Did you know that singing is much easier when you have a positive attitude and a positive mindset ? Maybe you already experienced it..but do you also know why it works that way? Did you know that all the muscles in your body are more flexible and that it is much easier to control your breath and voice when you have a positive instead of a negative mindset ?
Maybe you heard about “the inner smile” : by singing with a laugh in your voice everything sounds much better and singing becomes easier.
With mindset I mean; thoughts you have, emotions, ideas about a song or about someone or ideas about yourself or about your singing.
If you have a negative mindset on your own singing and you sing a happy song, you give your audience two messages at the same time and therefore you are not “congruent”, and your audience will hear in the way you use your voice that you are not really happy. If you think in a positive way about your own voice, and sing a sad song and really dive into the emotion, your audience will feel the sadness and will therefore believe you. The positive thoughts will relax your voice in such a way that nothing prevents to give your song the right emotions.(by the way: congruent means that everything is in agreement or harmony. In this case it means that you give only a single message to your public.) I wrote in the post :”Hang on to your emotions” that singing with the right interpretation and sincere emotions will help you sing better technically. Apart from the interpretation it is important to have the right mindset.
When we talk or sing we will always do so with a certain mindset which can really have a big influence on the way we use our voice. Think of vocal dynamics, vibrato, the color of our voice and so on. But some mindsets can have a negative effect on our voice production. Being worried, anxious, scared or being very concerned or feeling fear will definitely not help you to have a relaxed voice production. If you are very focussed on your sound and busy judging yourself while you are singing you might already create stress that changes the color of your voice. Even being very involved into someone or into a subject you’re talking/singing about will make that you unconsiously use the muscles of your instrument in a different way.
Because this is what we are talking about: how do you use your muscles in singing? Our breath and voice production are completely controlled by muscles. Our posture is controlled by muscles and only muscles can change the shape of your resonance box.
The quality and the color of the sound we produce depends in the first place on how we use our vocal folds and what action we have in our larynx. For example: if we close them completely we will hear a clear tone but when we do nót close them completely we will hear a breathy voice. Our modal voice (chest-voice or mode 1) has a different color from our falsetto (head-voice or mode 2) because we use the muscles in de larynx in an entirely different way.
What effect have mindsets on our vocal tract ? The next anatomical part which is important to singing is the vocal tract (the part from your vocal folds ‘till your lips or rather the throat and the oral cavity) which is also called “the resonance box” or “the filter”. And indeed: in this part of our instrument we acoustically filter the tone that was created by our vocal folds. As I already explained in “What is this thing called voice 1”: when we make a tone the vocal folds produce a fundamental ánd overtones. The fundamental is heard as the pitch of the tone we produce and the overtones determine its color (both in singing and speaking). By changing the shape of the vocal tract (resonance box/ filter) we can amplify or weaken certain overtones and thus give our voice different colors (timbre).
There are many, many ways to change the shape of our vocal tract. That’s why we can make so many different sounds. We can change the position of the larynx (higher and lower), we can narrow the throat, we can change the closure of the epiglottis, the position of the jaw, the soft palate…we can change the shape and the position of the tongue in very many ways, we can protrude our lips, open our mouth less or more, show our teeth…and make many, many combinations of all this.
So again: The fact that the voice can have so many colors is for a great part due to the way the vocal folds vibrate and our flexible resonance box: the shape of the throat and mouth, which can be changed by many muscles, often in a mostly unconsciously way. We do so all the time in our daily life, while these muscles will also react immediately on the emotions we feel, the things we think….in short: both the muscles that control the vibration of the vocal folds and the shape of our resonance box react on our mindset.
Wow..so many possibilities to have different shapes of our vocal tract and thus creating different sounds…and just a few of them can give problems in phonation.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the problems that might occur. And again: let’s keep in mind that our muscles control our instrument, and that ideally their tension is well-balanced, not too stressed nor too relaxed. To start with you can check your posture: every mindset will provoke a certain posture (again: your posture is also managed by muscles). It can be very interesting to ask yourself; where in my body do I feel action ? And does this action feel good and balanced or do I experience it as stress ? Sometimes we do not recognize the stress anymore because we are so used to feel it that way. Being aware of actions and tensions in our muscles is also called: “kinesthetic perception”.
Many of the negative emotions/mindsets I mentioned above can make you shorten the back of your neck and make you push your chin a little bit forward. Stress in the muscles in the back of the neck can cause also stress on the junction of your jaw, and very often it gives also stress on the tongue. And once we have stress on the tongue we easily might have some tension in the larynx and pharynx (throat). As a consequence it might be difficult to find a right position of the larynx. Tension in the laryngeal muscles can cause some hoarseness because certain tension can make it difficult for the vocal folds to close . (There is much more to say about what can happen in the larynx but that would be a little bit too detailed for now).
Stress by itself can already give unwanted constriction. Some of the pharyngeal muscles help us to close the thorax very quickly. In our throat we have three groups of constricting muscles. These constrictors can narrow the throat and can react as a reflex when we are scared: when we fall into the water they will help to close the thorax and prevent us from drowning, and it helps us to protect our lungs from objects getting down our thorax when we swallow food or drinks. But when we are a little bit scared of singing a high note, we are not so happy when the throat is narrowed. An open throat will help you to create a warm open sound. A narrow throat can make our voice sound sharp and uneasy or even hoarse. Constriction of the pharyngeal muscles can cause adduction of the false vocal folds which can give strange cracking noises. Constriction can occur when we don’t have a good posture and shorten our neck. (Very often a bad posture has become a habit). Maybe your posture is caused by a certain mindset. Constriction can also occur when we use “twang” (sharpness). About using twang we will talk later because there is much to say about it. And of course constriction and tension in the throat can already occur (maybe without shortening the back of your neck) when you are scared or uncertain or when you are giving too many comments on yourself while you are singing. “Looking back” and judging what you just sang instead of “looking ahead” will change your posture (and many more) and will not help you for example to have the right air-pressure in your lungs. (read more about air-pressure in the post: “The dancing diaphragm).
WHAT CAN YOU DO ?
Again: A positive mindset will have a positive influence on the tension of all your muscles and it will affect your posture, your breath and your sound.
So first of all: check your mindset. What are you thinking ? What are your feelings?
Stand in front of your mirror and look at yourself; what is the posture of your body ? Check the back of your neck and also important: what does your face look like ? Are you frowning? Looking very serious ? Try to relax those muscles in your face because they tell you that you are stressing also the muscles inside. Of course; old habits need extra work and attention.
Looking in the mirror with a positive inquiring mindset and checking your posture (also the expression on your face) and the way you breath can already help you a lot. Listen carefully to your sound when you change your posture, your expression and when you try to breath correctly. Don’t rush, take your time.
Kinesthetic perception can help you with all this: If you are able to feel the action of your muscles in your instrument and you can locate where and if you have well balanced tension or stress, you can learn to get more in control of your voice. Try with a simple experiment in front of a mirror: sing a line or a high note first with negative thoughts and then with positive… what did you see? What did you feel? How did you sound ?
When you practice: be kind to yourself, have patience with yourself, take time. Try to concentrate really good, do not rush and do things in a superficial way but really focus with a positive attitude.
I know….I am repeating myself just to be sure you get the message.
It would be great if you can get a little bit more in control of your thoughts. If you can have a positive mindset everything will be really much easier. Give it a try, and try it over and over again…. with patience ! Good luck