"Let us go singing as far as we go: the road will be less tedious." - Virgil
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Tips for Healthy Singing, by Malya Muth
With all this talk about Health Care, and with the start of the cold and flu season, it’s got me thinking about different ways that singers can keep their voices and bodies healthy.
Since singing, and talking for that matter, are such intuitive and ‘thought-less’ activities in our lives, I think we take advantage of our ability to just open our mouths and sing without thinking about it until something goes wrong. Most often, when our throats get sore, or we want to express ourselves but are limited by singing problems, then we wonder - how can I avoid doing this to myself?
Yet - being aware of sensible and easy to implement practices can really help us maintain flexible, rich and healthy singing voices!
Here are some suggestions to keep in mind if you love to sing:
1. Prepare your body. Singing is a vigorous activity and requires balancing tension. You want to have tension in some places; you do not want to have it others. You need to stretch your muscles to be prepared to expand or contract in the right places. You need to stretch your neck muscles; your shoulder muscles; your back muscles, especially the upper back; and also the back of the legs. These are all the muscles you are going to be holding with. It is also a good idea to stretch your face muscles so that you do not experience getting frozen from jitters or tension. All of these things need to be flexible, warmed and ready for singing.
2. Prepare your mind. You prepare your mind by getting very focused. It is best to practice in a quiet place where you are not feeling distracted or intimidated by being heard and to not distract yourself with any other activity when you sing. Just focus on singing. You get a lot of benefits that help you focus on correct technique and it also gives you an opportunity to relax and get away from the craziness of modern society and all the technology. So definitely prepare your mind.
3. Avoid sight-reading. You want to avoid sight-reading, in other words, rather than singing through something without studying the music first you should try to sit down with your music, look at the tempo markings, look at the meter, and look at the words. The problem with sight-reading is that very often people tense their throats and kind of sing in a very constricted way. That’s a really common problem and it happens to everybody. It is better to spend a little bit of time at the piano learning your music quietly before you try to sing it through.
4. Memorize. For healthy singing memorize your music. I have talked about how to memorize your music in other blogs, but the basic ways to memorize include writing the words out by hand, speaking them in rhythm and giving them meaning by understanding the poetry and the story line of it. Get that music memorized as quickly as you can because then you can really focus on technique and building a character
5. Sing with proper breath support and posture. It is very important to sing with proper breath support otherwise you are not getting a full tone. You want to; as I said before, make sure the tension is balanced in the right place. You do not want to hold tension in your throat or your neck muscles. The way to do that is to take a nice full breath, expand your lungs, expand your ribcage and then use those muscles around the diaphragm and the ribs to hold your breath so you can use it to support your tone. Rather than using the exhaling muscles use the inhaling muscles to support that tone.
6. Posture. Posture is also very important for breath support because if your back is out of line, if your butt is sticking up in the air or your neck is off to one side or your chin up or down it throws off the support. You want to make sure your spine is straight, your neck is straight and you are standing in a way that supports being able to hold those inhaling muscles and tension.
7. Do not sing light; sing dark. What that means is do not let the tongue get flattened and held down by pulling your face muscles out to the side when you sing. A lot of people have a tendency to draw their lips out and back when they sing. Unfortunately, this cuts off the resonators. So it is very important to sing with a rounded tone, and what I mean by that is get your lips off of your teeth and out in front of you. It is kind of a megaphone affect. It allows for a beautiful resonant and clear tone to be sung and it also allows for maximum flexibility of your tongue, which needs to be vigorous in the way that you pronounce your vowels since the tongue is attached to the larynx.
8. Balance the tensions. I have mentioned this a couple of times, but it is incredibly important. Balancing the tensions means holding on in some places and letting go in other places. You need tension to sing, but the tension cannot be in your neck or in your throat muscles, or in your upper shoulders. It really needs to be lower down. The tension of holding happens in your inhaling muscles, that is your breath support muscles. It happens in your legs and sometimes in your arms or hands if you need a little bit of extra help with holding on, but it does not happen in your throat or your jaw.
9. Make sure you are singing in the correct register. You have two basic registers, your speaking register and your head register. All sound resonates in the larynx originally, but when you sing in the higher register that is going to resonate more in your sinus cavity and your pharynx, and in your mouth. When you sing quite low in sort of that belting range you want to really make sure that you are singing in a speaking register. Singing too high in your speaking register or too low in your head register will cause you problems because you will be out of balance. It will either be too loud or too soft. So very important is number one, understand what the two different registers are and then learn how to balance those registers by singing in the right register and then sort of in the middle, understanding how to add some low register to your head voice or some head resonance to your speaking range when you get in the those spots that are tricky.
10. Practicing the off-stage bit. My last rule for healthy singing is to practice the off-stage bit.
From our "what cool things can be done with a bunch of voices file...
This fun YouTube video features a 1980s pop classic. The rock band Toto scored their biggest hit with Africa in 1982. The song is instantly recognizable. But it has been reinvented. Perpetuum Jazzile is an a cappella jazz choir from Slovenia. It’s hard to think of something further from an ‘80s rock band. But their version of Africa may best the original. The group has amazing voices. But the beginning of this video is really striking. Group members simulate an African thunderstorm with their hands. It’s really something to see and hear.