Singing Help #1

free voice arc

The Arc/Arch of Your Singing Voice

A question I received recently from someone looking for singing help made me think about what I call the “arc” or “arch” of your voice. It is an approach to singing that can help carry you through the day without losing the power of your voice if you learn how to adjust the way you modulate your practicing and vocalizing.

The young man who asked me for singing help has never written to me before but he has been watching and using my singing tips and affordable singing lesson videos on YouTube for a long time. I do not mention his name here to respect his privacy, but this post will answer his question because it may also help you to set your voice free in ways that can help you to prevent damage to your vocal cords.

He told me that:

  • He easily vocalizes early in the morning with all sorts of “crazy sirens “(I love that)
  • With his sirens and “crazy scales and trills” (I love that too) he can go up and down 4 octaves with no problems in the morning
  • He can imitate an “expressive voice-actor”

I know a lot of people who would love to be able to do what he describes, so what is his problem, you might ask.

Here are his own words:

  • “Sadly, this state of my voice never lasts very long. It is there for some 2 hours and after, [but] as the day progresses, singing and speaking just keeps getting harder, to the level that I sometimes in the evening can’t produce proper head voice at all, just a pushed breathy sound and my speech feels heavy as well. The interesting thing is that this happens independent of hydration, or how much I’ve been speaking or singing (voice usage) that day and where I’ve been. In fact, if I stay silent the whole day and sing only 1 minute every hour, the same thing happens and I can gradually notice myself loosing my free voice.”

Ouch! I feel his pain. How discouraging to be able to sing so freely in the morning and lose it all before the day is over.

He describes the problem as a difficulty in “achieving phonation” or getting the vocal folds to phonate.

First of all, for those of you who do not know what phonation means, here is the simple dictionary meaning: “to articulate speech sounds, especially to cause the vocal cords to vibrate in the execution of a voiced speech sound.”

As you know, I love to simplify terminology in order to give you the best possible singing help, so an even more simple way of saying it is this: to phonate means to make speech or singing sounds with your voice

In his case, he can easily feel things working for him in the morning. In other words, he is able to phonate without problems. But he told me that by evening he can only produce a tone by pushing and it feels like his cords simply are not able to close at all, as though there is something that keeps them open and stretched so that they cannot vibrate (open and close to make sounds).

He went on to say that he needs to sleep for a full night before the situation improves and that when he takes a nap in the afternoon it improves a little bit.

Without seeing or hearing him, it is more difficult to say what is precisely causing this vocal problem, but here is what I think is most likely happening.

He may be pushing too hard in the morning without realizing it

From what he wrote to me I can tell that this young man loves singing and that he wants to go to the next level with his voice. He loves to spin his voice all over the place, feeling the resonance in the bony structure of his head and loves the feeling of joy that this gives him.

With his great enthusiasm, he gives everything he has in the mornings.

By the afternoon or evening everything is gone. After sleeping his voice is okay again.

Why?

  • You must approach singing, vocalizing, practicing and learning with ease and pacing. Ease is the key to sustaining a healthy pair of vocal cords and pacing yourself is the key to creating vocal staying power during the day.
  • In fact, in order to free your voice it is essential that you learn how to work toward your singing goals with ease. If you can spin or sing up and down two to four octaves with what seems like no effort in the morning but then a few hours later you start having problems and then feel like your cords cannot open and close, something you are doing in the morning vocalization is most likely causing them to swell. That’s what happens when vocal cords swell. They feel like they will not open and close. And they swell because of forcing or pushing too hard.

    This can happen even if you don’t realize you are doing it. The symptoms “tell” you the results of the way you are using your voice.

    So, the answer to the problem is that you need to adjust or moderate the way you do warmups, scales, “sirens, or any type of practicing.

    Here is how you can do that.

    Think of Your Voice as an Arc or Arch

    Visualize the way you sing as though your voice were a continuous arc or arch over which you will float or fly or move during the day.

    Think of it as though the first tone in the morning is the beginning of this continuous arc/arch and the other side of the arc/arch is the end of the tone.

    Now think of this arc/arch as something that you cannot cross all at one time, but rather as something that will cause you to pace yourself from the moment you get on it. To “float” over it and keep your energy levels and speed equalized and modulated, you cannot use too much energy too fast at the beginning of the arc/arch (in the morning).

    Think of the entire day as the arc/arch and taking the entire day to get across it.

    This is what you do when you train for athletic events or when you jog or run. You find a pace and a rhythm in your running that is neither too fast nor too slow. You want to get your heart pumping, but not too fast too quickly. You warmup but don’t sprint at first. If you are running a marathon, you find the pace that will enable you to make it to the finish line without collapsing first.

    Singing is like athletics. You must learn to pace yourself.

    In the mornings, begin gently doing soft humming in your middle voice on just a few notes. Don’t spin to the high or low notes right away. Give the vocal cords a chance to “warmup” just like an athlete warms up his muscles before he engages in rigorous exercises.

    After a few minutes of this, begin to add a note above and a note below what you are already singing or spinning. If it feels like you are using too much energy to do this, stop and go back to humming the first few notes. Keep pacing yourself. Only add notes up or down if it is effortless. Sing more softly at first. Pay attention to what your throat feels like. Don’t let the exuberance and pure joy of singing make you neglect to pay attention to what your larynx and vocal cords are telling you.

    Again, pace yourself and think of your voice as that arc/arch over which you must travel for the entire day. Don’t dash across it in the morning. The morning is only the beginning of the arc/arch.

    Stay focused on feeling the ease in singing

    This is part of the singing mindset approach. You must visualize and think about what you are doing before you do it. You must master the sense and feeling of ease by preparing your mindset ahead of time.

    Here is a mindset you can use:

    “My voice is made to last me throughout the entire day. I can pace my energy, my breath, my volume and pitch by letting the morning warmup be like the beginning of the arc/arch or the beginning of the race.”

    Do this, and if you still have problems with your voice during the day then you may be doing something else that is forcing the cords too hard and causing the swelling. If nothing helps, it might be time to see a throat doctor who specializes in vocal problems.

    { 12 comments… add one }
    • DinDanMee August 2, 2011, 9:17 am

      I agree with what you wrote. And it’s actually true, when I practise. But it does not explain why it dissapears in the first place, even when I don’t practise.

      I think I just figured out this might be 2 problems in one after reading. One of it being that something happens what would independent of usage causes me to feel tone production more and more difficult. And the other one being, my automatic response to this state, when I would over exercise in the morning while the voice is still there. Where we come to your article which is wonderfull! And it inspired me that I’ve noticed things today I didn’t notice before.

      So, I’ve first paced the exercising on 3 times a day a limited amount of time! So, this made it sure to me that the folds later in the day didn’t swell. (since there was nothing what could have caused them to do so) In the later afternoon, the voice was not completely there of course. So, I have persistently warmed up on sharp “ng” sirens (not forced, just clean enough in the higher part of the voice) and descending zzziiiiiuuu ziu ziu ziu (accent on a clear “z”) sirens in middle and bottom range. Starting in the higher part of the voice which would get the most difficult as the day goes by and then go down.

      And guess what, I’d say almost complete voice was back after it in each practise. However, the later I started in the day, the longer I needed to warm up to come to a usable singing voice. (not too long, but it would take a longer time than in the morning when the free state is here by default)

      Another thing which happened is that I accidentally noticed something I have never noticed before. And that was, when I am silent and breathe, my tongue tends to almost imperceptibly pull itself in the back. Though I’ve learned to control it in singing, I have never really thought about it when NOT singing. And it turns out that if I’m silent for let’s say 20 minutes, the tongue pulls slowly back, until it’s almost pressing down and I just continue working whatever I do with it in this position. And I only noticed this today.

      I do know some anatomy, I don’t know it perfectly, but isn’t it that when the tongue is allowed to pull back like that, the cords don’t close completely? That’s why we want to keep the tip forward when singing, so not to allow it to slip back and press down. I’m sure I have read somewhere that even when we are silent, the vocal folds have their cycles of closing and opening freely, if I’m not wrong. Every second or so, or after every breath ideally. And if the tongue is pulled back like it happens to me in the day (I don’t know why this happens, it doesn’t happen when I sleep obviously) this is not possible and they tend to stay opened forcefully in a way. Of course when I want to start singing after it, that I experience difficulty in closing them. And it might also explain why the “ng” or the “zzziiii” siren (the exercises which tend to keep folds together and phonation clean) helped later in the day if done long enough. If they were swollen, I wouldn’t be able to get any kind of clear or easy sound later, especially not with practise, it would be even more difficult.

      I suppose, the longer they stayed forcefully opened (as the day progressed), the longer I would need to do exercises which kept the folds together for them to start functioning normally, of course, that would only work if I haven’t over-practised in the morning in the first place, where we come to your article.

      What do you think, could this be it? In any case, these are all observations based on 1-day trial and it seems to work by now, it’s evening here and I can sing well (weee! :)). I’ll take myself few days to test if this keeps working for me…And try to take notice of my tongue while silent as well, and try to monitor other things which might be causing this. Combined with the pacing of voice usage suggested here. It might be a solution, if it worked today.

      Endlessly thank you! 😀 I’m excited now! I’ll keep you updated after I’ve spent a few days with this. If not, then I’ll really start believing I suffer from some sort of abductor spasmodic dysphonia.

      • Joy August 4, 2011, 10:50 am

        If I had about 1,000 people like you we could change the world with our voices!

        What you are doing to free your voice is what everyone needs to do: go deeply inside of themselves to find the answers. I can point the way but cannot do the work for you or anyone else.

        You are thinking correctly and using your anatomical knowledge to help you find answer to the singing help you need. In other words, you rock!

        I want to clarify a couple points, however.

        About the tongue being pulled back. It is not that having the tongue pulled back will prevent the vocal cords from opening. Instead, it makes it harder for the singing tone (or speaking tone) to get through the pharynx area and to the other resonators. Study that article and the picture on that page.

        Also, study this article and pictures about the tongue.

        Then, if you are ready and want to do so, get my 25 minutes digital lesson on the Singing Tongue and go to the next level of understanding.

        At this point, from what you’ve told me, I doubt that you have “some sort of abductor spasmodic dysphonia.”

        Voice problems are generally a lot more easy to solve than most people realize.

        So, now I want you to do something for me.

        I want to you start replacing the words “force” or “forcefully open” with “I sing with an open and relaxed” throat. “My vocal cords work naturally, like a child’s….free and without a struggle.” “All I have to do is vocalize gently and softly for a few moments a day, gradually increasing the volume but only when everything about singing feels easy.” “My tongue works for me and not against me.”

        Keep me posted because I am excited about your progress and the amount of thought you are putting into this.

        Joy!

    • DinDanMee August 23, 2011, 5:21 am

      Hello! Sorry for not answering earlier, but I wanted to give this a little trial so I can base my observations on something.

      First of all, thank you very much for your comment and your kind and encouraging words, I appreciate that really much. I do agree with you, one really needs to go deep inside himself and learn to hear, feel and see how ones body works and reacts to be able to do anything.

      I have read the articles you pointed out and I understand them. When I am able I will also afford myself the tongue video you made.

      I have changed my mindset as well, so that I’m not really thinking about how the voice will go away as the day progresses, I actually try convincing myself it will even get better. xD If it does start to happen that the problem starts appearing again, there is a reason and I approach it logically with exercising to make this go away. Though it happens much less severe if not rarely now, and yesterday I was singing around midnight in perfect voice. (I think my neighbours had a happier life while I had that vocal problem =D)

      But all this aside, I figured in these days however that there is one thing which has extreme impact on the situation and how my voice is after singing and even if not singing. And that is breathing (duh! I’m discovering America all over again =D). But seriously…I have always done breathing exercises, I breath correctly, but I’ve done them usually separately from singing somehow. And some days ago I started my vocal exercising by first doing 15 minutes of breathing workout. I can’t explain you what a HUGE (!!!) difference it made! I have spent 15 minutes doing breathing exercises like the Dog pant, energetic voiceless hu-si, energetic voiceless “st” sound, and the slow leaky tire BEFORE I even sang a tone. It made a huge impact on both my voice, the consistency of tone, on the ability to trill easier, the piano high notes and the crescendo, in fact a difference so big that I can’t put it enough into words.

      It seems the musculature can be developed, it can be exercised, but if I don’t warm it up or activate it/wake it up separately before I start singing, it just doesn’t work in the same way. And when I do this breathing workout prior to singing, I don’t usually feel any signs of voice loss after singing. In fact, I can start all over again in the evening.

      So, the conclusion, at least for me, but I think other people might benefit from it too…NEVER sing a single tone without first doing some serious concentrated breathing workout. It DOES matter. A lot. Even if it’s just for 5-10 minutes. In the last days since I discovered this, I was able to start practising certain pieces which I thought will take me another year or two before I can start working on them properly, but they somehow don’t seem that hard anymore. This brought me on a completely new level. And the solution was so simple.

      So just breathe! =D Thank you again for your words and time, I will continue visiting your site and youtube channell and follow what you do as I’ve done in the years by now. Have a nice day!

      • Joy August 23, 2011, 9:08 am

        Hi,

        You have left wonderful comments here and I appreciate them very much.

        Now I’m wondering if you would like to submit a short video (1-2 minutes) to me of you singing a little something? I could post it on my site and comment on it here.

        Is that something you would like to do?

        Thanks,
        Joy

    • DinDanMee August 23, 2011, 10:27 am

      Hi,

      well, I don’t think I would be able to submit a video currently due to my technical limitations, but I would be able to make an audio recording. It would not be really the best quality, because I only have a built in microphone now, but might be well enough to at least give you a picture. I’ll try to do it after tommorow, because I’m too busy with something tommorow. I’ll sing a few scales or some exercises and a part of Ah! Non credea mirarti. If you will think it is listenable then I’ll trust your expertise and you can post it, because I’m always somehow unsure of how bad/good I sound, because I’m mostly self taught. =) Where should I then when I record it send it to you?

      • Joy August 24, 2011, 8:36 am

        Don’t worry about the quality. Just do it and don’t think that much about it. The key is to relax and enjoy what you are singing. Trying to be perfect when singing is one of the big things that gets in the way.

        It may be a couple of weeks before I can get to this because of the lessons launch, but perhaps you can use Skype to send the audio file to me.

    • DinDanMee September 3, 2011, 9:10 am

      Hi! Sorry for not getting to you earlier, I was busy with some things more than I expected. I recorded something, but I noticed some things I might improve and the piece will need more work than I thought, so I’ll do another one tommorow again and maybe the day after too with something less demanding. Don’t worry, I understand you’re very busy too.

      Anyway, yes, I do have Skype it would be possible for me to send it to you like that. How do I find you?

      • Joy September 20, 2011, 7:34 am

        Hi,

        Now I apologize for taking so long to respond.

        Are you on Facebook? If so, I can send you a private message there to answer the contact question.

        Thanks,
        Joy

    • SharaLee Ward March 11, 2014, 4:38 pm

      Hi Joy, I just came across your website today which I really believe was meant to be, right timing. I’ve been struggling with technique issues with my singing voice, specifically a weird brassy tone in my midi range and then limited range, feels almost pinched in my upper mixed voice, and too much pushing the breath to increase volume. I’ve been working with a great vocal coach online, and she’s helped me quite a bit already, however there are still those lingering issues. I’ve corrected my breath support, and have noticed a difference with stamina, however my range issues are still there, as well as vocal fatigue after only a short time and it got me thinking that maybe it had something to do with my tongue. The description of the girl whose lips and mouth sunk backward or pulled in is exactly like mine, like there is a voice but it’s afraid to come out of something. Anyway, I’ve learned over the last year that a great part of my problem was vocal placement and my voice was coming from the back of my throat rather than in the mask, so doing humming exercises and allowing the voice to float on the breath has really helped that part, but again the hoarseness is still there. I’ve been reading your blog on working with the tongue and making it work for you and not against you, and without hesitation, I purchased your program. I hope it will help me free my voice and sing those powerful and high notes I want to sing in my heart. Any advice would be great! Thanks.

      • Joy March 12, 2014, 6:38 am

        Dear SharaLee,

        Thank you for writing and trusting me with the needs of your voice at this moment in time.

        It sounds like you have had some good training about “floating” the tone and getting the placement forward and into the mask. This is all good.

        So thank you for taking the next step with your voice by utilizing the Singing Tongue digital lesson.

        I truly am here to assist you in any way I can, so if you have any questions at all as you go through the lesson and apply the singing tongue exercises, please feel free to write to contact me with even the slightest detail that you might need help with.

        As far as the singing range issue, I teach a lot about that in the 3rd month of my Fearless Voice Power 3 month course. It is not as hard as everyone thinks to smoothly connect what people commonly call voice registers.

        Here is a voice register article that may help you begin to tackle that next step in your singing development.

        Voice fatigue is almost always associated with too much pushing of the breath and will very often happen as a result of thinking in terms of several voice registers rather than one voice. Thinking of several registers tends to divide the voice into parts which is not helpful for people who want to sing with full freedom and power and without getting hoarse of vocally fatigued.

        I can also recommend that you take a look at my book on Amazon that many people claim has helped them in unexpected ways with their singing and their perceptions about their voices.

        Also, thanks for liking my Singing Mastermind page! I appreciate that you took the effort to do that.

        Sing well, be well,
        Joy

        • SharaLee Ward March 12, 2014, 3:46 pm

          Hi Joy! Thanks for your response. I was anxious to begin the tremendous tongue program today but I haven’t gotten the proper links to my email. Can you advise? I will definitely look into the other suggestions you have made and I will keep you posted as I progress. Thanks again!

          • Joy March 13, 2014, 9:16 am

            SharaLee,

            I sent you an email, but will provide the answer here too in case other people have the same issue.

            What may have happened is that something in your email filters may have thrown the email that has the password into your junk or spam email folder. I have seen this happen before and since everyone uses different email services and sets their preferences differently, I never know whether or not the email will go directly to their inbox or not. It’s one of those strange tech things that are beyond my understanding.

            So, check your spam and junk folders and/or do an overall search for any email that would have come from Singing Mastermind. If you still do not see it, please let me know as soon as possible.

            Kindly,
            Joy

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