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Why Singing Technique is So Important

Updated: Jan 25

I've been singing for a living since 2011. Every few weeks or months I was on a new stage, singing new music with new people. In an industry notorious for uncertainty, was there anything I could rely on? In fact, there was. I never once lost my voice or had to change a song in order to sing it when my voice was feeling under the weather. Every singer will have times when their voice is a little tired, or unavailable. It's a living instrument! It's a part of our body and just like we get tired from walking or working, our voice gets tired from use and can have poor health sometimes. Not every singer deals with chronic fatigue or discomfort in their voice though. Not every singer loses their voice after singing 8 shows a week, but some do. What separates the two? Good technique.

We all receive different kinds of training that is more or less effective, and different amounts of it. We all come into singing with our own set of bad habits. These bad habits can lead to tiring out our voice, losing it, or even injuring it. I've known coworkers who experienced one or ALL of these at one point.

Some people are born singing without much trouble, and it stays that way throughout their life. We can all be jealous of those people together ; )

Vocal Fatigue - "Burnout"

One thing every professional singer needs is a voice they can rely on. Most of us speak all day and rarely have to think about how we're doing it. We take our voice for granted sometimes. Singers don't have this luxury- if we lose our voice we can't do what we love most. We miss out on work, performing for our friends and family, or just expressing our voices privately.

Singing is a lot like speaking- but it has a few differences that make people go "they're singing" vs "they're speaking". Learning the similarities and differences between the way we speak and healthy singing is the crux of Vocal Technique, and it's what avoids Vocal Fatigue. Learning technique is what makes the difference between being able to sing 8 shows a week, or feeling tired after 1 show. This is primarily learned in voice lessons, but can also be learned from video tutorials or plain old experience.

What Kinds of Problems Does Technique Fix?

A lot of vocal fatigue comes from singing improperly. People can sing improperly in a lot of ways. In my experience the vast majority of improper singing boils down to 1 or both of 2 things:

  1. Over-use their Extrinsic muscles while singing ("singing with tension")

  2. Use their proper Intrinsic (inside) muscles, but in an imbalanced way ("pulling chest", "using falsetto", "shouting" or "singing breathy")

Each of these can be corrected with instruction and practice, but first they need to be diagnosed by a knowledgeable vocal coach. For now, let me explain each issue a little bit.

1. Extrinsic Muscle Tension

Using the muscles outside the voice box, rather than the muscles inside the voice box, is called singing with extrinsic tension, and it's exhausting.

Our vocal folds are what create the vibrations of our voice. These folds are tiny and reside inside our larynx, also known as our voice box. Our vocal folds stay apart from each other when we are breathing, and come together when we want to use our voice.

There are tiny muscles that control our vocal folds when we want to speak or sing. Muscles like the thyroarytenoid, cricothyroid and cricoarytenoid, are small, stable muscles inside our larynx that do the work day in and day out of making sound.

But other muscles can get in the way. When most of us speak, our voice usually uses these muscles as intended without any pain or difficulty (most of the time.) But singing is more demanding, and also can affect our psychology more than speaking. For some of us, our large neck muscles (hyoid muscles) or our tongues can get involved "trying to help out". The problem with this is that our voice gets used to relying on them, but they're not very good at helping us sing. They get tired quickly, and eventually give up, and now our voice has to pull it's own weight but isn't used to it, or may have even forgotten how!! When this happens it usually sounds like we are "shouting" to hit the notes, or we can't hit them at all. You may feel pain in your throat, in your chest, or you may lose your voice if you pushed it too hard.

1. Intrinsic Muscles Not Balanced

If you know you don't struggle with extra neck, tongue, shoulder, back or throat tension when singing - congrats! If you're still having challenges with your voice getting tired or hitting all the notes in a song - your voice muscles are probably imbalanced.

Almost all of us have a tendency in this regard. We favor certain parts of our voice over others for any number of reasons, conscious or sub-conscious. Personally, I have a weighty tendency - meaning I favor using my thyroarytenoid muscle while singing, which is great for low notes - and not so great for high notes! By contrast, another singer may favor their cricothyroid muscle while singing, and their voice may sound higher, lighter, and can sing higher more easily than I can, but they may struggle to hit the low notes. Everyone struggles with balancing their voice to some degree on some song or another, and learning how to navigate those differences is a BIG part of Vocal Technique.

How Can You Know What Your Challenges Are?

The easiest way to find out what your vocal challenges are is to be assessed by a knowledgeable vocal coach. They can tell you what you're doing with your voice, what's helping you and hurting you. This usually happens in the first lesson for most coaches. From there working with a coach will guide you through mastering your challenges and expanding what you can do.

A Note for Choir Singers

Choir is a common way for singers to enjoy their passion. I grew up singing in many choirs from the age of 7. Singing in harmony with many other people, bolstered by the group energy, singing acclaimed and historical music. Choir is a very fulfilling way for many singers to express their passion and use their talent.

Like with anything, there are some downsides to singing in choirs though. The biggest one? It won't teach you healthy vocal technique - but you will have to sing anyway.

I've had a lot of students come in who've never had private voice lessons but have sung in choirs for years. They often have similar sets of challenges, almost always some of it being extrinsic tension.

The number one thing for singers to remember about singing in a choir - is it's not for the individual, but the group. It's also not about how you achieve a beautiful sound, but whether or not you achieve it. It's a group experience of creating music, and the number one priority is blending all the voices. Choir directors aim to build a beautiful, unified sound out of many separate voices, and quickly. Most people either hold back their voice to blend in with those around them, or they push their voice in order to "hear themselves". In most cases, you're doing something wrong most of the time when you're singing in a choir and you won't know it, because there's not time to teach every individual member how to sing properly - especially because everyone needs something a little different! In a private voice lesson, exercises are created specifically for you based on your Voice Assessment, and they will create balance between your phonation muscles, and reduce the use of your extrinsic muscles that get in the way.

Start Voice Lessons if You Haven't Yet

To learn proper vocal technique and find out just how good it can feel to sing, take private lessons. As a professional entertainer for ten years and vocal coach for four, I take voice lessons every month. There's no substitute for a trained ear listening to you, who knows what your challenges are and how to overcome them.

If you're new to voice lessons or have any questions about learning to sing, please feel free to reach out via the studio's Contact page!

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