by Roger Beale, courtesy of {{Christian Musician}} Magazine

Many times, after being introduced as a vocal coach, the singers I meet always seem to get around to asking for pointers on how to improve their voice in the quickest, easiest manner. And as we all know, people will always seek out the easiest way to do anything. But when it comes to improving a voice, there is no easy way to do it. It takes time to learn new habits, unlearn old habits, and develop new muscle coordination. It takes time, intelligent listening, and patience.

With all this in mind, I always answer their question this way: eliminate your vocal tension. One of the best things a singer can do for his voice is to locate and identify unwanted and unnecessary tension in his singing mechanism. To find these areas, the singer will need to learn what excessive tension is and how to eliminate it. Let us now examine some problem areas for you, the singer, and see if we can improve your singing quickly and easily. That was the question, wasn't it?

One of the most noticeable problems is your appearance while performing. Many singers, while performing, are just not attractive. The audience sees jaws jutted forward, crooked mouths, tight jaws, strained necks, and even some facial ticks. It is not a pretty sight. To overcome this, singers need to utilize video to observe themselves in performance to discover what observable traits detract from their performance, both visually and aurally. Or they need to find someone, who they trust, to tell them the truth about their appearance.

Some observable tensions would be a tight jaw, a wobbling jaw, tight shoulders, tightness in the neck, and tension in the mouth and lips. The list could go on and on. The singer, after either observing himself or listening to someone else's advice, must decide if what he sees is detracting from his performance. It will become painfully obvious to many singers that the result of vocal tensions will be hoarseness, fatigue, bad sounds, and a general abuse of the voice.

Let's examine the first tension on the list: a tight jaw. To eliminate a tight jaw, one must be aware of a cause and effect relationship between the neck and the jaw. If you have noticed that your jaw is tight, that is the effect. The cause is the tension and tightening of the entire structure surrounding the larynx. To begin the release of this tension, adjust your posture. Stand up straight. You will be surprised how much this helps. Another thing to keep in mind is a tension in the jaw is always accompanied by a tension in the tongue and neck. Another way to eliminate it, would be to try some simple exercises such as:

1. Singing a song in a comfortable range, while moving the jaw freely, back and forth.

2. While singing, move your chin side to side.

Try these two drills, and then sing the song again while keeping in mind that same relaxed sensation you had while performing the drill.

Another evidence of unnecessary tension is a wobbling jaw. Many singers today suffer from this malaise. Some singers seem to think that a jaw wobble is good vocal technique. It is not proper and is not necessary. Singers are usually aware of a wobbling jaw. They know it, are embarrassed by it, and want it eliminated. Once again, to eliminate it we must know what causes it. A jaw wobble is the result of a lack of muscle coordination and technique, and poor breath management. The first thing a singer must do is concentrate, not on his wobbling jaw, but on developing better vocal techniques in general. This includes your breathing techniques and posture. A specific drill to work on would be to hum a song while moving your lips and jaw side to side. This will allow for vocal production without involving a tension in your jaw.

One other thing to mention is your general mental and emotional health. You need to find out if what is going on in your life is affecting your singing negatively. If you are presently struggling with life situations, pay close attention to the following story.

I am working with a singer that is going through a difficult and frustrating time in their life. This is a full time singer who performs over 150 times a year. If this singer does not sing, no income comes in; no work, no food. The result of this frustration was a tension in the neck and shoulders, which caused a struggle and a discomfort in the middle voice between B4 and D5. After a doctor's examination indicated no physical problems, we began working on physical exercises to loosen the neck and shoulder muscles. The tension was killing the voice and wasn't doing much for the career either. I am happy to report that the singer is making very good progress.

I hope this discussion of tension in the voice has been helpful to you. Please keep in mind that if you feel a tightness or a discomfort in the throat, you can rest assured that your vocal sound is bad. Remember, eliminating these unwanted tensions is the quickest way to vocal improvement.

Vocal Health Tip:
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Roger Beale is one of Atlanta's foremost vocal coaches. He presently works with professional singers in all areas of musical performance. His teaching and coaching facility, The Voice House, is involved in the management and care of the professional voice. Many of his students have won vocal competitions, scholarships, and are well known artists in the Christian music industry. Roger can be contacted at: The Voice House, 1675 Virginia Ave., Suite 103, College Park, GA 30337, (404) 766-0526, e-mail: voxhaus@mindspring.com, web site: www.thevoicehouse.com .