A student of mine recently suggested I write this blog after noticing a marked difference in her breathing patterns and jaw tension, both following singing lessons and after repeating exercises at home.
We read about the amazing impact singing and performing can have on dementia and Parkinson's sufferers, or on babies in the womb, but how can it help you? Let's consider a few possibilities:
1. Jaw tension
Most people become aware of jaw tension through their dentist, as it can be evident through the grinding of teeth. Dentists will often prescribe a mouth guard to protect the teeth, however we can also work on ways to get rid of the root problem: the tension itself. One such exercise, delightfully named 'Heavenly Waters', goes as follows:
Clean each of your teeth, front and back, with your tongue. Do this for a few minutes and do not swallow - you should build up a pool of saliva in your mouth (lovely!) Next, swish the saliva around in your mouth as if using a mouthwash. Swallow in three gulps. Bare your teeth in a cheesy grin, and then chatter your teeth 36 times. Let your jaw hang open, and notice how free it feels!
This can be a pretty off-putting exercise, but it can work wonders, especially if you do it just before bed. It's also helpful to have a free jaw for speech and for singing.
2. Calming nerves
Do you find your nerves hard to control before a meeting / phone call? Does your voice wobble during confrontation? This is perfectly normal, but know that there are ways to manage nerves so that the adrenaline doesn't send you into fight or flight (or freeze) mode.
In voice and singing lessons, we work on releasing your abdominal muscles to allow for a free breath to occur. If the abs are relaxed then the diaphragm is free to move as the lungs fill with air, meaning we usually see a slight protrusion in the belly area as the viscera (guts etc.) is displaced. This deep, relaxed breath can be much more calming than a tight, shallow 'clavicular' (upper chest) breath, and therefore helps the rest of your body, including your larynx, to relax too.
Once you've found that relaxed, easy breath - it's sometimes easier to feel when lying on your back - it is important to remember to breathe out! This is easily forgotten when nervous, and excessive in-breaths can lead to hyperventilation. Try breathing in for four counts and out for ten to address this, and trick your body into calming down.
3. Being heard over a crowd
Even if you've avoided alcohol, it is common to feel vocally tired after an evening of talking with friends or colleagues in a bar or pub. Competing with music and crowds takes its toll on our poor voices, especially when repeated.
However, can you think of certain friends who seem to be heard more easily, with apparently little effort? They are probably using oral twang. This accesses higher frequency sound waves which cut across the low hum drum crowd frequency, and therefore travel more efficiently to our ears. This does not mean that you need to speak at a different pitch, but that the vibrations made at the level of your vocal folds resonate in a particular way in the vocal tract before they leave your mouth.
A simple way to access oral twang is to either cackle like a witch, or to imagine you're a taunting child; "na na na na na". Feel the vibrations towards the front of your face and then try to speak whilst still aiming the sound to that place.
Note: Oral twang is very different to nasal twang, where the sound comes out of your nose. Nasal twang does not carry well and can sound unpleasant. Oral twang should simply give a brighter, clearer sound.
Singers and actors use twang to brighten their sound and to help it to travel to the back of an auditorium. It can also help those professional voice users such as teachers, stage managers, or tube station assistants - basically, anyone who needs to be heard!
My lessons are quite lively, allowing my students to engage their entire body, making for a more energetic, 'alive' sound and experience. This can also help in life outside of lessons, for example with:
- Engagement with others
- Mental well-being
This blog is merely an overview, but if it has piqued your interest then please do get in touch with myself or a teacher nearer to you, to see what singing or spoken voice lessons can do for you.