How to Become a Better Singer: Don't Pull a Muscle

Sep 7 2016

Hey singers of the world!  Here is another really practical and helpful tip on singing to the best of your ability.  This blog series is designed for the individual singer and the worship pastor of many vocalists.  Here you will find some information regarding what we call “vocal tendencies” and how to improve upon your singing based on these tendencies.

Each of us tend towards a certain sound or imbalance in the voice.  In the last blog, we talked about the flip tendency — where you may find that you have a really full, thick, connected sound in your lower tones and then all of a sudden you ‘flip’ into a softer, airy, less connected sound.  Or, you may tend to have airiness in the chest voice (lower tones) or even across the whole voice — we would call this a light chest tendency. There are four main tendencies that we will be addressing (light chest, pull chest/high larynx, flip, and mix), with some tips on how to grow no matter where you find yourself.

The ‘Pull Chest’ Tendency

Someone who has a tendency to pull chest would sing well in their chest voice (lower range) but struggle to leave or navigate out of that fuller vocal cord function as they approach higher notes.  Sometimes this is a popular technique for certain genres of music but can limit the power you have in your mid and upper range, as you may tend to feel strained and pitchy as you get higher.  With a pull chest tendency you could (but not always) lose sound and power in the middle range and higher notes (head voice).  I work with many singers who don’t believe that they can sing in their higher range because they haven’t figured out how to move out of their chest voice (thicker vocal fold function) into middle voice and head voice (thinner vocal fold function).  Many pull chest singers are also in the high larynx category-which means you are using too much external muscles to force a thicker sound.  If we want to get more scientific-there are two sets of internal muscles called the thyroarytenoids- which thicken and shorten the cords, and the cricothyroids- which thin and lengthen the cords.  These internal muscles help us balance the sound.  But when we start using the external muscles outside of the larynx (the suprahyoid and stylopharyngeus muscles), we create unnecessary tension in the voice, which can produce vocal fatigue, and other vocal health problems. If this sounds like you and you want strengthen your whole voice while keeping it healthy, have a look at these videos and see if these exercises help you!

“Using dopey sounds (think Barney the Big Purple Dinosaur) will help lower the larynx because they naturally tend to use lower muscles, helping you to relax.  Mike started on a descending 5 tone scale on a dopey Wee using gravity as his friend, and then a dopey gug-using lower muscles and an even amount of air to produce healthy sounds from a healthy larynx position.  The “Gullah” really helped Mike after a few months of working on his tendency to pull.  You can hear that he has now moved into a flip and we are using the flip exercises to move him into a mixed tendency.

Also try these exercises written by Lara Tenhoorn, one of our amazing vocalists and trainers at Hillsong College:

When you pull chest, using anything that starts in head voice and works down is super helpful– modify the different scales you use to go backwards-descending from head voice down into chest voice.  You can use an octave down Arpeggio Scale three times in each key- starting on top, going down on Wee Wee Wee (female starts on C# or D5, male starts on Ab4 of A4.) Eventually move to Gee Gee and then Bee Bee and continue scale. You can also sing a backward major scale on dopey narrow Gu on the same starting notes as above.

Try a Wee, Gee, Bee, Nee and Mee on these scales, up and down-trying to keep the exercises sounding dopey (think Barney the Purple Dinosaur).

I hope this helps you and remember-warm up and relax so you don’t pull a muscle. Hehe 😉

Chelsea LaRosa
Hillsong College Vocal Oversight – City Campus