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Pushing

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Since pushing is another one of those I know it when I hear its words, I thought it was about time to examine what happens when vocalists push.

To begin, I'd like to use the analogy of sailing to help describe what happens when extreme air pressure hits the closed vocal cords. Imagine being on a calm lake in a tiny sailboat. The air is fairly still makes your sail 'luff' or move inefficiently so your boat isn't going anywhere. This is akin to singers under-supporting; not giving the vocal fold sails adequate wind speed.

Back to our sailing experience... the wind picks up and your sail fills out and you start speeding across the lake. The windspeed is matched to the size of your sail and the weight of the boat and the result is a smooth, easy ride. This action we could call perfect support, meaning the matching of windspeed (pressured air from your lungs) to the pitch and volume requirements of your vocal folds. In this configuration, your vocal folds work easily and will obey the demands of your brain and your ear.

But what happens when a hurricane appears and hits your little sail with a blast of high-velocity air? The sails stiffen in a futile attempt to resist the onslaught and the boat capsizes. This is what pushing is: forcing too much pressurized air against the penny-sized vocal folds (each is as big as a half-penny).

Not only do the folds tend to stiffen in response to over-pressure, but many other laryngeal muscles and even neck muscles can begin squeezing in a vain attempt to get the vocal folds to work well. We've all seen the red-in-the-face, blood vessels a-poppin', "get the paramedics and quick" kind of singer. Those are the signs of extreme pushing. The more you push, the worse the problem gets.

The goal? Use only as much pressure as you need to get the folds to do their work and they will reward you with a long and happy vocal life.

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