Vocal Strain or Muscle Tension?

Posted in Category Singing Basics
  • W
    Wildwomanvisionary 5 months ago

    Hi, I'm Kristin. I've been singing for many years now but am diving deep into the basics so I can train my muscle memory in a more official way. I've trained with a vocal coach (several sessions) and took a semester long singing class in college as well. I know and understand the importance of taking care of my voice, listening to my body and relaxing my instrument as much as possible while singing. 

    The problem is I keep running into this feeling of tightness when I sing and I still struggle with differentiating whether it's vocal strain or just unnecessary tension that would easily be resolved if I did relaxation exercises. I've had my vocal coach tell me to listen to my body but I don't know what my body is trying to tell me. It's not pain just this feeling of tightness in my throat and chest when I sing even when I breathe deep into my diaphragm and ground into my lower body.

    I've had chronic stress from life circumstances the last two plus years that's resulted in constant neck, jaw, tongue and chest tension. As I sing, I feel tension in these areas even when I focus on relaxing them.

    I should note that I also recently had bronchitis and have had a nagging cough for about 5 weeks that's finally resolving itself (I went on vocal rest for most of this time and am only recently starting to do gentle warm-ups and song work again). And I came down with laryngitis earlier last year. I'm not sure if this is part of the issue and if more vocal rest plus a trip to an ENT is the best course of action.

    I'm also noticing that I struggle with being perceived by my neighbors. I live in a studio apartment and practice in my tiny bathroom where range of physical motion and open acoustics are limited. I feel like I must sound annoying to them and tend to let my nerves get the best of me. But I'm not sure where else to practice as I don't own a car or have access to a vocal coach's studio.

    I'm disheartened because I have days where I'm able to tap into my voice with ease, span my natural range without pushing, develop beautiful tone and resonance, and use my whole body as an instrument. While other days, I do practices from the Beginner Course and feel like I sound awful or I simply struggle to tap into that flow state where my voice feels like butter. Instead it just feels stuck.

    Anyways, from what I've mentioned - do you have any advice or insight into this challenge I'm facing? I know this is a lot of information with varying factors involved but I would really appreciate some professional input as this has been very frustrating for me. Thank you!

  • C
    Camille van Niekerk 5 months ago

    Thank you for taking the time to share, Kristin! I can relate to that frustration. I'm heartened by the fact that you do experience ease and freedom with your voice sometimes! Can you identify what's different on those days? It may be worth keeping a "practice journal" (just a note on your phone, perhaps) to log what you did, when you practiced, how it felt, etc. 

    Seeing an ENT (or at least asking them if they'd recommend being seen) could be helpful, as they can see if there's any underlying issue. You seem to have identified a few factors that make sense to me: the chronic stress and feeling inhibited within your practice space. It's difficult to sing freely when we're worried about others hearing our "mistakes"! I do have a handful of tips in this article to make your practice time a bit easier: https://www.30daysinger.com/blog/how-to-practice-quietly-how-to-sing-better

    Additionally, I'd recommend you reframe your practice for the next few weeks. Instead of making the goal "sounding good" or even "improving your voice", can the goal be to simply explore making sound? Can you put difficult songs on the shelf, and instead sing songs that feel easy to you? I'd love for you to have fun singing, with no pressure to "get better". Perhaps removing the pressure can help you meet your voice and body where they're at.

  • W
    Wildwomanvisionary 5 months ago

    Thanks for responding, Camille! I actually just purchased a set of singing straws and it comes with a voice journal to keep track of progress, how my voice feels on day of practice, etc. So your suggestions as well as the ones in the article are perfect!

    I definitely notice that when I'm focusing on "sounding good" or maintaining healthy technique I lose that sense of joyful ease and freedom. So balancing practice with something fun/easy and exploring making sound would be beneficial.  

    Now that I think of it, I've been putting too much pressure on myself to improve quickly so I can record original songs - but it's just stressing me out (not what I want at all).

    As for the ENT, I'm sorting out some health insurance stuff but it's on my list of things to do. I went to a doctor for vocal fatigue last year (after I did practices too low for my range) and they didn't seem concerned but it's always good to get a second opinion. 

    Thanks again! I'm really enjoying the course materials so far.

  • C
    Camille van Niekerk 5 months ago

    Thank you, Kristin! Practicing always includes this balance of both working toward a goal and being content with where our voice is currently at, and it's certainly difficult to hold both of those aims at the same time. 

    I look forward to hearing how things go, and feel free to submit a video for feedback if you think that might be helpful! https://www.30daysinger.com/feedback

Please login or register to leave a response.