Cause Before Effect

You cannot fix vocal problems by working only on breathing, in whatever way you work on breathing.

In CCM styles the most common problem singers encounter is constriction of the inner muscles of the throat. I have said this 1,000 times but people don’t want to get that. If the singer has a problem with fatigue, with high notes, with sustaining, it has to be that they are not BREATHING correctly. (See previous post about a big bridge in Brooklyn for sale cheap). No, their throat is closing (usually unconsciously) and that is caused by constriction, or the use of the swallowing muscles while you sing. Why is this hard to get????

After all, there are pedagogical methods out there that actually TEACH you to constrict your throat so you can sound “contemporary”. So, constriction must be OK, right? Swallowing while singing can certainly make you sound super cool, if you want to sound like Cher did years ago. (She has studied recently and sounds better than when she first began.)

I had a conversation once with a very highly regarded teacher (classically trained, but teaches everything) who had never heard of constriction. His favorite go-to term was compression. Had any compression issues lately? I just read on a chat room site (not mine) that it’s important to be able to “lean into” the sound. Is that different from compression? How much leaning into is too much compression?   [ : / ] Should you lean into the breath but not compress the vocal folds? How does that work, exactly? Maybe lean into the vocal folds but not compress the breathing? [ : (  ] Lean into the sound but release the breath?  [tra-la-la]

If you do not understand the impact of the muscles in the tongue (there are many) and how the larynx hangs suspended from it in the front and from the constrictors on the sides walls of the throat, you can’t fix constriction so you go to breathing exercises or “bringing the sound forward and up” (and that makes the constriction worse). I saw a major master class teacher do this once at Juilliard with a very constricted tenor doing art songs. I sat in the audience alongside a SLP who kept saying to me, “Doesn’t she know that his larynx is already up too high?” I told her, “No. This woman has actually stated in print that she is the only person who really understandsthe voice and can teach singing. The only one. Sadly, she probably has no idea that his throat is constricted.” She kept telling the poor guy to lift up, bring the sound up into your head, go forward, and his throat kept getting tighter and tighter and he sounded worse and worse. Then, guess what? She went to his breathing. Where else could she go?????

You also have to understand that our throat muscles constrict involuntarily when we are frightened or stressed. They respond to the messages of the brain automatically. Many people have chronic stress that leads to stiffened vocal muscles and, if they sing, they will struggle with everything until that tenson is worked loose. It has nothing to do with “thinking” or “thinking too much”. It has to do with understanding the nature of the central nervous system and it’s connection to being alive. To deal with constriction that is severe and chronic, you have to understand the muscles in the throat and neck, inside the mouth and in the face, and in the tongue. You CANNOT improve the breathing if you do not first fix the physical patterns that interfere with it. Often, when the muscles in the throat let go, the breath will release at the same time, spontaneously. You cannot expect the effect to remedy the cause.

The strongest program we have in our brains is to breathe. You cannot override this programming through an act of will. Any kind of squeezing will make it harder to inhale and will add to a self-reinforcing negative cycle of poor vocal response. This, in turn, will make for lousy singing. Yes, breathing is important, especially to classical singers, but it is hardly a universal pancea for all vocal ills. Do some reading. Look at “Psyche and Soma” by Cornelius Reid.


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