When you are singing, stress of any kind can affect your vocals, but in particular tension just before a performance can put an undue amount of strain on your voice.
This is mostly due to how we react to stress without even realising it. These mistakes can easily be negated if you can teach yourself to be aware of them.
Once you know what to look for, it’s simply a case of reminding yourself how to counteract these bad habits and after time, it will become second nature.
Here are some tips to help you relax your vocal cords.
Don’t tense your jaw
One of the top areas of tension when singing is the jaw.
It’s so easy to tense these muscles unintentionally when you are performing because this is the area that you’ll be focusing on the most.
Right before you sing, do some simple warm up exercises and if you find yourself tensing up again, repeat them between songs, or simply when you have a moment.
The most common jaw exercise is to open your mouth as wide as possible and wiggle your lower jaw from side to side. This has the added benefit of increasing your oxygen because it prompts you to breath more deeply. You can also mimic chewing in an exaggerated way. This helps relax and warm the muscles around the jaw and also in the throat.
Relax your body
The tension in your frame can affect your vocal cords and jaw just as much as tension in your jaw or throat. If you find yourself bunching your shoulders and leaning forwards, make a conscious effort to drop your shoulders and straighten your back.
To remind yourself to do this, make a habit of singing with your hands loosely clasped behind your back. As time goes by you can bring your hands forward but the habit of not hunching forwards will already be in place.
The tension in your frame can also be caused by having your microphone too low or too far away. Ensure that you have your microphone stand set to suit your height.
Don't make unnecessary faces
It’s quite common for singers to overdo their facial expressions. This can be attributed to what we observe other singers doing, especially those performing live.
Unfortunately, what we see and what we try to do are two very different things.
You shouldn’t have to force your face into a particular expression in order to sing. Your voice comes from your vocal cords and throat, not from your mouth. Some people sing with their mouths fairly slack and others need to open their mouths wider in order to get the range they desire.
Ultimately, you need to try and find what works for you but don’t assume that you need to force your face or mouth into a certain shape in order to achieve the sound you want. This will do nothing to improve your performance and you run the risk of looking a bit foolish.
Don’t force it
When you first start learning to sing, it’s inevitable that there will be some missed notes or overstrained keys, but as you grow into your own as a singer, you’ll realise that singing should not be hard. You should not feel as though you need to push your voice out of your mouth.
Singing should feel natural and easy. If it feels forced, unfortunately, it's going to sound forced.
Practice can go a long to improving your vocals, but if you feel like you need to strain on your vocal cords to achieve a note, perhaps it’s better to stick to a range you’re more comfortable with.
Always warm up your voice
Your vocal coach drummed those scales into you for a reason. Never, ever sing without warming your voice up first. Even if you’re just jamming with some friends, it’s worth squeezing some scales in or trying to drink some warm water or tea.
Warming up your voice not only helps with your vocal performance but also prevents strain or injury to your vocal cords. And nothing causes more tension than the worry that you’ll be unable to sing due to an injury, even if it is just temporary.
Breath with your stomach
You may have heard this one from your vocal coach already, but when we breath, our lungs and diaphragm extend downwards, not outwards. Keeping your stomach muscles tense will affect the way you inhale and you’ll be unable to take full breaths.
Don’t just expand your chest when you take a breath; be sure to let your stomach expand as well. That said, don’t force your stomach out either, this will only cause more tension. Just try to stay relaxed and go with what feels comfortable.
Ventilate your lungs
If you’re feeling like you can’t quite catch a full breath, ventilate your lungs just before you sing. To do this, take rapid, deep breaths in quick succession. This helps clear the carbon dioxide out of your lungs.
Ultimately, you’ll know when you’re carrying tension in your voice by how you sound. If you feel your vocals are lacking, just pause and take a moment to sense if you’re hunching, straining or tensed up.
Shake out your limbs, take some deeps breaths, and relax your jaw. Your performance will be twice as good if you can teach yourself to relax your vocal cords throughout your performance. Nerves and tension are inevitable, but just as with your tone and pitch, eliminating these stresses is simply a matter of practice.
About the Author: Brian Collins
I am a classically trained singer who believes that every instrument requires maintenance - including the voice! I started my professional music studies at the age of 8 and competed in and won several local and state piano competitions. I graduated with honors and earned my Bachelor of Music Education in 2003, and since then I have studied with famous musicians and teachers around the world. I have also completed hundreds and hundreds of voice lessons, exploring various methods, and attended countless seminars on voice coaching for all ages.