Over the decades I’ve heard voice teachers and coaches say to students, “You are afraid. You are holding back. You are thinking too much”. The student nods her head and gathers up her pluckiness to try again to “do it better”. Sadly, this situation indicates great ignorance on the part of the teacher.
The throat closes when you are threatened. You have nothing to do with that response. It is deeply programmed into your Reptilian brain and you aren’t meant to override it with your conscious mind or will power. If you are nervous about what will come out of your mouth, because you really don’t know what will come out, that is a situation which provokes anxiety. If you are seeking to let the sound out freely and easily and it simply won’t come out freely and easily no matter what you do, that is a situation which provokes anxiety. If your throat is tight or stuck or closed for any reason, and you did not sit down and decide to tighten it on purpose, (and some methods actually ask you to do that, which is crazy), the only way to get through the tension is to work with a conscious intention of “letting go”. If you know your throat is squeezed and you sing anyway, doing so will provoke anxiety and inhibit respiration. Doing so will: PROVOKE ANXIETY AND INHIBIT RESPIRATION.
Letting go of the swallowing muscles (indirectly) is a confrontation with the forces the body that are there to help us survive threats. Seeking to let go of such deeply buried tensions reverses the process and asks that we pass through the fear that caused the muscles to get stuck in the first place. Letting go, or trying to let go, provokes the same anxiety that caused the problem, particularly if the structures in the throat have been stuck and almost immoveable for a long time. When you have finally moved through the holding in the constrictors, and you are singing in a freely produced sound, you transform anxiety into excitement. When the fear is gone and you can sing from a place of freedom and excitement you will wonder why anyone would ever advocate deliberately constricting anything in the throat or moving structures in the throat on purpose. You will see why that kind of instruction is the opposite of creating a healing environment through your singing for yourself or your audience.
If you studying with a teacher of technique, and you hear, “Don’t be so afraid. Don’t hold back! You are thinking too much!!” have the courage to explain to your teacher that you are not holding back, it’s your THROAT that is holding back. In fact, you can say, politely of course, “If I were able to really let go and sing freely, I wouldn’t be here working with you right now. It’s your job to help me find ways to coax my throat to let go”. That will raise some eyebrows, but be brave, and speak up.
In its most extreme version, the flight/fright mechanism in the brain is what causes us to go into shock. The blood leaves the extremities (hands and feet) it flows to the core (organs) and inhibits the breathing. It’s a version of a deer frozen in a car’s headlights. You stop moving. You can’t move. Thankfully, it’s rare for us to be a situation that is so horrible that we go all the way into shock, but the reaction we have when we are “anxious” or “nervous” is a low-grade threat and the body does the same thing. So, in addition to general stress of being alive on the planet at this time, we have the additional stressors from our personal lives and then, we go audition for something. Guess what? We stop breathing. The throat closes and we “can’t sing”.
The training process is supposed to interface with this reaction and help you ride on top of the nervousness, giving you command over your body’s ability to breathe, and to “biofeedback” yourself to a calmer state. Trained relaxation in the body and throat can develop the capacity to override these reactions, at least to minimize them. Once the throat is open it is much easier to keep it open through repeated exercise (vocalizing). Then, fear becomes excitement. There is nothing more exciting than singing this way and hearing someone sing without any fear. A pushed, shoved driven sound makes us cringe. A free sound gives us shivers.