Vocal Health Part 1: Good Habits
There are lots of people out there who are giving advice about this and that, but not a lot of people in the area of worship giving advice about singing and staying healthy. This post will hopefully give some practical advice about how you can manage your vocal health as well as think ahead at where you would like to be in the future.
I won’t say that I am the foremost authority on the technical side of things (at all), but I do have a fair bit of a background. That being said, I will try and give some general information that is good for everyone, and then some more personal advice. The voice is a very personal instrument, not everyone is the same, and not all advice would be correct for each person. I would like to again, leave you with a few bites to chew on about vocal health as well as some tips to keep you consious about some of the good and bad practices of singers.
My background is in musical theater, but all good foundations start in the same place. This first post will focus on the physical aspects of singing.
Part of being a healthy singer is taking care of the physical you. Most assume that merely means the actual vocal chords, and it does, but it also means the body in its entirety.
First, we’ll talk about the abdominal area (cringe, I know, most of us “older” worship leaders are a little *cough* out of shape). Who has time to hit the gym every day with a full time job, church commitments, a wife/husband, and a bunch of kids. Scary. However, the abdominal and back muscles (and more) are extremely important in the process of singing correctly. Notice I didn’t say just singing, but singing correctly. And we will label singing correctly not as one who is merely an awesome singer, but as someone who can sing in the best way possible without doing damage to themselves.
All singers should work out (wags finger at myself), and really pay attention to improving their core muscles. It may seem like a pipe dream, but a great one to aspire to as a singer. I know that we’re all busy as well, but this will indeed dramatically change the way you sing. It will also change the amount of effort and force you use while singing as well. So much so that you may feel like you are re-learning to sing all over again; that is if you really learned in the first place.
This next area goes along with number one. We will look at breathing. Many people think of breathing merely as the state in which your chest cavity is filled by your lungs and there is movement in that place. It’s a normal thing, you don’t even have to think about it. We simply do it. If we didn’t we would all die. God designed us pretty cool that way.
But there is more to your breathing than your visible areas. In fact, the most important area for learning to breathe is located on your lower back, where you can’t even see it. One of the greatest things my voice teacher did was have me lay on my back and simply breathe for a long time. Just feel what it’s like to fully breathe in and feel your back completely touch the ground. It allows you to know when you are breathing all the way in, and when you are not. You should feel your back press into the ground as you breathe deeply.
You should continue to pratice this until it becomes like second nature to you. This could take months or in some peoples’ cases even take years to perfect. I will tell you that this is one of the most under-utilized aspects of vocal training; teaching people how to fully breathe and support themselves.
I want to point out two things; This does not mean that you are completely filling yourself up with each breath, but simply that you are taking a fully supportive breath. Secondly, that if you begin to practice singing this way that you will soon begin to learn about all the deficiencies as a singer in regards to breathing, support, and body positioning for vocal health. It will always force you to sing supported in that position.
The 3rd area we’ll look at is the physical aspects of your neck/throat. Most people have learned to sing without training, most importantly without someone telling them that what they are doing is wrong or damaging. One of the things I’ll point out here (and we’ll talk about the recording industry and bad habits some other time). The first is the tendency for singers, especially male (in my opinion), to stick out their chin pointing it upward and out in an attempt to reach that high note. This is often a problem with Part1 and Part 2 of this article. Often the singer has not been breathing or supporting themselves properly. This not only looks strange, or very holy depending on when and where you do it, but can be very damaging to the vocal chords.
Putting unnecessary stress on the vocal chords at any point can be damaging to the voice, but this action comes along with singers who are unaware that this can be harmful. This is caused by singing from your throat instead of singing from a supported diaphram.
Now, that being said, this is not an unbreakable rule, I mean, you’ll always break the rules. But Sometimes, if you sing with support you could do this without hurting yourself, but as a general rule I would say don’t.
There are a few more details that we will save for later. I hope these few hints were helpful.
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