Originally published March 12, 2014 on www.voicecouncil.com
It takes more energy to lift a piano than it does to play a piano (though I am sure that some virtuoso pianists would disagree).
But just think of the futility of a pianist who is lifting a piano onto the stage when he should be playing! Similarly, I am really concerned about singers who put their energy and effort in the wrong places.
Have You Done an Effort Assessment?
Different vocal tasks require different energy investments: Speaking requires less effort than calling out. Crying requires more effort than sighing. I want you to monitor the amount of effort you are investing in new vocal maneuvers. What is most important to keep in mind is that the sensation of effort in the larynx (or as I call it, ‘the voice effort’) should remain as low as possible at all times – even when you are singing more energetically. When you are singing – especially a demanding passage – become aware of the amount of effort you are putting on your voice. Are you straining your voice? Are you ‘lifting a piano’ with only the area of your throat?
Enlist the Help of Your Body
Keep in mind that muscles love to relax as soon as you think about something else. They also like to invite their neighbors along for a rest as well. Both of these tendencies can produce problems with stabilizing the sounds you are trying to create. All of these factors make listening to your body and giving clear mental instructions tremendously important to the retraining process. The rest of the body may need to work quite dynamically in order for the voice effort to remain low. This voice/body workload relationship should be monitored constantly in the initial training stages. If the voice effort goes up vocal stamina goes down and the potential for vocal strain or injury increases.
Watch Out for Lazy Muscles
It is worth repeating that muscles like to relax as soon as your attention is divided. Singers often begin a vocal maneuver with high stabilizing effort and let it drop a second later. As soon as the effort drops the voice effort will increase and the voice will become unstable and constrict or crack. Keeping a ‘Jedi-like’ mental focus all the way to the end of a vocal maneuver/note/phrase is a skill in itself and may take time to develop.
After any exercise or vocal task I always ask the singer, “Where was the majority of the effort?”
The answer that always makes me smile is, “My brain!”