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I have years of vocalization practice, but I still start straining while singing—especially if I am not vigilant. It happens imperceptibly and is a hard habit to break.

Is there a reliable technique to make sure that I don't lose my effortless natural voice while quickly going from chest to head voice and back during a practice session?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 17 down vote accepted

I often start my warming up like this:

  • Take a deep breath and sigh/hum softly and gently. Repeat this a few times.
  • Repeat the exercise with the mouth opened, but not with more effort, for a few times
  • After a while, you should have found your "ground tone", which is the tone you can sing without straining. This tone is the basis of healthy singing. Take a deep breath and sing this tone without getting louder, but firmer. Be careful staying totally relaxed!
  • Now you are sure about your ground tone. The idea of the following is to carry this tone to all registers. For this, begin with a slow, lazy glissando up a second, and back. Repeat.
  • Go on to thirds, fourths, and so on. If you feel the straining coming back, take smaller intervals. Repeat until you come to the border of your chest register.
  • Take a break of a minute or more.
  • Find the ground tone of your head voice! This might be harder for women than for men, I don't know. Carry your ground tone down slowly. If you do it slow enough and silent enough, you can connect head voice and chest voice. Repeat this connection a few times, but always starting with the head voice!
  • If you are feeling the slightest exhaustion, take a break of a few minutes immediately.
  • Repeat the whole procedure every morning.

I did this a few years ago and my head register connects smoothly to my chest register, while the feeling stays perfectly natural and without great exhaustion.

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1  
This is pretty much to the point. –  explorer Apr 29 '11 at 17:52
    
interesting. One point I did not think about is to exercice from the head voice to the chest, because I am usually focused on succeeding in going the other way. It also means that I am not familiar enough with my head voice -- and I should. –  ogerard May 3 '11 at 6:28
    
Going down from head voice to chest voice is much easier, for me at least. Having practised that, it is easier to go the other direction. –  Turion May 3 '11 at 20:29
2  
A video would really help –  bobobobo Jul 14 '11 at 2:17
    
Sorry, I don't have a cam. But feel free to add a video yourself. –  Turion Aug 12 '11 at 11:33

I'm an instrumentalist who only recently (in my mid-50's!) began to work with an amazing voice teacher, and am beginning to get a handle on my singing "instrument". So I'm not a "natural", and have been paying very close attention to the physical sensations of singing, and your question brought up a number of things.

"Effortless"? I've been taught that I should be tired after singing well for a while - it's very physical, after all - but I know what you mean - when things are flowing you're not fighting yourself, and there is no tension (muscles working against each other unnecessarily). Maybe it helps to talk about the difference between "tension" and "support" (as in "supporting the tone" in another answer here) - But since support in singing inevitably involves fantastically complex interactions of little muscles all through your body, often working "against" each other, it can be hard to tell the difference!

But it sounds like your are looking for concepts, so much as very specific, reliable techniques. One way I've learned to distinguish between "tension" and "support" is that I can voluntarily give up support, but tension takes some touching, etc. to shed. For a lot of singers, tension tends to collect in the throat and jaw. A nice trick is to run your hands down either side of your face while singing an "ah" - is your jaw hanging loose? Can you let your tongue hang out while doing the same thing? I was taught to sing "the...uhhhh" up the scale, feeling my tongue relaxed.

I was singing in a strenuous concert just two nights ago, and found that purposely clenching and releasing my butt was a great way to relax my legs - and teachers will tell you never to lock your knees, so there you go, there's a lot you can do from the waist down as well. But you probably knew about that...

One very specific thing I'll leave you with, from my life as a professional instrumentalist, is to find an Alexander Technique teacher you like (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_technique). They can help you acquire an exquisite sense of your body and the way it carries itself through the slings and arrows of life - and there's some solid research behind why it works! Good luck to you, and in spite of all of this, never forget that, when you're performing, "you are the music, while the music lasts...".

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Try vocalizing ascending scales, until you find when is it that you start getting too tense.

When you find this, try vocalizing slowly through the notes, emitting prolonged sounds on each of them and breathing properly between each note.

Practice this exercise several times a week, and you should get used to gliding through the notes pleasantly :)

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Thanks.. sounds good. –  explorer Apr 29 '11 at 17:51

I have trouble with this too; here are some things that have helped me.

  • Sing through the phrases. Think of each phrase as a long line instead of thinking of each note as something to achieve. This makes your singing less forced.

  • When you notice yourself getting too tense, pay attention to the specific parts of your body where you carry the excessive tension. Consciously relax them, and deliberately practice singing without that tension, possibly touching the tense area with your hands to help keep you relaxed.

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Thanks for the advice. I will try it. –  explorer Apr 29 '11 at 17:51

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