99% of the time you aren’t going to actually feel pain when you strain your voice. So we want to look out for other signs of vocal strain and learn how to remedy them.
Do you find your throat starts to close up when you start to sing?
Do you find hitting high notes hard?
Do you want to gain more resonance in your voice or sing louder?
You might be straining.
In this video I am going to go over the main causes of vocal strain, common misconceptions about vocal strain one sign that you may be quite surprised to find is vocal strain and how you can remedy them with vocal exercises to help you sing more freely.
So Zoe! If it doesn’t hurt, how can I know if it is even strain maybe I just can’t sing?
( hand in head) it definitely doesn’t mean you can’t sing. but: Vocal strain can range from a from a slight scratch when singing, the note catching or breaking, a feeling of a dry throat, a feeling of “pushing the voice”, singing just feeling like hard work, or the most common and often completely overlooked the need to cough or clear your throat.
Whatever the feeling may be vocal strain can be helped with vocal technique.
If you want to get singing TODAY then check out my FREE singing lesson available below. You can start actioning it immediately to improve your voice. Actually it really helps with straining on high notes.
Anatomically there is never just one thing that is happening in your voice and it is often a combination of muscles working together that may cause vocal strain.
One of the main culprits are the false vocal folds: no these aren’t plastic ones inside your throat, they are part of the swallowing mechanism.
See the video here of Stephen Tylers vocal folds, the mass above the vocal folds (the false vocal folds) is pushing over top of the true vocal folds. This is what we call constriction of the false vocal folds. It is a natural movement that happens when we swallow in order to protect the airway. The TVF’s close, the FVF’s close and then the epiglottis comes down.
Now let’s try this together. Put your finger on your chin, and slide your way down till you hit a “bump” this is your larynx. Now swallow for me.
What did you notice? Where did your larynx go when you swallowed? Up? You got it. (Just a side note, if your larynx didn’t go up, then I want you to try again) – it goes up then down again to push the food down when we swallow.
When we sing higher, the larynx also raises in order to reach the higher notes. Put your finger back on your larynx for me and just slide upwards. See it goes up.
When we sing, the larynx and your body thinks that you are getting ready to swallow. So it closes off the airway (closes your throat) to protect your lungs.
When sing we obviously need to override this movement so we can sing clearly and without strain. We need to keep the walls of the throat wider so that our vocal folds can swing nicely.
I just want to pop in here and say that constriction is also a very useful tool and effect for singing. We utilize though at much much lower levels of constriction and volume to keep the vocal folds moving whilst still having a “scratchy” or constricted sound. But that is for another video entirely, we are talking about how to sing with clear tone in this video to stop vocal strain. Ok let’s hop back into it.
When we learn to isolate the false vocal folds (and by that I mean the walls of the larynx as well) – because we can never just move one muscle in here.
We are going to do what we call negative practice, to contract those muscles so we can feel them better and therefore widen them to sing clearer.
Firstly I want you to pretend that you are lifting something heavy. Huuuuuh yu are going to get right in there and feel what is happening to the voice. your throat is closing up .
Now we are going to find your vocal folds: I want you to tap them gently together. Ah ah and find the vocal folds.
Now you are going to lift that heavy weight again and then ah – switching between the two of them.
Can you feel that the strain is happening slightly above the vocal folds. (because the FVF sit above the TFV)
But What is going on in the tummy area? What is going on in the head and neck ?
I know we are not going into posture and breathing right now, but they are also huge parts of learning singing without strain. They are going to be available in my online course sing without strain, available in November. You can sign up for my FREE masterclass – 3 tips to release strain in singing in the description below.
Now the next part of the exercise is to try the constriction and release on the breath. we are going to constrict and then release on the out breath. Don’t try and bring tone into it quite yet, we are going to get there.
Constrict and release.
Feel the release part of the breath, that letting go feeling. That is what we are going to start focusing on.
Now I want you to start to move to an easy chest voice sound. You can find this by counting backwards from 20 – 1 and finding the note that your chest voice rests on.
And on an uh vowel (that isn’t a vowel but you get my drift) we are going to constrict and release. Getting that opening that we want in the throat.
You might find yourself going to breath – that just means you opened a little too far so I still want you to create tone in the sound.
Example – 2 – 3 times of constrict to retract on an uh.
Now I want you to pause this video again and try that a few more times just patiently.
Now, if you have successfully been able to get the uh from scratchy to clean and you feel as if you can control it. I want you to continue. If not, then I want you to go back to the start of the exercise and try it again. We must be able to control the sound.
If you are unable to create the scratchy sound but the clean is a ok then great you can keep going.
Now that you can control that on one sound we are going to move that non scratchy sound up the range. It may feel easy at first but I want you to focus bit by bit so that when we get to that sticky part of your range you can work on that opening feeling, for clear tone, that we practiced at the start.
Things to watch out for:
Posture: Lift your arms above your head and bring them down to your side. I want you to keep this posture, but not rigid, we need to be moveable but the sternum is high and the shoulders are not coming forward.
Chin is level and the eyes are facing forward, not up or down.
Let’s go. As we are going up the range I want you to think about moving your head side to side so that we can stop that movement of the constrictor muscles in your neck joining the party.
Now what usually happens is as we are going further up the range the throat starts to close up. So I want you to work on that inner smile, that inner lift so that we can keep the sound “clear” and scratch free as we go higher in the range.
Working working working. Lifting up through the head and the neck. Using the feeling of being lifted up to help you support the sound without pushing. I want you to stop if you start to scratch or catch and sing in the vocal quality you wanted to work most on.
So chest voice if it is chest. Head if you wanted to work on your head voice. Feel free to skip over this exercise if you do not want to sing along.
How did you get on?
If you managed to get up there and control it well done! If you struggled a bit, that is not a problem. Keep working at it and you will be singing without strain in no time.
Just remember that if you are looking to go further in the range we have to strengthen the singing muscles, so I want you to think about working on the constriction and retraction lower in the range so that you can impliment it with ease when you sing higher.
If you are looking to boost your vocal technique though you can sign up for my group coaching that will be looking at the chest voice, passagio and head voice starting on the 25th of September and running for 10 weeks. This course is for intermediate singers who have a good feeling of their voices but are looking to work on their chest voice sounds. Sign up below for the bootcamp today.