In his wonderful book, “The Musician’s Way,” Gerald Klickstein lists several ‘Habits of Excellence’ that include the following:
Notice that the first thing on the list is ‘ease.’ So many singers exhibit tongue, jaw, throat, and torso tensions during the act of singing. I’ve even noticed some singers shake in synchronicity with their tremolo! These are all effects of functional causes, and can be ameliorated with a focus on the root causes of the issues – restoring ease to the singing voice. When any muscle can move freely and easily, the psyche ‘unarmors’ and singing becomes a pleasurable act not only for the singer, but for those listening as well.
Convincing a singer to aim for ease can be distinctly challenging for those that believe that they need to DO or MAKE something when singing. Dramatic singers often suffer from this the most, as do singers that are obsessed over the SIZE of their voices. Ease in all aspects of singing is something that singers need to conscientiously cultivate on a daily basis. The easier the movement of the required vocal ‘parts’, the freer and more beautiful the sound.
As a singer from a classical background, I can’t tell you how many times I come to singing with a sense of ‘make the sound, get the power.’ All of that psychology got me NOWHERE pretty fast as the body started to work against everything I was TRYING to do. So, I’ve decided that I’m not going to pay anymore dues to the Overdoer’s Club, despite the culture of overdoing and too muchness that we live in. I’ve decided in my own work that if it isn’t easy for me, then it’s just wrong. And I’m okay with that.
One of the best ways to start any practice session or voice lesson is with a module of ‘relaxation’. This is something that I learned from Jeannette LoVetri. By starting any ‘phonetic’ act with a focus on ease, the subsequent session will build upon the freedom established in the body from the beginning. Some of the areas of relaxation are the face, head and neck, the digastric muscles, the torso, the tongue, and the jaw. Active rest from Alexander Technique is also a valuable tool to transition students from ‘real life’ to ‘singing time’. It can bring the body into a calm stillness, and for those singers who come in to the studio in a flurry of manic excitement this is a tremendously beneficial exercise.
Another useful tool in the studio is the “Stretch Deck“. This is a deck of 50 cards with different stretches. You can ‘mix and match’ them for each student so the routine is varied. These are great ways to start a session, and very fun. Students can even pick out their favorites if they’d like.
When singing or practicing ask yourself, “Is this as easy as it can be?”. Trying too hard can be a singer’s greatest challenge to overcome. EASE is at the top of Klickstein’s list for a reason. Whether you sing Wagner, rock and roll, or musical theater, make space in your practice for EASE first and foremost. If it is physically HARD, something is definitely wrong.