Releasing Tension for Singers

“I have a question which I think most young singers learning to sing face. How do I take away some of the tension in my throat (although I do not sing from my throat) area when I’m singing or rather when I’m approaching high notes.

It has been inhibiting my access to my higher notes because I couldn’t relax the neck / throat area. It tenses up and I have problem finding my head voice which is supposed to be unforced and easy. I understand that the high notes I’m training for require first a relaxed psyche and hard work. I find that whenever I’m at F#, tension mounts and I start to push for high notes. Resulting in more chest and not pure head voice.

Can you suggest an exercise to unlock the top range without tension?

First, stop thinking about your throat!

The two places to think about are:

  • Lower abdomen
  • Jaw

All the support should come from the lower abdomen. That’s where it should all be “happening”. Think about anything above the navel as a huge flexible organ pipe. You shouldn’t be doing anything conscious with muscles above the navel until you get to the jaw. Everything in between should work on its own without your intervention if you get the lower abdomen working (this is an oversimplification – but let’s stick with it at the moment – basically, what you’re going to do above the navel and below the jaw has more to do with POSTURE and allowing things to do what they do naturally by NOT trying to interfere than with actively trying to control anything – INCLUDING the diaphragm).

The jaw needs to work like a well-oiled hinge. This means no rigidity, no tension, no clamping shut nor forcing too far open. The tension you feel in your throat, I am willing to bet, is due in large part to tension in the jaw and the back of the tongue (“throat” tension usually means back of tongue tension, which is directly influenced by jaw tension). Secondarily, if your chest is “collapsed” rather than lifted (not forced up muscularly, but *lifted* – a sense that you’re gently lifting the breastbone off the top ribs – if you think of your rib cage as an accordion, think about keeping it stretched apart, rather than squeezed together – but the feeling should be, as I said, one of LIFT, rather than anything involving really stretching, which implies tension).

If the chest is up and the support is active below the navel, you’ll find that mysteriously the jaw doesn’t want to work as hard to articulate vowels and consonants.

Keep moving that sense of “lift” upwards – so that you feel like you are lifting the top half of your head off of the jaw (lower half of your head). You should again feel a kind of stretch of the muscles right in front of your ear (a kind of “unhinging” of the jaw feeling) – but again, think LIFT, not stretch, to avoid tension.

Think of your jaw, as I said, as a very well-oiled hinge – it should feel “floppy”, and move freely not just up and down, but side to side as well. If, as you sing, you feel it wanting to tighten or rigidify, do a little side-to-side shift (either with jaw or with tongue).

Also work on keeping the tip of the tongue in the “resting” place – i.e., behind lower teeth, just touching the gum line. All movement for forming different vowels should come from the middle of the tongue, with the tip remaining in the “resting” place; the tip only comes up to form dental and sibilant consonants (d, t, s, z); otherwise it has no reason to leave it’s little “bed” behind the lower teeth.

Now take the idea of “lift” down lower – think about how a ballet dancer stands – that sense of the torso lifting out of the hip cradle. The idea is to get as much flexibility as possible in the lower back area too – you should be able to move your hips in easy, smooth circles in both directions (like using a hula hoop). You should also be able to “snake” your torso easily, and your shoulders and neck. Try this in all different directions and combinations, and note where you feel any “sticking points”. Work on smoothing these over, so that your joints are all “well-oiled” feeling, and everything feels like it’s LIFTED, so that no part of your body feels like its resting HEAVILY on any other part, and everything feels a natural, gentle stretch – not because you stretch it, but because you’ve LIFTED the ends, so the skin/muscle in between has nothing it can do except stretch.

Work with these ideas as you vocalise. Keep adjusting, noticing where tensions and rigidities are and want to be, and gently fight them by keeping things MOVING. A good sailor knows that for his sailboat to be at its most stable, it has to be IN MOTION. I find that keeping the body in gentle motion – not huge movements, but slight, smooth adjustments continuously to PREVENT tensions/rigidities – is an ideal way to avoid the kind of throat (or any other body part) tension you describe

Written by Karen Mercedes

Also Read
Accessing Head Voice by Steven Fraser
Insights on singers expectations and advice on the process of using the head voice.

Falsetto by Sharon Szymanski
Using falsetto as a means of accessing head voice for male voices.

Throat Tension & Relaxation
Advice and exercises to help singers relax the throat and mouth.