An aspiring singer recently wrote me asking this, “I cannot keep my voice steady when I sing on the stage, because I get nervous and suffer severe stage fright. Can you give me some professional advice on why this might be happening and how to fix the problem?”
I investigated the throat of a man who has the exact same issues, and here are my findings.
I purposely put him in an atmosphere to simulate his nervous feelings and stage fright. This atmosphere was a room with a fairly large audience surrounding him while he sang. I used a video camera and recorded the entire performance. I also focused in on him, checking and observing his throat when he was singing. He stated after the performance that he indeed felt nervous and suffered moderate to severe stage fright.
After the performance with the audience, I then relocated him to a smaller more private setting. It was a soundproof room with only him and I present. I gave him a few minutes to relax and then asked him to sing again. He stated he did not feel nervous or any stage fright when singing in this second setting. I recorded in the same fashion also focusing in on his throat with the camera, while checking and observing his throat.
After reviewing the footage of when he was feeling nervous singing in front of an audience, I concluded that his larynx was hardened, in a deep position and he displayed decreased movements.
In the private more relaxed setting where it was just the two of us, his larynx was not hard.
Shortly after concluding the first investigation I then examined two other subjects, to further my findings, who naturally have soft larynxes. Even when they stated they had felt nervous and displayed obvious stage fright before, during and after singing, their larynxes did not get hard. These people who naturally possess a soft larynx never showed such problems as, not being able to let out their voices due to stage fright or nervousness. The quality of the voice was not at their best but the physical aspects/changes surrounding the stage fright were not present.
From the results:
People who naturally have a soft larynx … do not display a hard larynx when experiencing stage fright singing in front of people, and are not easily influenced or intimidated to changing environments.
People who naturally have a hard larynx … easily get stage fright when singing in front of people, and are sensitive to drastic changes in their surrounding environment.
Keep in mind that, people who have a soft larynx do not have all have good quality singing voices. My study was not measuring quality, only physically measurable changes. In conclusion my studies have proven that those who have naturally soft larynxes are not easily affected or influenced physically to stage fright or extreme nervousness. Whereas, people with hard larynxes appear to be more sensitive and visually are effected.
Please work towards having flexibility with your larynx. In doing so, I’m sure that you can and will succeed in singing on the big stage without feeling nervous or showing signs of stage fright.
Having a ‘soft larynx’ means that have you have flexibility and can produce smooth movements quickly and easily. For many people having a soft larynx is easy and comes natural, but for others it can be attained/acquired through training and practice.
The vocal cord is composed of muscle and folds of mucosa, and does not move by itself without contracting these muscles.
The vocal cord closes to narrow the path of breath. The vocal cords then vibrate by exhalation and make sound.
The closing and opening of the vocal cord are done by muscles, which attach to the arytenoid cartilage, such as the posterior cricoarytenoid muscle or the lateral cricoarytenoid muscle. All muscles moves by themselves.
However, there is another way to close the vocal cord.
When the expiration of air is passing through the glottis, the muscles becomes the negative pressure around the glottis and the vocal cord gets closer to each other. We call that “Bernoulli’s theorem”.
If you exhale more, it is easier to let out a strong voice, because you can open and close the vocal cord naturally without using a lot of power.
There are two important points that have to be in consideration to use Bernoulli’s theorem.
(1)Be aware that, more expiratory pressure will make the vocal cords closer.
(2)The vocal cords will not get closer if the vocal cords’ mucosa is not present and flexible.
If either one of the above stated factors are missing, then applying the theory to the will be unsuccessful. Practicing and exploring different training and breathing techniques is truly important when figuring out which route is the best and most efficient in improving your voice.
I often hear, that if you can master abdominal breathing, you will be better at singing.
When it comes to breathing there are two kinds, abdominal breathing and costal breathing. Abdominal breathing moves the abdominal muscles and contracts the diaphragm. Whereas, costal breathing (chest breathing) uses the intercostals (the muscles surrounding the ribs) for breathing.
However, it is a fact that abdominal breathing also uses slight movements of the intercostals. Abdominal breathing is marked by expansion of the abdomen rather than the chest when breathing. It is considered by some to be a healthier way to breathe.
The air when breathing in both instances, the air never comes into the belly. It only enters and exits through the lungs.
“Put air into the belly,” is okay when used only as an expression. It is not actually a true fact that that is what is ocurring.
The diaphragm also always moves during costal breathing.
The diaphragm is the main muscle of respiration, playing a very important role in exhalation or inhalation, which is known as the breathing process. Every breath uses the diaphragm.
Therefore, costal breathing contrasts with abdominal breathing, and we as humans generally utilize both breathing techniques.
If your abdominal muscles cannot move well, then you are not good at abdominal breathing. If your costovertebral joints cannot move well, then you are not good at costal breathing. These variances decide if you use shallow or deep breathing more.
In conclusion, focusing on only abdominal breathing, will not make you better at singing. Both abdominal breathing and taking breaths properly will make you better at singing. The best and most talented singers have the ability to control their breaths, and use mixed breathing techniques when singing.
The MRI scans of chest and belly.
During vocal lessons, I often hear Instructors say, “lift up your soft palate higher.”
Almost every student struggles lifting up the soft palate.
I’ve investigated whether the soft palate lifts up easily, or not.
The soft palate is the soft tissue in the back of the roof of the mouth, and it is moveable. It is responsible for closing off the nasal passages during the act of swallowing, and also for closing off the airway. During sneezing, it protects the nasal passage by diverting a portion of the excreted substance to the mouth. Most vocal sounds are made with the middle part of the tongue touching the soft palate, this is known as a velar consonant. It is possible for the soft palate to retract and elevate during speech, to separate the oral cavity (mouth) from the nasal cavity in order to produce vocal sounds. If this separation is incomplete, air escapes through the nose, and causes the vocalizations produced to sound nasally.
The soft palate and the hard palate are connected and share common tissue. The hard palate which is at the front of the mouth contains bone. The soft palate does not contain bone. It is usually moved by the levator veli palatini muscle, which is a small muscle that lifts up the soft palate and carries the food to the pharynx when swallowing.
I’ve researched this muscle to see if it can be controlled, by lifting up the soft palate on purpose.
My research consisted of touching the soft palate of two professional singers by carefully observing and docoumenting their movements.
A:One singer can lift up the soft palate but not stretch or extend it wide. When I opened the mouth and touched the soft palate, the temporomandibular joint moved. This movement increased the oral space, and then extended the muscles in the cheeks.
B:The second singer, which I performed the same process as the first, did not move the soft palate at all and the oral space did not increase.
Next, I measured the distance between the center of the soft palate and the front teeth. Then I inserted a bar into the mouth of each singer. This bar is more than double the measurment of the distance between the soft palate and the front teeth.
If the soft palate goes up, the bar moves to down. Using this bar I can accurately measure the movement of the soft palate.
I asked them to intentionally lift up their soft palates.
A:The bar moved down half an inch, this means that the soft palate also went up a half an inch.
B:The bar never moved.
From these results I have concluded that, there are indeed some people who can lift up the soft palate easily and intentionally. When the soft palate is lifted, it only went up half an inch. Although the movement was minor, it is effective if your intent is to increase the space in the oral cavity.
If a person is instructed in vocal training to lift up the soft palate on purpose, keep in mind that even if they are sucessful it might be not as high a movement as expected.
(Red is the soft palate and the beige is the oral cavity)
Last time, I introduced training of the cricothyroid muscle using a rubber tube.
This training is a similar exercise, targeting the pendent moiety of the cricothyroid muscle.
The pendent part mostly works using hinged movements. Using dynamic and speedy movements, making it possible to be able to change the voice’s pitch almost instantly.
The cricothyroid muscle has another part though, which is the oblique part. This part assists the cricoid cartilage and the thyroid cartilage, by sliding and extending the vocal folds.
The following photo shows the anatomy of an isolated larynx which is taken from Laryngeal Functional Surgery at the Mayo Clinic in the U.S.A.
They removed ligaments and articular capsules, repaired dislocated joints and moved the inferior horn.
Findings displayed an ellipsoidal dent in the side of the horn, after removing soft tissues of the cricoid cartilage.
This is the glenoid cavity of the cricothyroid articulation.
The black line mentions the outline of the cricoid cartilage and the thyroid cartilage, the blue small eclipse is the glenoid cavity.
The glenoid cavity is very small and movement distance is also very small. The inside of the upper part moves, producing the high-pitched voice.
The cricothyroid muscle moves to the lower part of the thyroid cartilage from the upper part of the cricoid cartilage.
The pendent moiety produces the same movements, but the angle is different.
The penend moiety is vertical and the oblique part is skewed. The penend moiety bends and lift up the cricoid cartilage.
The oblique part moves toward the cervical spine, whilst the cricoid cartilage is in the back.
However, when I tried to repair a singer in a similar fashion, who could not let out a high pitched-voice vey well, it was really hard to diagnose and check the issues over the exterior skin. This is because so many other muscles were moving together at the same time.
When training the oblique part, you have to find the location of the cricoid cartilage first. Then, pinch the side of the cricoid cartilage using your thumb and index finger over the skin tightly. Pull the skin at approximately 2 inches for a woman and 3 inches for a man.
You should not exceed this measurement at the top of the cricoid cartilage when you pull your skin. It must be in the correct position. Then you should let out low pitched vocal sounds.
At this time, please imagine making the shape of your mouth like an “e” sound, while the shape of your lip should look like an “a” sound, and then escalate to higher pitches gradually. If you feel your cricoid cartilage getting in, please pull your skin out with your fingers slowly.
If you pull your skin too strong, you cannot let out a high pitched-voice, because of an obstruction in the sliding of the cricoid cartilage.
I would be very pleased if my guidance helps you to get a good high pitched-voice after trying this brief exercise.
Note: The distance may vary, depending on the person. Please be careful about doing too much excessive exercise in this area. We are not responsible for any accidents or injury which may occur. Please use discretion and take full responsibility for your actions.
The cricothyroid muscle is essential to let out a high pitcheed voice.
I’ll introduce training the cricothyroid muscle using a rubber tube, which also known as a resistance band.
But, this training is only for the pendent moiety of the cricothyroid muscle.
First, please prepare the rubber tube for exercise. The length should be 4 or 8 inches. Grab both ends of the tube while keeping it parallel to your body. Then, put it in between the cricoid cartilage and the thyroid cartilage, and create light resistance on the tube. Please do not press the throat strongly at this time.
The following figure shows how to do this training. (This model is bigger than actual size)
Please repeat over and over again, without vocalizing. This means, only using standard breathing.
At this time, imagine making the shape of your mouth like an “e” and the shape of your lip look like an “a”.
The reason why you should not let out your voice, is because the rubber tube will probably press your throat and cannot bend the cricothyroid articulation. If you try to let out the voice with this status, the vocal cord strains and makes the voice sound harsh.
Please try to crush the rubber tube when you are doing this exercise.
I’ll explain on the following figure.
1:Low pitch without the voice.
2:High pitch without the voice. You can see that the cricothyroid articulation is bending, and getting close between the cricoid cartilage and the thyroid cartilage.
The yellow circle is the rubber tube and the red circle is the pendant moiety of the cricothyroid muscle.
You can do 10 reps or 1000 reps depending on your condition.
The final outcome varies and depends on the individual. But if you train everyday, your cricothyroid muscle is pumping up, and it will get easier to let out a high pitched-voice.
The rubber tube should not be too thick or too thin, because it cannot press properly, and does not work well for this type of training.
In conclusion, this training is only for improving the high-pitched voice, and is not necessary to get an attractive voice. To get an attractive voice you need satisfy more aspects, which are the pharyngeal cavity, abdominal breathing, singing talent, and vocal cords mucosa. in order to make an attractive voice.
If you can increase the expiratory pressure when vocalizing, you will get vibrating vocal cords. The glottis becomes the negative pressure, and the glottis opens and closes easily. These factors can make you sing a song at a fast speed and improve the vibrato.
Expiratory pressure is relevant to vocal volume, quality of the voice, and even ease a hoarse voice. This time, I’ll introduce new and very effective training technique for breathing.
Please see the following figures.
Figure A:Stand up and relax.
Figure B:Bend at the waist, pull your arms down and take a breath in, then breathe out, keeping your head in a horizontal position.
When you finish A and B, you are done warming up.
Figure C: Take a deep breath in, and please do the following two things when taking a breath in at the same time.
1:Stick out your belly putting a slight pressure to push it down.
2:Pull up your shoulder blades and chest.
After taking a breath in maximally, taking a breath out slowly and return your belly and shoulder blades to the original position.
Repeat this exercise approximately 10 times.
The reason why this training is really effective in achieving increased expiratory pressure, is because the muscles of the larynx are getting to a relaxed state and when they are eased up, air can get in more easily.
Sticking out your belly and adding slight pressure down is expanding the abdominal cavity whilst moving the diaphragm down, which activates the thoracic motion when pulling your shoulder blades up.
Please move your muscles within maximum range but do not strain them.
Feel the air going in. belly=>chest=>throat=>mouse and nose.
If you perfect this breathing exercise, you will definitely increase your breathing strength and pressure control.
In turn, helping broaden your vocalization spectrum.
Note:I’ll explain more details about the exercise from a more technical point of view.
(1) Rectus abdominis is parallel to the floor and will expand the abdominal cavity easily.
(2)You can pull up the diaphragm, making it wider, because the abdominal cavity is expanding.
(3)You can increase the range of motion on the diaphragm easily after stretching the crura of the diaphragm, connecting the third lumbar vertebra.
(4)Exercise is displayed to the muscles of the back when breathing.
(5)You can expand the chest by pulling up the shoulder blades.
(6)Exercise is also displayed for the rhomboid muscle and can help keep good posture.
(7)If you stick out your belly with slight pressure down, with lifting up the pelvis, you are also simultaneously doing abdominal training.