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Resistance and Tension: A New Additional and Different Approach

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For the last several years I have been teaching about how fear and resistance in the body over time can cause vocal injury. How so? Almost anytime we feel fear our body will instinctively tense up. This tensing is a set up for incorrect use of the diaphragm and all of it's surrounding musculature because instead of engaging this support mechanism with natural action, the body is reflexively contracting inward in order to push the air up and get the sound out much like catching a football.

The wrong kind of resistance in the body (a squeezed and tense neck and body) then becomes like a wall that nothing can get past. It causes discomfort and difficulty when trying to get through those sections of a song you are so earnestly trying to 'get'.

Recently I had a very valuable experience with regard to this issue. I would like to share it with you since I have been able to apply it to singing and the quest to have your voice be all it can be.

6 weeks ago, I fell into a concealed ditch. I fractured my pelvis in 3 places and my foot in 2. I spent one week in the hospital and 3 weeks in Re-hab. I was scared to death. I couldn't imagine ever walking again without feeling pain just as singers fear they won't get their voices back or be able to sing well again after years of vocal abuse and the possibility of having had surgery.

Early on in this process, as I tried to learn how to walk with this injury, I realized I was afraid of the pain and afraid of causing even more injury to myself. As soon as I recognized it I felt my body tense up and as long as my body continued to reflexively resist, I couldn't move. If I continued to allow it, it would slowly become a habit and continue to impair my ability to walk as I once did.

With this awareness, every time I had physical therapy I decided it was best if I acknowledged this problem out loud whenever I felt it. I then would take a deep breath in, let it go, and begin again. What I was doing was training my body not to let instinct take over just because it was so hard to move. As a result, within 7 weeks I was completely healed.

As we all have found, most every teacher has a different approach as to how to get the diaphragm to engage properly. I am of the belief that even though we all may have developed different ways of going after this, that we are all trying to teach the same things. For the student singer, it may be just a matter of finding the right teacher, the right fit, and the technique that works best.

However, if you are still having difficulty with any section of your voice, no matter what you try to do to remedy it, chances are that your body is relying on instinct. Then, sometimes, unbeknownst to you, it has become an automatic reflex, a bad habit. You've found a way manipulate your voice even if you know it's wrong. And, you know it's wrong because it either doesn't feel right or it's not the sound you were hoping to achieve.

Sometimes the teacher can offer a fairly easy remedy to apply while singing the song. But most of the time, the singer finds that every time he/she gets to that section, the same thing keeps happening and it feels like a no-win situation. Other times it can be so frustrating that you start believing it. You can usually pinpoint the problem: improper airflow, squeezing, pushing, etc. But you just can't figure out how to stop it. This is where my new awareness might come in handy.

It is not an easy fix when dealing with a habit that is hard to break. So when practicing difficult sections of songs, I now have the singer stop at the point where he/she is having difficulty and consciously try to identify the problem by turning inward to his/her body. If they can't, I will ask them to take the song back the couple of phrases that led up to the trouble spot. This time, I will also ask that they pay special attention. Then, again, I will have them try to identify where in the body they feel it tensed up. If the singer keeps encountering the same problem, I have them repeat this process until they 'get it'.

The effort is in the simple acknowledgement, and nothing more. Rather, once you begin going over the song its entirety to see what you have retained, or for the sheer fun of singing, I suggest you only apply the techniques you've learned how to do from your teacher. This is just another approach to try when nothing else is working. If you can't straighten it out after working at it a few times, all it means is that you still haven't created a new muscle sense memory. The new habit has not learned to replace the old yet.


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