The majority of the work I do with my clients is centered around releasing tightness in their upper body when they sing. What’s interesting to me is that none of my clients have been taught to tighten their throat, but they all have to be taught how to relax. I’ve often asked myself, why is vocal tightness such an instinct? I believe the answer lies in our desire for control. We know what we want our voices to sound like, so we step in and “take charge” by pushing and squeezing the sound out. In our attempt to make things happen as quickly as possible, we choose force as our tool when we should choose rest.
It makes sense. In most everything else in life, the principle of pushing harder actually does result in more success. If I’m trying to complete the last few reps of my bench press, or if I’m competing for a job opportunity, the harder I push myself, the better my results will be.
But singing is so different.
It’s so much more emotional, spiritual, personal. It exists in an intimate place that benefits much more from mindfulness and self love than muscle and might. For that reason, it can be counterproductive to have strict expectations or deadline goals for vocal improvement. Those things can put us in a more forceful mindset.
Before I learned the principles of proper technique, I remember practicing and trying to hit a certain note. I approached the note in various different ways until I finally became so frustrated that I just pushed and squeezed as hard as I could until I reached it. I knew it wasn’t good for my voice or helpful to my long term goals, but because I just wanted to have control over my voice for a moment, I forced it.
Experiencing your body’s inability to do what you want it to do can be very painful. Many of us find great comfort in the fact that, in an unpredictable world, we can at least control our own bodies. When that sense of control is jeopardized, it can produce some intense emotions of frustration and helplessness. The unfortunate truth is that those emotions produce an even more difficult environment for the voice to perform well. It’s a vicious cycle.
Correct technique is counter-intuitive. The more intensely we relax, the more control we have. This relaxing often feels like we’re letting go of the very control we so desire because we equate control with force. In reality, true vocal control is the choice to relax when your body wants to tighten. That choice may result in an unstable sound at first, and so be it! If we allow our throat to instinctively tighten every time we feel unstable, then WE are the ones being controlled!
When we as singers settle in our hearts that no matter what it sounds like, we will not tighten up, we have made the biggest step toward vocal mastery. Using patience and rest as weapons, we can have true control over our instruments in the long run.