So, I used my cricoid muscle extensively on Saturday night. Yes, I was more shoutier than usual. Since my workshop a couple of weeks ago, I have been revisiting some of my repertoire in a beltier way. This is similar to the way I sang about ten years ago, but also much different. Yes, this time was much different. It was interesting to see how the audience reacted. I had one gentleman come and ask me if I had ever sang opera. He said that my voice reminded him of many textures…many subtleties. The audience definitely seemed engaged in a different way…..or maybe it was just me….knowing that I was singing more on the edge….the edge of right and wrong….the edge of freedom.
What has changed? Quite a few things. Knowledge is power. For one thing I made sure the mic stand was a little higher, and the microphone was angled slightly downward so that I could tilt my head back for the belt. (I don’t hold the mic because I am playing keyboard). I would usually do this angle with my head anyway, but now I know why I’m doing it and why the placement of the microphone is so important. I notice that it indeed is necessary to free the voice from constriction. My soft palate was raised as high as it could go. My tongue was well placed and my mouth was big. My body was engaged like at no other time in the song…..yes, that feeling of certainty and strength is a familiar posture that keeps me aligned with the phrases and momentum of the music.
I experienced no hoarseness, no raspiness, no uncertainty. I experienced the maximum energy my body and voice had to give that evening. I experienced an audience who reciprocated with applause and awe. I experienced a sensation of total release and freedom. I experienced the ability to be able to do it again tomorrow.
I woke up yesterday with a cold and hoarseness in my voice. I had three hours of performance to do later in the day, so I knew it was going to be a tough one with a lot of careful attention and energy to complete the job!
First, I had a hot shower and my usual … pot of coffee. I didn’t utter a word until 2:00 pm. I did a few exercises of lip trills and light sirens. I took a moment to gauge where I thought I was with my voice, compared to my “healthy voice”. I was somewhere around a 6 or 7. My goal was to be 8 or 9 before leaving for my gig. I had two hours.
I continued to warm up my head voice lightly. I paid acute attention to my body and energy to make sure I wasn’t putting any undue stress on my vocal cords. I did some sit ups and took a walk around the block. I continued to sip water all day.
This has happened many times before and I have learned over the years how to pace the day and night. It’s a delicate balance. I don’t talk. I only sing ….. when it’s absolutely necessary. In this case, it was necessary or else I would be letting down many many people who simply wanted to enjoy their Christmas party!
I made sure I could hear my voice well in the monitor. I would be singing at about half volume, so this was doubly important for this gig. I chose my repertoire very carefully…no “big” songs during this show. Instead, I focused on my “presentation” with by body and with my facial expressions.
When the night was finally over I was totally spent. I had maxed out my vocal cords for this gig, and I was mentally and physically exhausted from the energy it took to maintain a careful journey to get me through to the end of the night…..but it worked! As I headed out the door with my car jammed pack with my gear, my employer waved goodbye and said “see you next year!”
The dreaded laryngitis. It’s not uncommon among singers, especially during the winter season. You’ve just got over that cold virus, and you sang too “hard” and talked “too loud” at the party last night, and now you are paying for it. The problem is you need to sing again tonight!
Unfortunately, there is no easy or fast fix. If you don’t learn how to treat your vocal cords properly and with care, then you will end up with swollen cords that can take weeks to return to normal.
Instead you need to learn how to sing with dynamics and emotion without blowing so much “force” through your cords. Here is a test. Try to sing your favourite songs with intensity, emotion, and dynamics in your house while someone is trying to sleep! You can’t sing loud or you will wake them, but you can’t be boring while you’re singing. Can you do it? Do you have passion and intensity in your voice while trying to sing quietly?
There are exercises that can help you do this better. Learning how to “lean” into the notes or “press” into the notes creates intensity and warmth in your voice and you won’t need much air to get louder sounds. Singing high notes is especially difficult to do quietly…….but a good singer can do this! Working on the “cry” in your voice in the high register will help start the “attack” of the note, and then you lean into the note to sustain the warm tone. All of this is done with very little breath coming through your vocal cords! Instead, the breath is held back by the vocal cords and is “under pressure” behind your vocal cords.
Let me know what you think? Did the exercise work for you?