Probably one of the biggest challenges many singers face is tension and that’s because half the time we aren’t even aware of it until it becomes problematic. How tension affects the voice varies from singer to singer. Too much tension for some singers can lead to pitch issues, vocal fatigue and in some extreme cases the singer can end up with a diagnosis of MTD (muscle tension dysphonia).
There are two kinds of tension in the voice. Intrinsic tension, when the vocal folds themselves have too much compression and not enough airflow. Usually due to poor speaking or singing habits.
And extrinsic tension - the area around larynx is contributing to tension - affecting how you speak or sing. (Swallowing muscles, mandible, constrictors, digastrics, neck, shoulders, all the way down to your toes!)
The reality is, you may not ever get to a point where you’re 100 percent free of tension, but if you can strive for 30 percent less tension, you’re going to notice a huge difference in your approach to singing.
To manage intrinsic tension, SOVT exercises are very effective because they literally feed energy back into the voice and unpress the tension in the folds themselves. Straw phonation in water is one of the most widely used SOVT exercises for tense singing or speaking. The water adds a bit more back pressure through the straw giving your vocal folds a massage.
To manage extrinsic tension start by becoming aware of your holding patterns - how you sit and how you carry yourself throughout the day (and night before sleep). Become aware of tense neck and shoulders. How is your posture? What is your alignment like when you’re singing and playing guitar?
Never underestimate the power of movement. When you free up your body with movement, you free up tension. Try gentle yoga practices or some basic upper body stretches. If you’re into fitness and strength training, try incorporating SOVT exercises in your exercise routine so that you can take care of your larynx when you exercise.
And then there’s reflux. But there’s also REFLEX. When acid reflux drips down your esophagus, the muscles ‘reflex’ contributing to more laryngeal tension. If you think you have reflux see your physician or laryngologist. Reflux is treatable. You may need to make some nutrition adjustments to help heal your reflux (see a certified nutritionist for this).
And last but not least, it’s all in your head. Well, kind of….how we manage our stress, our self talk, our beliefs, our thoughts, our hardships…If we’re dealing with difficulties and stress, you can bet your voice is going to feel it. Seek out support, give yourself a voice and find a healthy safe place to vent your emotions.
Remember, when you heal your body you heal your voice!