Relieve Vocal Strain with 8 Tricks
Free yourself from vocal strain! It’s an issue that most vocalists often have to contend with eventually. On the often long road of singing, and working with a coach via regular singing lessons, we can learn how to sing free of vocal strain, and become a complete singer.
Why do we experience vocal strain?
During singing, when your voice ascends in pitch, shifts in vocal cord engagement, tension, and sympathetic body resonance occur within the singers body which can feel unfamiliar, shaky, or just difficult if your voice isn’t healthy.
We commonly experience difficulty around the middle part of the vocal range where the often dramatic changes occur, or the voice will suddenly crack or break. These breaks, and an inability to balance that part of the vocal range, are the root causes of vocal strain.
We call these transitional areas in the voice a passagio, or bridge. If we do not experience a gradual shift in vocal cord engagement, tension, and resonance within these areas as we are singing, we will experience great degrees of strain.
If you are experiencing difficulties with vocal strain, here are 8 things you can do to free it up fast:
- Singing Lesson Tip #1 – Vocalize: Practice singing using closed vowels such as “gee’s” and “goo’s” in your regime of vocal exercises to experience easier higher notes in your range. Closed vowels allow the larynx to remain lower for singing (rather than high as on other vowels) and are easier to control in higher ranges.
- Singing Lesson Tip #2 – Simplify: Some singers, most often women, may experience breathiness throughout their range. This can create a host of problems as the delicate vocal cords are overwhelmed with air and become overworked. Singing becomes exhausting because of the excessive airflow. The solution? Use less air! Find the correct sensation in your lower voice by actually just speaking the lyrics in your lower notes on pitch. Always be careful not to over manipulate the singing process, especially with air.
- Singing Lesson Tip #3 – Easy Volume: Pull back the volume as you sing higher. Your ability to get stronger and louder with it will increase over time as you learn to accept the feeling of ease in your voice.
- Singing Lesson Tip #4 – “OO” Lips: When some singers try and sing high notes, they often open their mouth wide which tends to over-stretch your vocal cords, and lift your voicebox into a swallowing condition. For prolonged periods, this can be dangerous. Instead, move your lips slightly forward on those high notes towards “oo” for challenging notes or words, and you should feel your larynx drop slightly and the higher notes become much easier.
- Singing Lesson Tip #5 – Use Falsetto: Some singers avoid awkward areas of their voice altogether. But avoiding those areas in the long run creates more of build up of tension because you get stuck in one area of your voice. The solution? Use your falsetto so you begin to experience the high part of your range easily, and make sure you speak the pitch if it’s a lower note.
- Singing Lesson Tip #6 – Low Breath: Often, body tension that we hold in our shoulders, neck, or if we don’t take low, relaxed breaths. If breathing is an issue, you may find that your ribcage lifts alot when you inhale. Your ribcage shouldn’t raise much at all as you inhale – but you should notice your belly and sides expand outward. As you exhale and sing, your belly should move inwards (not outwards as some high breathers do). Being conscious of taking a relaxed, full, low breath as you sing will aid in a sense of relaxation. If you still find your shoulders or any other part of you body tensing as you sing, close your eyes and try and find out where the tension is. Breathe into that part of your body and allow it to relax. Singing should always be a relaxed process.
- Singing Lesson Tip #7 – Be Stupid: For those who experience great strain because of “reaching” for high notes by over-stretching the vocal cords and lifting the larynx too high (you can feel the position of it by putting a finger on your Adams apple as you sing), we sometimes must take more dramatic action to balance the voice. One way to get the larynx to relax on high notes is to sing narrower vowels (gee/goo) using a “dumb” or “dopey” sound. This helps to give you the sensation of a lower larynx on higher notes, rather than a high larynx on high notes. As you grow more comfortable on the higher notes, return to a more spoken, less imposed sound.
- Singing Lesson Tip #8 – Don’t Copy: Avoid copying singers who do strain. If some of the main singers you listen to experience strain, yell on high notes, or do any of the other things above that lead to vocal strain for you, then try and put those singers aside and away from your listening regime for a time. Find songs and singers who do stay relaxed and try and copy them for a few months instead. This will change your approach and show you how to deal with your voice, keeping it flexible enough that you can continue to explore your voice without strain.
As always, all vocal issues are best handled by an instructor who is trained and experienced in guiding singers through the various registrations of the body without strain. If at all possible, find an instructor in your area well trained in mix voice techniques who can help give some perspective.
When you are able to practice singing in a mix of upper and lower harmonics with release, the singer can not only stay flexible with their singing, but develop a powerful and striking voice with tremendous upward mobility that will wow both themselves and their audience.