Our voices are unique to any other instrument, in that we carry them with us all day, every day. It is as much affected by study and practice as it is by the spectrum of the human experience. Emotions, environment, health, sleep (or lack thereof), focus, and so forth, all factor into the condition of our voices on a daily basis. Progression within the voice is not always linear. There are peaks and valleys which mirror the overall condition of our bodies, mentality, and spirit.
We often think that in order to achieve improvement we need to devote grand amounts of time to the endeavor. But when it comes to self-practice and positive habit formation, it’s more about consistency rather than quantity of time.
One of the biggest concerns from all my students, beginner to advanced is, “How do I fit healthy vocal habits into my hectic schedule?
If you can devote the amount of time it takes to brush your teeth to engage in self-practice daily, you will see your awareness, focus, and skill dramatically improve. At the start of a new year, we typically set lofty goals for ourselves and abandon ship at the sign of the first slip. I encourage you to let the outlook be more causal:
Try ONE of the below exercises at a time. Then try a few in combination. Try building up to doing all in a daily practice. Then take a break and come back. Don’t judge yourself if you fall off course. Just pick up and begin and begin and begin again…
AWAKE AND SPEAK!
Most of us go from the silence of sleep right into full talking (or screaming) mode. It is important to transition the voice out of its quiet mindfully.
• BEFORE leaving bed, looking at your devices, or engaging with another person, take a few moments upon waking to silently express awareness and gratitude.
• As you proceed in your typical morning routine, incorporate light humming, hissing, buzzing, or lip trills to being the process of sound-making.
• Do a series of light sighs moving throughout the vowels: A E I O U
• Increase the volume slightly, add an “H” to the sighs:
• Try quietly reading aloud a small portion of a book, poem, article, or affirmation you are currently interested in. Repeat it again at a slightly louder volume.
• When engaging with your roommate, partner, or children in the morning, have consciousness regarding your volume, stress, sensations, and emotions. See if you can be more mindful of your voice in different spoken situations.
PRANAYAMA (Conscious Breath Practice)
There are so many wonderful exercises to engage/enhance your conscious breath practice. YOGA JOURNAL has a great resource HERE
But for the start of a new year, it’s nice to have a meat ’n taters, no-frills, go-to method that you can practice whenever/wherever. Here’s one to try:
INHALE on a 5 count
HOLD BREATH for 1 count
EXHALE on a 5 count
Repeat and increase the length of the HELD breath +1 each round until you reach five
Then repeat and decrease the HELD breath from 5 until you reach 1 again
(There will be 10 rounds of breath total)
• Begin to compile awareness and dissect the sound of human voices around you, both spoken and sung. Pay attention to volume, accent, pitch, tonality, and what part of their voice is being utilized (chest voice, head voice, mix).
• Listen to the voices of loved ones, friends, colleagues, and strangers.
• Listen and observe other artists practicing or performing their craft: speaking voices, voiceover, animation/character, singers etc. Do so with objectivity, not with preference to only pleasing sounds and voices.
• Play with exploration and mimicry in your own voice. Without strain, play with sound-making as more recreational that practical. Have fun with mirroring sounds and voices. It may seem paradoxical, but when done experimentally (not in performance), this exercise can actually help one’s true vocal identity to emerge or solidify.
KEEP IT TO YOURSELF
Learning to sing quietly helps prevent the push of over vocalization and teaches you about specificity and placement. Make sure to be aware of breath control, relaxation in the throat and neck, otherwise it becomes difficult to make the tones sound.
• Sing softly to yourself in public or private places where you don’t want to be actively heard by others. Study the control-relaxation ratio it takes to sustain tone, pitch, and emotional connection while singing at your lowest volume (stay ABOVE a whisper!)
SING OUT, LOUISE!
• WITHOUT STRAIN, TENSION, OR PUSHING, increase your singing volume in places where you are comfortable and have privacy: home alone, in the shower, on a lone hike, in the car…
• Try letting your physical body mirror the freedom of your volume. Use bigger gestures, swing the arms, let the direction of your body navigate the sound of your voice (Let’s NOT try this one in the car, mmkay?)
• Now, try letting your physical body do the opposite of what the voice is doing. When you are hitting high notes, bend knees, point downward. When you are hitting low notes, feel light airy, point upward.
• Observe and document what worked and what was challenging.
GOODNITE, SWEETHEART, GOODNITE
Preparation for and quality of sleep is of utmost importance to a vocalist. Make the bedroom a sanctuary. Try not to do anything work related or stress-inducing in the bedroom. Create an environment that is restorative and healing so you can prepare your self and soul upon waking the next day.
• Buy a cool-air humidifier or oil-diffuser
The humidifier keeps your throat and cords hydrated and essential oils are amazing for relaxation and respiratory health.
• If noise is an issue, try a sound machine or app:
This app was a saving grace for me while dealing with everlasting construction outside my apartment building:
SIMPLY NOISE: (I use the “brown noise” setting for sleep.)
End the day the same way you begin it, with active gratitude for all things you hold dear.
Again, many options here, but a great everyday meditation is to do a full scan of the breath (noticing rhythms, patterns, emphasis), the physical body (addressing tension, then actively releasing it), mentality (letting thoughts arise, then actively releasing them), and spirituality (letting emotions emerge, then letting them settle).
There are also several wonderful meditation websites/apps, if you’d prefer something assisted.
For more information on lessons, meditation, voice, or yoga, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org