Reducing throat tension – my new bodywork method for singers

Hello again, readers.  Did you wonder where’d I’d been all these weeks?

Well, I’ve been busy studying anatomy texts, taking new bodywork courses, reading books on singing physiology — in short, I’ve been creating a new throat-freeing procedure!  I’ve been offering my students what I call Voice-Enhancing Bodywork all along, but recently, I’ve been developing a new sort of mini-protocol to use at the beginning of a voice lesson.  Unlike a full session of VEB, this new protocol takes as little as 15 minutes to perform.

So far, I have been astounded by the effectiveness of the new protocol: some students who could produce a pure falsetto only with great difficulty and constriction are suddenly able — after only one short session on the table — to sing in falsetto more freely, at greater volume, and in an expanded range. In other students I have observed an immediate stabilization of the larynx, which is no longer being pulled in unhelpful directions when they sing.

In short, the new protocol [I am seeing that it needs a name. . .let’s call it IVB, for Instant Vocal Balance] removes undesired tensions from the vocal apparatus, leaving an environment of balanced tension in which all the parts can perform the subtle and delicate and complex movements required for singing.  It clears neuro-muscular “noise” from your throat so that you can sing at the highest level permitted by your current technique.  There is no longer any reason to keep trying to sing through vocal tension when you can now sing without it.

Here’s how IVB works:

First, you have to realize what a complex environment your vocal cords live in.  Take a look at the following greatly simplified diagram of the structures of the larynx, remembering that many other structures have been left out, like the muscles, tongue, jaw, esophagus, lungs, etc.  IVB addresses all these other structures too, but the simplified diagram will convey the basic principles of my new technique.

Notice how the structures shown form a kind of “stack” or totem pole.  Also notice the connecting tissues between the more solid structures, like the sheath connecting the hyoid with the thyroid cartilage or the ligament connecting the thyroid and cricoid cartilages.  All these structures, to work most effectively, must enjoy free movement between themselves and any other structures to which they connect — not just the adjoining structures in the “stack,” but any other organs or tissues to which they have a physical link.

Using IVB, I can identify areas of reduced mobility in these structures, then encourage them to release.  For instance, in a student who had been having problems making a hooty pure falsetto sound, I discovered a restriction between the thyroid and cricoid cartilages.  Once this excessive tension was released (which took about 10 minutes), the student could immediately make the pure falsetto sound formerly unavailable to him.  This new freedom allowed him to achieve a far better registrational coordination than we’d achieved in several years of lessons.  Not bad for a few minutes’ work!

I am hoping that all my students will experience similar removals of roadblocks that have been standing in the way of their vocal coordination.  You can go only so far, after all, singing with a mechanism fraught with excessive tensions.  Vocal lessons alone might in time bring about the removal of these tensions, but I am optimistic that my students will no longer have to take that long route to vocal freedom.

Let me be clear that IVB is intended to address mechanical tensions existing in the body, NOT tensions brought about by faulty technique in the act of singing.  Once tensions of the former type are removed, however, you stand a greater chance of noticing and correcting the tensions you are bringing about unintentionally when you sing.

Wishing you all the very best for the new year.  Want to make a resolution to experience greater vocal freedom in 2011?  If you come for a paid lesson during the next 12 months, I’ll give you one complimentary 15-minute session of IVB as a gift.   To take advantage of this offer, just leave a comment below and I’ll get in touch to schedule your IVB session.

In gratitude for your readership,

Michael Hanko

10 Comments

  1. Taminophile says:

    I've missed your posts. And I'd like to know more about this.

  2. Michael Hanko says:

    Hi T-phile. It feels nice to have been missed! I'd be happy to answer any specific questions you might have about IVB. . .or (since you are local) give you a demo in person on my table.

    Thanks for reading,

    Michael

  3. Toby Wollin says:

    Not to make your life even MORE complicated, Michael, have you ever thought about working with other musicians who might be suffering due to upper body/neck issues? I play the violin (badly)and I can tell you that any stress between the waistline and the ears interferes with how well I play and I know a lot of fiddlers and violinists tell me much the same. A whole new frontier of people for you to help.

  4. Michael Hanko says:

    Hi, Toby. Welcome to my blog.

    You bring up a good point — which ironically makes the Alexander Technique hard to market: it can help anyone with anything! (Unless the activity does not require you to use your mind or your body.) I used to be more of a generalist on my website, trying bravely to list all the potential benefits to all kinds of people, but it just started sounding ridiculously unbelievable. So now I spend most of my energy touting the benefits for singers.

    That said, I do have a number of non-musicians in my practice, as well as quite a few instrumentalists: pianists, violinists, a cellist, an oboe player, etc. Do you live in the NYC area? If so, it would be fun to meet you in person for a lesson sometime.

    Thanks so much for contributing to the discussion,

    Michael

  5. Toby Wollin says:

    Sorry, Michael – I live in the Great White North (aka – way north of Yonkers 🙂 )

  6. Michael Hanko says:

    Ah well, Toby. At least we can stay connected via this blog. If you ever want to comment about your own experiences, you are welcome, even though you're not a singing musician!

  7. Leah says:

    Woohoo, I'm in! Looking forward to experiencing and experimenting with IVB. And I must also say how much I admire your spirit of discovery, how you are always passionately curious about new Singing/Alexander/Bodywork possibilities! It is very inspiring. Happy Snow day. 🙂

  8. Michael Hanko says:

    Hi, Leah! At your lesson tonight — I am sure this piddly little amount of snow will not bar a Minnesotan from getting to her lesson! — we'll find a time for your comp IVB session. Looking forward to more experiments…..

  9. Stephanie Harrison says:

    Hi Miachael! I miss you! I am taking on a new project and really need your coaching. I wanted to schedule a lesson so I figured I might as well take you up on this offer as well – though I would come anyway! You're amazing. Talk to you soon – Stephanie Harrison

  10. 1218d2f2-60eb-11e0-ba49-000bcdcb5194 says:

    How exciting! I have been struggling to use my falsetto for a long time. I've been struggling for along time and your approach sounds like it might be what I need. Marcuspeterson@Hotmail.com

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