1. You are doing the wrong exercises for your voice.Self-prescribing can get you into trouble. Just like pharmaceuticals, there are tons of vocal exercises offered on the internet, on phone apps, and suggested by well-meaning friends. While some of these exercises (done correctly) do work, some of them that have been dreamed up are actually tightening and even damaging. Examples I would say include:
- Contorting your face, tongue or jaw as strenuously as you can. Stretching is good, but stretching any muscle all the way causes your automatic nervous system to apply a 'knee-jerk' contraction to prevent tearing. That's a good way to set up tension and even muscle-spasm at the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Move your face around and loosen it, yes, but never as radically as possible, and stop before your jaw or face gets tired of stretching.
- Or keeping your face (eyes, jaw) as still as possible. Sorry, once again I find this common admonition counterproductive. To test this yourself, try singing or speaking a short phrase with a frozen face. Then do it again with a very active face such as you would use with a baby or puppy. See what I mean?
- Using vocal fry exercises. Some coaches use this but I find this extremely counterproductive and fatiguing, unless you zip them backwards so your vocal folds are not abused. Definitely don't use vocal fry in your speaking voice!
- Projecting air pressure for volume, which goes along with a misunderstanding of what 'healthy belt' voice is. Your rich and controlled volume should come from a balance of support and control, not just support. Your vocal cords should never feel the air push through them!
2. You are doing healthy vocal exercises but incorrectly with bad form.Just like any athletic basic skills training, you can hurt yourself trying to help yourself if you don't know how to do the exercise. For instance:
- You practice tension.
- You don't know how to prepare to travel through your vocal range.
- You think you're strengthening your voice by exercising til it hurts.
3. You are warming up your voice too fast.Use common sense here. Again, like any physical endeavor, if you go from zero to 60 (or even to 5 if you're really cold), you can create the opposite of a warmup... you can cause a tighten up!
- Yes, your voice wants access to movement. But start slow. Get those tissues flexing and getting some blood flowing before increasing the exercise's range or level of intensity.
- f you can't do something yet, DO NOT PUSH ! Just take a calming breath, back up and begin at an earlier place in your warm-up until your voice says 'yes' to being challenged.
4. You are not doing your vocal exercises long enough.If you've been singing or touring a lot and your vocal stamina is up, you may need 5 or 10 minutes of warm-up. If you haven't been singing regularly, have been sick or just have some mucous build-up, you might need 20 to 45 minutes. How do you know? Your voice feels flexible, open and free, and is working like you want it to!
- I recently re-learned the wisdom of taking enough time to completely warm up my voice before performance. I woke up with some gunk coating my throat that seemingly would just not let go. I was afraid I was going to be able to do my lead vocals that day. But I kept on slowly and carefully challenging my voice, finally shook the gunk off, limbered my instrument up and nailed those vocals that day.
- The same thing has happened to me numerous times for stage performance.
- One of my favorite things to do is to have a student begin our lesson with a phlegmy or flabby instrument that isn't working well, and ending the lesson with the voice feeling warm and flexible, singing the song that would have been impossible at the start!.
- Use common sense and don't overdo vocal exercises too long or too strenuously if you have a long performance that day. There is a limit to your physical and mental energy, and you'll need that energy for your vocal main event. Again, at the end of your exercise, your should feel great, not tired!
What can you do?
- Next time you warmup... assess how your voice feels immediately afterwards. If it doesn't feel great, get to the bottom of 'why not'.
- If you don't know HOW to do vocal exercises properly, DON'T DO THEM! Just sing easy songs and do tongue tanglers to warm your voice up.
- Get a trusted vocal coach to teach you how to do vocal exercises that fit your voice.