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Relaxing is Trainning too

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Felipe Carvalho

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This is so important... As important as breathing correctly and supporting your voice.

Our neck, shoulder, and even facial muscles can build unnecessary tensions, and they will.

These areas are of extreme importance to singing, your vocal folds will readly enter in the same state that the surrounding muscles are. Neck feeling a bit stiff? You can count it will affect you.

But affect how?

For starters, it prevents you from finding coordination to train. It unsettles the breathing, it makes it harder for you to breath low, it wastes muscular energy and truth is, it doesnt feel nice.

Even after you are trainned, tensions will cause fatigue during phonation, it will get in your way.

So how to relax?

One awesome exercise consists simply in controlling your breathing pattern. Not forcing it, but simply by inhaling low and controlling the ammount of time you inhale and exhale.

Get a clock that can display seconds. Make sure that your inhaling is low and easy, and then begin inhaling, making the whole inhale last 5 seconds, with no stops or pauses, and then exhale in 5 seconds, also no stops or pauses. Dont finish inhaling before 5 seconds, dont finish exhaling before 5 seconds.

The pattern should behave like a pendulum, smooth all the way, and when trading from inhale/exhale, let the coordination “connect”, smooth it out, instead of stopping there, make it float and go back.

You will probably find that at the beginning you will struggle a bit to calm it down, you will finish inhaling or exhaling before completing the time, or you will feel that it was not complete.

Concentrate, close your eyes, equalize it. Dont use strenght to control it, dont force anything.

The most notable effect of this is that it feels relaxed but ready to go, it gives more energy.

So next some neck tensions released is awesome.

As a first step, check your posture. Find a wall, stand with your back against it, make sure that the back of your head and your heels are touching the flat surface and imagine that your are being held by your head, feel the gravity pulling everything down from up there, let your shoulders rest slightly behind the torax line, its common that we place it a bit forward, bowing ourseves a bit.

Kinda like a pride ragdoll being held by the head :P.

Dont force it, try to find a comfortable and natural way to do it, or just dont do it, its worse to force an unnatural state.

After you get your posture aligned, neck stretchs:

Let your neck pend to the side, but make sure that the movement is lateral, from the previous posture, let your head hang to the side, moving the ear to meet the shoulder. After its hanging, help it with the hand of the choosen side.

Feel the stretch on the opposite side,concentrate and think of releasing the muscles you are feeling there, you will probably move a few milimeters more.

Return slowly, and repeat with the other side.

After this, again from the same posture, let your head hang forward, as if you were saying yes, let the weight of the head pull the muscles on your back, aid with both of your hands.

And then, backwards. Check the posture, and look up, as far as you can, then release it letting the weight fall backwards. Its best to not help with the hands in this one, concentrate on the weight and the posture.

Having the stretchs done, neck rolls are next.

Neck Rolls are awesome, but must be done correctly. First of, the nature of this exercise is that all muscles must move smoothly in order to accomplish the rotation, so if there is any tension or posture problem, you will feel that its not smooth, it will “bumb” throught some spots. (your neck passagio :P).

Dont force yourself on them, aim to release the problematic area, either ajusting the posture or trying to release the offending muscle.

The movement is done on the same axis of the stretchs, so keep looking forward, and keep you nose moving along a line, dont allow it to describe circles.

Begin by letting your head hang forward and slowly bring it to the posture of the lateral strech, then back, lateral again and forward.

Again, dont just look around the room, do the rotation so that on the lateral positions your ear goes in the direction of your shoulder, but keep looking forward.

This should take care of relaxing your neck a bit more.

Stretchs involving the core muscles are quite nice too, there are plenty of exercises around, I wont go into details in any.

One particular exercise is very effective for your whole body: Lay down on the floor, on a quiet room, flat on your back, palms of the hands down.

Close your eyes and begin doing the circular, pendulum like breathing as was described, start to imagine that your body is weighting more and more, as if you are so heavy that your are sinking down on the floor. Do it for 10 minutes or so.

Just warn your relatives so they know that you are not dead.

This should make efforts to track resonance considerably easier. It takes some minutes do it, surely, but it will make all the trainning you do afterwards much more effective, specially if you are running into tensions. Think of it as a catalyzer.

So relax and enjoy :cool:

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Great post, Felipe! I agree that singing is so physical an exercise that (especially for beginners) optimal performance can be encouraged with proper warmups and stretching.

One thing I would like to add regarding stretching the neck to the side toward the ear--you gave the proper thing to do (which most people don't know)... a professor at a musical posture workshop at my university instructed us specifically to use the hand on the side of the body we're leaning the neck to gently cradle the head back up from the fully stretched position back to the neutral vertical; he said this is preferred because it makes the stretch more effective by not having the muscle you just finished relaxing suddenly have to tense up again to get the neck back to neutral (which just constricts it back for a moment). Many people who think they are stretching their neck actually put themselves at a higher strain level when they snap their head back from such a far angle.

Since I started stretching my neck, pectorals, lower back (more focused on engaging the internal muscles), and relaxing my jaw, I feel like I have much quicker progress on technique--perhaps because I'm defaulting myself into good habits early in the day to repattern myself better.

I notice that I have much more conscious control over the relaxation of constriction now compared to the way constriction used to make me feel hopeless when it appeared in my singing, perhaps due to improved kinesthetic sense regarding the constrictors.

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I think that physical training is extremely beneficial to a singer. Certainly you're not going to improve your voice JUST by exercising, but an active, healthy lifestyle is very important for a singer. Our body IS our instrument.

1. Exercise improves the function of the respiratory system

2. Exercise strengthens the body as a whole

3. Exercise relaxes the mind and body and releases stress

4. Exercise typically involves moving about and doing things and going places -- it's easy to get shut in as a "quiet introverted musician" and forget that music is about expressing life and life can't be lived indoors!

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  • 8 months later...

I was going to send it on a different thread, but really I feel that it has no place before relaxation is achieved, so if you try this and you dont use the relaxation exercises, know that you are doing it wrong.

Emission Adjustment

Continuing on the relaxation exercises, the idea is achieving an efficient and well coordinated production while relaxing everything that is not necessary... Much easier said than done... With this a rudimentary understandment of resonance tracking and emission adjustment can be achieved.

Begin doing neck stretches and using the previous methods to achieve a relaxed state. Use the breath control with a fairly long time to help pace you down and relax your body overall state. You want to feel ready but calm, not all worked up with a fast heart beat, and most surely not sleepy.

After you feel ready to begin, inhale low, slowly, and release this air on a steady rate, try to not tamper directly with ANY muscles, just make sure that your breathing is paced and connected, there should not be any changes in the coordination or pauses, a circular action. If there is a flip from inhaling/exhaling, concentrate more and work to eliminate it. Its like the relaxation exercise, only now dont worry about how much time you use on each cycle, keep it natural and dont interfere adding tensions.

Finally, from this more natural but still well coordinated breathing, release a vowel WITH the airflow, the one that you are most comfortable with (probably open ones), on a comfortable and otherwise easy tone. Again, keep the coordination the same, it will feel as if you never stoped inhaling OR exhaling. this is not about tensing muscles, if you dont get the feeling from the previous exercise, go back and work on it.

When you release this vowel, make sure that your intention is strong, dont contain it. Also make sure that you dont change anything in your throat or mouth from the time you begin inhaling to the end of the phonation. Something that helps is thinking of the vowel before inhaling, setting the posture of your mouth, and allowing the inhale coordination to relax it. The lesser the ammount of movement you do, the less the larynx has to work and the more stamina you have on your singing.

Its perfectly doable, dont try to go high, dont try to sound good, concentrate on the task, use the most comfortable tone for you, and make sure that the start of the phonation is EXACTLY on the spot where your breathing changes direction. If you attack early, you will over compress. If you attack later, it will be airy. Both will result on compensations.

Done right, you have now an adjusted emission that feels like it begins more forward and higher in your mouth, it does not feel that it comes from the throat anymore. And with some practice you will see that you can control this starting place at your own will, this is placement. Do not try to tamper with it yet, just try to place your voice higher and its more than enough.

So is this magic? How can a voice begin high?? Well it does not, of course all this work is to simply allow you to control your tongue position with precision and avoiding tensions from conflicting intentions and coordinatory compensations, with a well coordinated and easy breathing that enforces this relaxation and can be easily be connected to support exercises. Doing the previous step is not easy to achieve, although it is very, very simple to do after you get the hang of it.

From there its on to the use of a forward and efficient articulation and resonance adjustments that will later result on the definition of chest and head registrations.

Hope this gives insight on the practical side of application of technique, specially regarding more agressive productions that will depend on adding tensions to specifc areas... If its hard to control on a simple and relaxed posture, just imagine what happens when you start to manipulate it outside a ballanced state. This whole coordination of breathing and attack should be how you sing your songs most of the time, regardless of the intensity of support/emission relationship, regardless of the resonance strategy used.

If you work on it, remember that the main goal with all this is comfort and ease, if it feels wrong in any way, just stop and let your teacher help you doing it. If you cant seem to find the coordination at all, its fine, this is much harder to do than it looks and it does not mean that you are incapable of doing it, just that you will need other references.

To conclude, this is a start, a fundamental idea that is used, you will not be able to sing great using this, but it may be passable to do some stuff, you may even be able to control your dynamics easily if you play your cards right.

GL and good studies.

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Support Coordination

Another fundamental idea, that also builds from relaxation. A bit more towards efficiency, but I think it fits the context.

So now to the can of worms... ;)

First thing that you are going to do, is to get that circular pattern going again. I cant stress how important it is to have that basic coordination well controlled, its simply impossible to think of acting on your breath flow WITH EASE without it.

Now, inhale, and release. Let the release end without interfering, dont time it, dont make it last, dont stabilize it.

Very well, now, place your hands on your ears, and do it again. If you notice any sound of breathing internally, as if it was "rasping", work to release the constriction that is creating it. When you manage to do so, assimilate how it feels like. It should be silent.

Note: Release is not FORCING open, the idea is that you change the postures and stay in there, you dont have to spread anything, to stretch anything, nothing to hold open. The sensation of the very beginning of a yawn can help. But your parameter is the sound of breathing inside.

Once you did so, inhale again, but now extend the release over time, aim to not hear it, keep the posture where there are no constrictions and dont let anything change from the time you inhale. Keep the release of air continuous and extend it just a bit. Repeat it a few times to get a hang of it. Dont try to make a very long exhale, keep it on the comfort zone, and make sure that your throat is relaxed and not doing any movements from inhale/exhale change.

Now that you have a good hang of it, repeat the idea and track any sensations you have on the muscles of your abdominal wall, epigastric area and on the sides near the floating ribs, the back too but its harder to feel. You will probably notice a slight pressure, as if the "air was pressing" from the inside, or "hollow", no matter how it feels, there will be a feeling. Associations will be individual.

Try to repeat the exercise and use this feeling to help you stabilize and extend more the release of air. What you did now is using your core muscles to assist your breathing. And contrary to the common idea of this being needed to "sing long", the idea here is making your airflow stable and secure.

Great, so now its just sing and keep that feeling right, pressing everywhere and opening? Well... no, not really.

Using just this feeling that you got, breath low again, and try to release a quick puff of air, like a dog pant, but dont let the posture of your mouth and throat change when you end it. Place your hands on your ears, repeat the puff of air and get a circular movement like the very first thing we talked about, and eliminate all the sensations of "airflow" from the back and ears. This is tricky, but the "panting" should be formed almost entirely by your teeth and even a bit on the nose.

If its tricky to pant while retaining the sensation, keep in mind that its just the sensation that you need, not muscular contraction, not a strong opposition, not strong muscular forces. And let the breathing recoil from the pant back, without letting your throat change one bit.

Dont let the postures collapse while you pant, repeat it and take your time. Relax the throat, the air should pass with the same feeling the previous exercises, if anything is tensing on the throat, go back, get a better hang of the previous ideas, and do it again.

Once you can do it, instead of a pant, now think of speaking "FOOAH" but dont voice it, form the articulation in the same way you were doing with the pant, feel it on the teeth, lips and even on the nose, nothing on the back of the mouth. The OO will be easier to keep forward, but the AH will probably try to fall back, work on it, you need to form it without constricting. Dont make the OO long either, quick OO, should be just a guideline to the AH.

If its too difficult, break it down. Start with just dog pants in FOO, make the FOO very short, only after you are sure its relaxed, go for the AH.

All these unvoiced stuff can cause you to feel a bit dry, have water near you and take pauses.

Finally, after you are secure that this sylabe is formed totally forward, no constrictions or rasping on the throat, repeat it unvoiced one or twice, dont let the posture collapse, inhale and say "FAH", strongly, using the previous idea of an adjust emission to make sure it begins forward, its a good idea to do a wide movement with your arms to help the idea of release and energy. Form the words also as if just using your teeth and lips, as if was a kind of a dog pant.

You will also feel, that without any other "tampering", your epigastric area will become a bit more rigid when you do it. Thats because since you need more air pressure and your breathing is controlled, you dont need to think "ooh I need more pressure", this coordination was always there, you use it all the time.

Notice that the "AH" will only be as stable as your previous release of air. And it may actually suck, no matter. From here, I hope that its clear what is the point of exercises to train the support coordination using sibilances and varying its intensity, and I hope also that its clear that if they are not executed with this focus on the transfer to the actual singing, or at least as a "building block", it does very little, its not about releasing the longer possible S, its not even about the S's. Its working on the details that are related to the voiced exercises and the application.

When you have to do more powerful phrases, you will work with more pressure, so its the control that becomes more difficult, it may be the case that you even need to train to be able to produce the pressure readily for one or another thing that is very strong. But thats another subject.

This is just to try to clarify the ideas on support, on the practical side. You will not learn to sing from doing just that, and probably will not improve your singing just by doing these exercises, it must be built all the way into application on a song, and thats where the fun is and also where a teacher will be very valuable to assist you.

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