Muscles are supposed to stretch and contract. That is how they function when they are healthy and by doing so, they maintain good muscle tone or tonicity. Muscles that do not stretch are very tight and muscles that do not contract are very weak. Neither situation is a good one. In order for the muscles to do the job(s) they were intended to do (and there are many) they need to be activated. In order to develop greater flexibility, they must be stretched. In order for them to develop greater strength, they must be stressed. In other words, you have to go past their normal comfort zone either way to develop more flexibility and more strength.
Muscles are also supposed to be able to do their job my moving independently of other muscles that do nothing to contribute to that job. Everyone who is in good condition ends up working until each muscle does its own job without interference from other muscles. This articulation of muscles is what people who want “ripped” abs are going after, and it is what body builders seek, in that they want each individual muscle to be visible when they contract them in various poses. It is what gives dancers expressive control over every moment and it should, in singers, give us a wide variety of tone qualities, vowels, consonants, pitches and volumes when we are technically skilled. It SHOULD…..but
Muscles do not always work independently and in fact, in those individuals who are less than “toned”, they often do not work much, period. Getting the individuation takes time. The muscles may be getting a message from the mind instantaneously but the response they make to that message could be so small as to be unnoticeable. This is where clarity of intention is important and patient repetition cannot be substituted for something else. Asking your throat to make a louder sound or a higher pitch is what it is. Substituting one request for the other won’t help get either thing to be more available or correct.
If we remember that it takes about 55 sets of muscles to make a voiced sound, and that there are 35 muscles in the tongue alone, we can understand why it takes a long time to get a fully developed, free, strong vocal instrument. Every one of those muscles has an impact on what the vocal ligaments can accomplish. Even though the vocal folds are the source of the sound, the muscles in the pharynx, the soft palate, the tongue, the jaw, the face, the mouth/lips, the neck, the shoulders, the upper back, the belly and the diagphragm (inside) have an impact on how the sound is made and controlled. Who can coordinate all that over two octaves or more right away?
When any muscles have not been actively energized, they can get “stuck” to the muscles nearby. The fascia, or connective tissue, should allow the muscles to “slip and slide” over each other, moving smoothly, but there can be adhesions preventing one muscle from moving without being restricted by its neighbor. In essence, the muscles are stuck together. The bodywork practioners who move the fascia (deep muscle massage, myofascial release, structural integration, etc.) help to “unstick” one muscle from another through manual manipulation. In an area where there has been little or restricted stimulation or movement, activating a muscle, in isolation, could be almost impossible without intervention of some kind. You can’t stick your fingers in your throat to pull the muscles fibers of your tongue apart and make them work independently. You can’t make the muscles of your soft palate lift and stretch by holding them up with your fingers either. How do you get these muscles to move and how do you get that movement not to pull other muscles along for the ride?
If you work on producing resonance with breath support, opening and closing your mouth and pronouncing clear consonants, you could work for most of your life and not get very far, at least technically, from a purely physical place.
This complicates singing and learning to sing. The muscles of the tongue, for instance, don’t move much in an untrained voice. When you seek to get the tongue muscles to move you must do so by asking for some kind of change in the position of the tongue and couple that with some kind of sound. In the first responses the singer gives you, there may be a bunch of other chaotic movements at the same time, many of which you do not ideally want. So the sound improves in one way but gets worse in another. [Common occurance.] Over time, the muscle response one is seeking can become strong enough to pull the targeted muscle away from any neighbors, freeing it to operate as it should, on its own. This is the only avenue available to us for the muscles deep within the throat and neck. Said a different way, the only available intervention for those deep inner muscles is the sound itself. Making the sound go where you want it to go ends up making the muscles that influence the sound go there easier. In the end, the movement makes the sound and the sound creates the movement. When you realize that all of this is indirect, except for muscles that you can see with your eyes and touch with your fingers on the outside of your body, it is amazing to realize that we can accomplish what we do with vocal training at all.
The single most direct tool in this journey is the cultivation of separate vocal registers, and accuracy of undistorted, unmanipulated vowel sounds.
As the muscles involved in making voiced sound become “individuated” or “articulated”, they allow the singer to have greater responsiveness and greater control, even if the person singing has never heard of or thought about the complex musculature that produces what we call “voice”.