Updated: Feb 26, 2022
This doesn't mean that your vocal limitations are here to stay. This is only to give you insight into why the limitations exist in the first place and how you can work to get better.
UNITY OF THE BODY AND MIND
With the conversation around mental health increasing, several of us have started to pay closer attention to the indisputable unity of our body and mind. Every thought/ emotion finds its expression in our physical body. Some of them are very easily felt. Think of butterflies in the stomach, lump in your throat, jitters, heaviness, lightness, loss of appetite, wet palms, feeling taller when you’re proud, dullness in your skin.
In the face of a new situation, we are very aware of these sensations in our bodies. But when we talk about our life or our moods “in general”, a lot of things start to slip our awareness. This is the realm of habits and ‘comfort zones’. Over time, our general state of mind has a profound impact on the general state of our body- the way it organises itself and how we use our body through our day to day lives.
Are you constantly nervous/ feeling unsafe/ anxious/ pessimistic? Chances are, your body will mirror these thoughts. You may hold a lot of tightness because your body is always on edge, ready to face a new threat. You may feel safer when you stay out of the limelight and so you may actually fold inward and diminish yourself (collapsed chest, tight shoulders, neck shortened), try to take up as little space as possible, in order to not draw attention to yourself. These emotions may also manifest themselves as aches and pains in your muscles or anywhere else in your body. Your whole life up till this moment is responsible for shaping the appearance and organisation of your current body.
Similarly, if you are not a worrier, optimistic, grounded, your body takes up a more open stance, not afraid to occupy space. Feelings of general wellness and safety allow for the body to stay relaxed and make better use of energy.
Besides, the most profound way our bodies respond to emotions is by changing how we breathe. When stressed, breathing is erratic and shallow. When we're feeling relaxed, we breathe deeper and more rhythmically. Breathing shallowly in moments of distress shields us from the intensity of the experience.
WHY IS THIS RELEVANT, YOU ASK?
Your muscles reorganise in response to your state of mind. Every such reorganisation brings about a change in the acoustic space within your body. This is why, the same song feels different to sing when you’re alone in your practise room, singing with an instrument strapped on to you and singing for a large audience on a stage. The way you carry yourself when you sit, stand, move create the sound of your voice.
Singing thrives on space and freedom in your body. In order to have a free flowing voice and build a good, strong range and vocal agility, we need to be able to let go of unnecessary tension and stay relaxed. If you want to have a resonant voice and sing dynamically, with intensity, it is very important to dedicate your time to studying your body and understanding how it likes to organise itself. Where are you tight? Do you have an open and relaxed posture? Are your face, neck, jaw soft and relaxed or are they clenched? Is your chest generally collapsed? Studying the body in this way will not only help with actively unlearning these habits but will throw light on the cause of these physical tendencies- your thoughts and emotions about singing and about yourselves.
I ENCOURAGE MY STUDENTS TO STUDY THEIR BODY CLOSELY IN AND OUTSIDE THE LESSON.
Even parts that have seemingly nothing to do with singing, their fingers and feet for instance. In fact, a really large part of my method is dedicated to bringing awareness to your body's default state and then tweaking it. This information and insight is key to overcoming stage fright, developing your range, learning how to belt safely and to sing for long periods of time without injury and so much more. I have the Alexander Technique to thank, for helping me deepen my understanding of this mind-body connection and I cannot begin to measure how deeply this has affected my singing and my breathing.
I see this very often in the children I teach. Majority of the times, the voice of the child tells me a lot about their state of mind. A lot of these children, when I first met them, hadn't interacted with any other adults, due to the lockdown and therefore were guarded and unsure around me. Their voices were meek/breathy and their singing often was pitchy and their tone was unfocused. As time passed, I saw their voices open up as they opened up to me.
As adults, we don’t have the luxury of being so true to our feelings. We try so very hard to ensure that we are not given away by our voices. This means that most of the times, we try to forcefully project our voices to sound a certain way no matter how we feel. Constantly swimming against the tide in this way, may in itself be responsible for a lot of the vocal limitations we may be experiencing. Awareness of ourself, our feelings about singing, about being in public, about practise, about who we are may be the most challenging and a rather radical way to think about voice training but in reality, it is the only sure way to bring about deep change and lasting results.
DO CHECK OUT THE VIDEO IN THIS POST! I talk about my teenage years and how the circumstances led to a dramatic change in the way I saw myself and my singing. I believe that the root of my vocal fatigue problem lies somewhere in this story. I hope the message of this post and video stays with you and that it gives you something to think about!