performance and Artistry at Leeds College of Music. www.21stcenturysinger.co.uk