Something I hear quite often from new students is that they feel they are straining their voice to hit the high notes. Singers often feel demoralised as if they are 'no good' or that their ranges are very limited. Not true. So how do we effectively manage our belt zone* without this so-called strain?
1. Why Do We Strain Our Voices?
Singers often notice a strained feeling accompanied by harsh raspy sounds when they are working in their belt zone. You are asking your voice to do something and it is firmly resisting you! This is due to forcing a large amount of air through a VERY tight larynx. It is a lose/lose situation. When you get this feeling you need to STOP singing. Immediately. Continuing to sing in this way will definitely result in long term damage to your voice. The good news is you can sing those SAME notes without straining simply by developing good vocal posture.
2. Good Vocal Posture
This is not one of those mythical voodoo methods that will take you years to master. This means simply changing your singing posture to make it a win/win situation for you and your larynx. To start with, your body should always be relaxed when doing this type of singing. When I say relaxed I mean unlocked and supple - not slouched or slumping! Forget the choir boy image of a singer standing rigid with their chin up - that is counter productive to everything we need to achieve a safe belt: a. deep breathing, b. supporting your voice from your abdomen and c. lowering your larynx into a relaxed position. When your body is relaxed, your throat is FREE of tension and so we can work our larynx downwards - the key to avoiding vocal strain.
3. Identifying Your Larynx
Learning about your larynx is something every singer should do. After all, without it you can't sing! Now for the science bit. The larynx or voice box, contains two mucus membranes - aka vocal folds or vocal chords - which make sound when air passes through them from the lungs. That is your voice. When you were a young child your larynx was very short, resulting in a high pitched voice. As you grew your larynx lengthened to how it sounds now. For a man it is easy to find the larynx as it tilts outwards. This is also known as the Adam's apple. If you are female, place two fingers on your throat and say 'ahhh'. Those vibrations are coming from your larynx.
FACT: Men's voices are deeper than women's because testosterone makes their larynx longer and bulkier. A man's voice continues to deepen well into their twenties as their larynx keeps growing.
4. Adjusting your larynx
Learning to manipulate your larynx is key to effectively supporting your singing voice and stopping the strained feeling. When you lower your voice your vocal folds become loose and relaxed. When you make your voice higher your vocal folds instantly tighten. (You can feel the difference by saying something low and then high). When your vocal folds are relaxed, more air can pass through them thus you give your voice more space. It is when you force air through them when they are in their high (tight and closed) position that strain occurs. There are several more benefits from keeping your larynx in the low position:
a. Enables safer belting
b. Increases your range by several notes either end
c. Gives your voice a rich tone
d. Makes your head voice sound fuller
5. Finally A Strain Free Belt Zone
First, practice moving your larynx up and down while speaking. Experiment with your voice by mimicking people you know with low voices like Barry White or Elvis. Make a note of how this alters the position of your head and chin into a more conducive, less resistant posture. Find your very deepest note. Keep it there and try singing up your scales. Notice how it feels more effortless all round. Notice also the power behind your voice as more air can get through. Finally, notice the ease in which you can now approach your belt zone. Remember the phrase; keep it low and soar high NOT keep it high and feel sore!
*The 'belt zone' are those 6 notes past your breaking point that can either be 'belted' i.e. a (well supported) shout style of singing OR sung in your lower head voice.
Georgie Cooper has been coaching and training singers for 10 years in the South East & Kent. With these articles she aims to simplify much of the myth & jargon when learning how to sing. Click here to read 5 Tips For Singing With A Cold