Far too often, we hear of vocalists requiring hiatus due to strained vocal chords. This is unfortunate as vocal injuries can be avoided via proper training and practice. Strain occurs when muscles are not properly prepared for an exercise or are overworked. Similar to athletes, vocalists must allot proper dedication and time to vocal training if they intend on using the voice for performance and/or career purposes long term. If a tennis star does not train and develop the needed intrinsic muscles and perform the necessary stretches to support the exertions put on the body by sport, the athlete will surely succumb to injury.
This begs the question, how can opera stars survive long careers and perform successfully well in to their senior years? Why do metal/screamo vocalists so often experience vocal strain?
Many of our vocal students are involved in bands outside of the school which adds pressure on the voice. Despite this strain, they are able to attend classes and all performances. To some extent, operatic aptitude is determined naturally. Loosely speaking, Mariah Carey is a mezzo-soprano, Phil Anselmo is a baritone, Chris Cornell is a high baritone and Axl Rose is a low baritone. What’s interesting is that each of these performers were able to develop their vocal range and operatic ability as they matured in their professional careers. In fact, at the Frederic Chopin Music, we have noticed many students increase their range and power of their voice over the years. It is not uncommon to a mezzo-soprano to become a full soprano with dedication and practice.
During her performance career, the Frederic Chopin Music School’s director, Grazyna Szacon, used to perform nightly with different bands in venues. By day, she was also using her voice in opera classes. Grazyna Szacon says, “For a teacher, it is painful to hear a vocalist tearing their voice. It is easy to notice throat singing and pick up that a voice is being damaged – sometimes even just by talking. Classical vocal training is designed to protect the voice and minimize strain.”
I asked Grazyna to suggest a few classical vocal tips for singers to protect their voices.
- Focus on diaphragmatic breathing: This is a technique wherein the vocalist sings from the belly, not the throat. Meaning, air expelled comes from the belly and it should deflate as your sing. A common exercise is to inhale deeply and fill up the belly then release the air over a prolonged timeframe with pursed lips, allowing only a “SSSSS” (like a snake) to escape from the lips. This technique removes strain from the throat to hold or reach higher notes.
- Always warm up the voice before performing or practice: One of the best exercises is to warm up by humming, starting at lower notes working up in scales. Using “MMMM” sounds is most helpful because it encourages vibrations in the nasal cavity and sinuses. It allows for a clearer pitch, and thus, removes strain from the throat.
- Open your mouth! This may seem obvious when singing, but the more a vocalist opens their mouth, the less strain is put on the throat. In fact, Grazyna says that vocalists should think of yawning when singing because this is the best position for the throat to be in to avoid injury.
If you would like to learn more about best vocal practices, please contact us.
Call 905 279 7761 or send us a note!