Stretching

If you have ever taken a yoga class you know that after it is over, you feel better. The stretching you do makes the muscles feel looser and freer and the strengthening also invigorates the body. Overall you feel freer and stronger, and if you continue to do this over time, you can feel better and better.

If you are a dancer, and you train every day for years and years, eventually every single muscle in your body gets stretched and toned and becomes exquisitely responsive to your mental intention. If you watch world class dancers in any style, you will see how expressively they move, how they can get their bodies to do things that are far beyond what someone who is in relatively good shape can do but who doesn’t dance. If you watch a professional athlete, you would see much of the same, albeit perhaps in not as refined a manner. Sports like football and boxing do not require delicacy, and things like basketball and hockey are not exactly examples of refinement. Nevertheless, the bodies of the athletes must respond quickly and accurately to the demands of the mind and deal with various other conditions that can only be met through serious long term training. No one would suggest that an Olympic swimmer should learn to swim by just kicking his legs as hard as possible or flapping his arms while his legs remained quiet. Every single movement of an elite level swimmer is scrutinized down to the micro level. Every movement of the fingers and toes, the head, the arms, the torso and the goggles, swimsuit and noseclip have been analyzed to make sure that no extra effort is made and no movement is overdone, even though the swimmer is working full out all the time. There are massage therapists who work on the swimmer as soon as each meet is over and between each round of competition. There are medical specialists to treat any pulled muscles or aches and pains. There are high speed videos to examine after each event, to study and refine anything that wasn’t up to par.

So, if we singers have almost none of that to assist us, and, in fact, if we don’t even have “experts” who know what goes on, let alone how to improve it, that does not bode well for any of us.

I saw today in the “Learning Annex” brochure someone teaching an on-course for them (an “expert”, of course), who offers to teach how to “sing from your diaphragm – the source of your power” and who teaches you how to make your vocal “chords” work better. No kidding. You pay money for this, people.

The muscles involved with singing can be trained, even if you do not understand well what that entails. If you keep your mouth open all the time, which singing frequently involves, you will be stretching the muscles in your jaw, your cheeks, and your mouth, front to back. You will also have to stretch the tongue, as it is attached to the jaw. If you want the tongue to learn to move independently of the jaw, which it has to do in order to be able to change the shape of the vowels without changing the position of the larynx, you have to do tongue flexibility exercises (what are those?). By isolating the movement of the tongue from the jaw and the movement of the front of the tongue from the back (how do you do that?) you gain greater freedom and control at the same time. You can learn to change the shape of the mouth/lips deliberately because doing so has an effect upon the muscles of the back of the mouth, and the way those muscles behave. It is possible to make a very open shape in the mouth and throat (vocal tract) without undue pressure on either, but that takes time and happens generally indirectly in response to attempting to change some aspect of the sound itself.

Most muscles that effect vocal sound do not move very far in conversational speech, therefore they must be deliberately stretched over time in order to facilitate good singing. If you stretch them too much all at once, you just get tightness and resistance. If you stretch them gently over time, they get used to the stretch and end up looser and more flexible. If you do not stretch them, things like high notes sound awful and expressiveness remains very limited. If you do them, the entire mechanism learns to move more freely and to be more responsive to the intention of the singer. You could call it “making the voice dance”.

How many people think this way? How many understand what to do even if they think this way? Why is our profession so very far behind the times? Will it ever catch up to dance or even to sports?

Somatic Voicework™ incorporates exercises that stretch the jaw, move the face, articulate the tongue, front and back (separately from the jaw) and integrate all those movements into one’s conscious awareness, where it can do some good. Come join us in July at Shenandoah Conservatory and learn how to make use of this information. Contact me at: www.thevoiceworkshop.com

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One thought on “Stretching”

  1. I’ll be there! Am very excited to learn more about your approach. I’ve read all your blog posts back to 2006 and they should be required reading for voice ped classes everywhere!

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