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Tubas never worry about getting a good night’s sleep; violins never fret about hitting the high notes at the age of 75; and saxophones will never complain about an allergy to their cat. On the other hand, as singers, our bodies are our instruments. Everything we do, feel, and think – even the things we don’t do, say or think – they all affect our instrument.
Vocal instruments vary in strength and resilience. Some singers seem to have “cords of steel”, and their voices withstand a lot of singing, under a variety of conditions. Such singers are very lucky, and are more likely to weather an intense touring schedule with grace. The rest of us need to pace our voice use more carefully, and may be more sensitive to environmental, lifestyle and emotional changes. We only get one voice in our lifetime, so we need to help it go the distance!
If the seasons change, and you find your voice being affected, if you experience a hormonal shift in your life, or if your allergies act up, you may need to visit your voice teacher for some tips for how to tune up your voice under the new conditions. Proper vocal hygiene can prevent a lot of issues, but there are also vocal exercises which can help soothe and tune up a voice that is mildly “under the weather”.
Getting more/less exercise? Joined a loud sports team or choir? Have your sleep patterns changed? Are you eating new foods, perhaps right before bed? When you change an aspect of your life, there are knock-on effects for the voice. Some causal links are easy to figure out on your own, other connections are more difficult to pick up on. Conversations with a vocologist can help you to learn and discover about how your own life interacts with your voice.
The effects of emotions on the voice are fascinating! Several expressions point to how emotions may affect the voice:
We often complain about extroverted “loud mouths”, but they often possess uninhibited voices. So long as they don’t push the voice too hard, these can be the personalities with the most expressive instruments in a performance setting!
Feeling nervous, or anxious, can interrupt the flow of energy in the body, which can interrupt the flow of air. Since your breath generates the vibration that makes the voice’s sound, the voice will be affected. This is why I try to remember to breathe when I am excited and nervous at the start of a big performance.
When you find yourself “holding your tongue” a lot in your own life, you may truly inhibit the mobility of your tongue, and therefore your voice. Regularly expressing how you feel can help to get things moving.
If you are holding emotions in your throat, and not letting them out, you can get tension which feels like a lump. Any unnecessary tension in the throat can limit the freedom of the larynx (your voice box). A laryngologist once recommended the following to me, which I found very charming, “Next time you are upset, let yourself cry out loud.”
Your breath is very sensitive to emotions. If you get hit by shocking news, your torso may collapse or freeze up, and you may temporarily lose the ability to breathe freely. In contrast, some emotions will help the breath move more freely. Strangely, I find that a bit of passionate anger gets my blood pumping and my breath flowing. This is not the case for everyone!
Swallowing is the physical opposite of singing. If you are “choked up”, the mechanisms you need for singing busy themselves with other functions! Swallowing and yawning on purpose can give you some awareness of the movement in the throat. However, to move on from being “choked up,” you may need to process and go through your emotions.
If you are used to hiding your sound, whether to be polite, or inconspicuous, “raising your voice” or singing “at the top of your lungs” can be overwhelming. We must face the exciting and brave activities of being heard and being seen, in order to sing freely in the company of others.
The week of my wedding, I could hit every note (especially the highest ones) with ease. When we are filled with joy, our voices often shake loose, “rise up”, and fly out freely!
When we are struggling to express who we are to the world around us, we call it, “finding our voice”. Also, when feeling confident and bold, it can be easier to express ourselves. This can free up the actual voice. The reverse is true, and freeing up the vocal instrument can lead us to feel more confident and free in who we are.
© 2018 Joanna Chapman-Smith
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