I know that YANMVC (You are not my vocal coach), but . . .
January 7, 2014 11:47 PM   Subscribe

I have been singing more - again! - recently. I've always loved to sing, but I haven't done it any organized way since high school. I warm up, I've read about proper vocal technique, but I am clearly doing something wrong because my throat is starting to feel tight. Help!

I never took voice lessons, but I was in choir, sang in a madrigals group, and did some solo jazz and rock singing back in the day. I've been tossing around the idea of trying to audition for musicals, so I've been singing more recently. I have a very deep voice - definitely a contralto, but I can sing low mezzo parts - and I have had problems with straining for high notes in the past. I am really, really trying not to do that, but clearly I am fucking up.

It's possible that I'm just getting sick, because my throat feels really tight and sore right now and other than a few bars of something silly from Les Mis in the shower this morning, I have been taking it really easy, voice-wise, for the past couple of days. How can I differentiate between a normal throat tickle and ZOMG nodules! tickle?

I know that I should meet with a vocal coach - and I'm looking into it, despite my shitty financial situation as of late - but do any singing Mefites have any tips for a low-voiced lady who doesn't want to ruin the two good octaves she has? Vocal warm-ups? Belting without straining?
posted by ablazingsaddle to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not a professional, but I think of my voice just like a muscle you might pull when out running. I.e. if you strain it (which is easy to do if you're not warming up enough, especially as you get older) let it rest until it feels better, then start back up very slowly, a little more each day.

You can't sing through strain, just like you can't run through it. So warm up a lot longer than usual, and don't sing until it hurts - stop before you think you need to.

Do you have a nice range of very safe warm-ups that you do? How long are you warming up for before you start to sing?

And yeah, don't sing while you're ill. It's hard, unsatisfying, and I'd imagine it's much easier to injure your voice that way. I find that my throat is too phlegmy to sing properly for at least a week after other cold/flu symptoms have cleared up, ymmv.
posted by greenish at 6:23 AM on January 8, 2014

Put your hand under your chin touching the underside of your chin and the top of your neck. Start singing from the most comfortable spot for you up as high as you can go. You'll feel pressure as you go up the scale - that's the tension in your tongue that's possibly causing you to feel strain. Try to relax that area as you sing higher and go back down as soon as you feel it tense, then try again. Focus more on keeping everything you're touching relaxed than on making a loud sound or singing a beautiful note. Can't promise this will solve your problem, but it's something to try. Also, obviously, make sure you're taking deep breaths that expand your stomach in every direction (back front side to side) and using your diaphragm so that your singing is well-supported.
posted by prefpara at 7:58 AM on January 8, 2014

If you've got musicals on the brain and are singing Les Mis in the shower with those amazing acoustics, it is possible you're really belting it out and not noticing. Musicals often require that and (in my circle at least) were notorious for vocal strain.

One trick I learned was the use my hands a LOT when I sing. My choir had a kind of idiosyncratic method, so putting your flat hand at waist-level focused you on keeping quiet, and you'd raise your hand as you wanted to slowly raise your volume. No going to 11!

Another neat trick was "spinning," a word my instructor used to describe shaking your hand back and forth to represent your breath control on a long or especially high note. Somehow the physical action connected my brain to "save your breath, grow slowly, take care..." etc.

Some other basic visualizations: chest voice comes out through my belly (so I focused on my diaphragm and internal support) and head voice comes out through my eyes (though of course, you still need that diaphragm support). The latter was also accompanied by a gesture, usually a fist with my thumb on top, starting close to my eyes and moving away in front of me as the note developed. It sounds crazy, but when you try to pinpoint it like that, it makes you really respect those high notes and take your time to master them.

Trilling warmups and whatever this is called (at around :50) also helped.

Finally, if you are like me and tend to sing along to songs/accompaniment, recognize that you may be being more careless than if you had sight-read and learned it a capella.

I tried to search for videos that demonstrate some of the silly hand stuff I talked about, but there's nothing obvious. However, I fell into a small Internet black hole, and this also seems relevant and helpful.
posted by juliplease at 8:00 AM on January 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is a long shot, and not something you can really diagnose over the internet, but between your description of yourself as a "very deep contralto" and your problems straining for high notes, I'm wondering how much time you've spent developing your midvoice and head voice. (Where's your break? If your answer is "I don't know," then chances are good that this might be what's going on.) Singing in chest voice is great for low power, but you have to take a LOT of care once you take it up or you can shred yourself out. do you have like a "falsetto" kind of voice that you can sing higher notes in? When you say "high" notes, how high are we talking?
posted by KathrynT at 9:40 AM on January 8, 2014

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