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Singing and the Body: How to Release Tension

Vocal music does not merely engage one’s mouth and vocal chords; it invokes a process that involves an intimacy with the entire upper body.  In order to prepare one’s body for vocal production, it is important to relieve individual parts of the body of all tension.  Tension that interferes with singing can be found in the shoulders, upper back, mid back, low back, ribcage, neck, throat, lips, jaw and cheeks. The key is to first pinpoint origins of tension in the body, and then find exercises to relieve the tension in each area.  A difficulty in exaggerated movement of these areas is usually a good indicator of tension.  Try applying the following stretching exercise before singing and then while singing a phrase:

  • Stretching the entire body, stand with feel shoulder width apart, breathe in and raise arms over your head, let the breath out as you bring arms down and collapse the upper part of the body so that you are hanging from the waist. This stretches your ribcage, jaw, arms, entire back, shoulders, neck throat lips and cheeks. This is the first exercise on Grace Music Studio’s DVD on how to sing, called the Three Pillars of Singing.  Find it at http://howtosingeasily.com
  •  Lower back stretch, expand the low back with breath in the bent at the waist hung over position, place your hands on your low back and feel the expansion as you breathe in. This is the second part of the exercise found on the DVD above.
  •  Back stretch more strategies: practice breathing deeply into the belly and back in different positions. Try child’s pose (Yoga), lying on your side in a fetal position (knees into chest), lying on your stomach on the floor (head to one side on your hands), lying on your back on the floor with your knees up (feet on floor), lying on your back on the floor with your feet up on a chair. Once you have found the position that allows you to get the deepest, easiest and most comfortable breath, sing a phrase or two in this position and see if you can retain the lack of tension while singing.
  • Stretch the tongue by placing it in between your lips and blowing out your cheeks, this will release the back of the tongue.
  • Jaw stretch by opening the mouth as widely as possible and sticking the tongue out as far as possible.
  • Jaw loosener; make exaggerated chewing motions, while gently massaging the hinge of the jaws with your fingers on each side of your face, click here for a video demonstration with Brooklyn voice lesson student Katie                            https://mail.google.com/mail/u/1/#label/GMS+Internship/13a2e1cedd1d2d19
  • Shoulder shrugs: lift your shoulders to your ears and then release them several times before singing and then while singing.
  • Ribcage rotation: put your hands on your bottom rib and rotate the ribs forward in a circle, breathe in as you rotate forward and breathe out as you rotate to the back. Try this in both directions before singing and while singing. This will also stretch out the mid. and upper back.
  • Lip stretch: tighten and then release your lips repeatedly until you feel that they are just hanging on your mouth, also try an “oo” position to release lips (gently bring in the corners of your mouth).
  • Lip Trills are a great exercise to relax the lips, try lip trilling on every phrase that you have trouble with in your music.
  • Consciously tighten the throat and release it several times, sing, you will be able to feel it immediately if it gets tense. If this happens while singing, try releasing it just as you did when you were not singing. Also, apply the mental techniques listed below.
  • Moving the tongue as little as possible, then gradually giving it more liberty as you sing the phrase more times.
  • Gently letting your jaw fall down as your hand cradles it. Try to release the jaw further and further into your hand.
  • Neck stretch: let your head fall onto your chest and slowly toward your right shoulder and then bring it back down and go toward your left shoulder. After a few times of back and forth, rotate your head all the way around, being careful when you go back not to let the head hang too much (too much creates crunching spine sounds).

All of these exercises will help stretch out the parts of the body that may be causing a hindrance in your singing. It takes some time before the body learns to release these places so, be patient.

It must also be said that tension is not only a physical problem, but that it almost always comes from a thought, often unconscious, about making the sound or fixing the sound or being afraid of the sound.  Having these thoughts can create mentally limiting ultimatums regarding one’s vocal production; one cannot hold onto these ultimatums.  So, in order to release the tension caused by thoughts, we need to address it with what I call Conscious Command Thoughts. These are simply thoughts that you repeat silently to yourself that give the body a command to override the command it is getting from the thought that makes you tense. It is useful to evaluate exactly what it is you are saying to yourself that is making you tense but if the thought is completely unconscious, what it is may not emerge right away. Do not let this stop you; just move forward using Conscious Command Thoughts,

Here are some examples of Conscious Command Thought Exercises to try:

  • Back tension: “Relax Back”, “My neck feels so loose”, “My tongue is so comfortable right now”, “My jaw feels lazy” “I feel slack-jawed”, “My lips gently pout as I let them go” “The back of my throat is very loose” ‘My Shoulders are very free”. All of these require you to picture or feel the place you are relaxing while you say these things to yourself.
  • You can even try the above exercises while massaging the area at the same time.

These techniques can be used to identify and release tension. These techniques are explored in more depth in Grace Music Studio’s DVD on how to sing, called the Three Pillars of Singing (found at www.howtosingeasily.com).  Feel free to write in and comment about a great stretch or exercise you have found to release tension in your singing!

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