Tension is bad and good

In an ideal technique of singing there is always a fixed relationship between the amount of tension assumed by the cricothyroids and the physical dimensions of the vocal folds.  However, more frequently than not their tension is disproportional to the pitch, in which case the arytenoid system must react not ideally but in such a way as to compensate for the faulty tensing capability of the cricothyroids.  As a result, the interaction between these two tensor mechanisms of the vocal folds creates interfering tensions which invite wrong tensions among peripheral areas of function, to a greater or lesser degree, throughout the entire vocal tract.  As a consequence, singing becomes effortful with evidence of malfunction exhibited by tongue and jaw tension, poor breath management, etc.

– Cornelius Reid. “Laryngeal Musculature”. Accessed at https://corneliusreid.com/author/donnasreid/page/2/

There are good and bad tensions. Some assist us and others hinder us. Sorting this out is a major part of the craft of vocal development. Great singing may feel like “nothing at all” or “relaxed” but that is a happy illusion. Singing requires some parts of the body to be used vigorously, while others need to be used less, or stay quietly out of the way.

Sometimes in training, a singer will need to back off of everything and be more of a rag doll for a while, while another singer may need to do the opposite to get the body to wake up and start participating. As skill starts to build, the singer will need to become body-aware enough to realize where more specific weaknesses and strengths are. Learning how to build up the weak parts without dragging in interfering tensions is ever a challenge. This engaging and releasing of tensions, according to the harmonious design of the whole singing sytem,  is the unglamorous but rewarding work of the voice student and the teacher.

“Natural singers” are not always immune. In the course of a lifetime, things change. It is easy to pick up interfering tensions unconsciously that must be brought to light and dealt with in order to stay at a high level of vocal function.

There is no shame in being a poor singer who wants to improve, or a great singer who is suddenly having problems. Sneaky tensions tend to creep in and out of our bodies (and minds) as a condition of being human.

If you enjoy this blog, consider grabbing a copy of Sane Singing: A Guide to Vocal Progress, available in print and ebook!

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