I think since day one of voice lessons, most of us have been told things like "don't push!" "never give more than 70%". But what does this even mean physiologically? Especially when you're young, strong, and can't tell the difference between pushing and just garden variety emotional intensity.
It can feel very confusing.
"Sing out", "Don't push", "You need to SUPPORT the phrase!" "Only sing on the interest!!"
I mean, voice teachers, make. up. your. mind. LOL
You see what I mean. This advice seems very contradictory. WHAT is a singer to do?
What normally happens.... A singer just defaults to their own physiological experience. If it doesn't feel hard or strained, why worry?
The problem with this, is that young, strong-throated singers aren't being taught to feel and differentiate between the tiny adjustments of the vocal tract that assist a more efficient way of singing. It isn't until these extremely talented, strong-throated singers get older, that they start to feel the muscular involvement that was already present earlier. They become more aware. Then they feel their voice changed. But, it didn't really change. Their tolerance to pushing and muscular force changed. The larynx ossified and with it decreased the natural elasticity of cartilaginous structures. Without this extra elasticity, minute tensions are felt so much more acutely.
This is usually when singers show up at my door. They think something changed. Usually it didn't- they just became more aware- and less able to tolerate their previous tensions.
In my interview last month with the fantastic Othalie Graham, we discuss just this issue- which especially plagues voices that have been ear-marked "dramatic". Othalie's pearl of wisdom is that the tone should be "no louder than lovely". Check out the interview below for more fantastic vocal discussion on this topic!
Now comes the hard work. Learning to "undo" the pushing tendency.
So, what is pushing?
It can be put a couple different ways.
Too much breath pressure underneath the vocal cords, so that the vocal cords squeeze together more tightly to brace against the pressure
Bringing up too much registrational weight (thick cord mass) too high in the scale.
These are really 2 sides of the same coin.
Often what happens is that the bigger structures (the head, neck, tongue, facial muscles, sternum, etc.) which should be "supporting" a free sound, are collapsed, out of alignment, or not engaged properly. This leads to tension in the larynx, and thus in the sound.
The path to undoing this "pushing" is not a linear path. Many things need to be observed and attended to. But, rest assured, it CAN be done! With proper rehabilitation, and constant attention to the habits that need to be re-wired, the voice can bounce back in a couple of months.
The real challenge is rewiring the mind and the inner ear to accept the new sounds and sensations and resisting the temptation to give more than is necessary.
No louder than lovely. This is the hardest part.