Did you know that holding back your thoughts, words, and emotions could increase tension in your jaw and neck? I love saying whatever is on my mind; it always makes me feel free from the burden of "what if?".
It works great if you are an actor who loves to use Meisner as your go-to technique. However, we all know life doesn't allow real honest talk. Most of the time, saying the first thing that comes to your mind causes issues, and if you're lucky, it's just one offended random person and not something worse. Unless you enjoy decimating the egos of your friends and family with your words, to be humane and keep healthy friendships, we hold our thoughts inwardly and keep the peace as best we can. We maintain a particular clenched jaw and turn and walk away from confrontation. We subject our vocals to inward trauma.
Ok, trauma could be a bit of an overstatement, but holding tension in your neck and jaw will dismantle our sound! We have to combat the stress somehow, and for many, it isn't just holding back our thoughts that causes tension; it could be a plethora of things that contribute to tension.
But we won't go into all of that.
I want to give you the tools to avoid and reduce current tension issues.
In general, relaxing should genuinely a top priority for a host of reasons, and in today's world, relaxing can be difficult. However, we all must take the time to relax when we can make the time to do so. Taking the time to relax can reduce the probability of heart disease and high blood pressure; relaxing can help reduce brain fog and clear your mind for better problem-solving abilities. For the vocalist, reducing tension in the jaw and neck is particularly important as it contributes to their unique sound.
Tension in your neck and jaw can cause your voice issues that include your ability to hear, your vocal agility; tension can subject you to a greater possibility of injury.
Remember, we are focusing on just your jaw and neck.
This exercise is not a quick fix, and if you have tinnitus or dysfunction of the jaw, I recommend you see the appropriate therapist to help guide you through the best practices for your particular issue.
What I do at home and suggest to my students here is what I like to do most!
In my classroom, we call it isolated muscle relaxation.
It is quite simple to do on your own, and others use similar techniques for similar effects. I like to use them to learn to feel the difference between a tight muscle and a relaxed and freed muscle.
You'll want to read through the exercise first and then take five minutes to give it a try yourself.
We start by closing our eyes to eliminate as much interruption as possible.
Focus your mind on the top of your forehead first. Try to make the muscles in your forehead move. Furrow your brow, lift your eyebrows, and then focus a couple of seconds on trying to make it relax. You may find that you can feel your ears' movement during this time, and the upper portions of your neck will pull. If you feel the skin tightening around your ears and neck, you are off to a great head start. If not, don't worry about it; it merely means you may not be accustom to these muscle changes, and time will help you gain a greater awareness of your body.
Next, focus on squeezing your eyes shut for two seconds and then releasing, do this twice and then focus on allowing them to relax.
Now you will move to focus on your nose, scrunch and release as you have with your eyes and brows. Include your cheeks here. Squish and remove, repeat and allow to relax.
The point is to learn to recognize the difference between the tightening and relaxing of the muscles.
The next step is to work on the mouth, tongue, and jaw. These areas are crucial to the vocalist, and I urge you to take your time here to understand these spaces with more depth than you have in the past. You should start by allowing your jaw to go slack. Allow the jaw's relaxation to cause a natural separation of the roof of your mouth and your tongue.
Let your tongue slowly relax entirely. Let your tongue lay resting just behind your front teeth, let it learn to relax; your tongue typically maintains a certain level of tension and will not be accustomed to relaxing, so this may feel strange.
Some will feel the roof of their mouth or hard pallet release just a bit. If you achieve your hard pallet's relaxation, consider yourself incredibly lucky! Your hard pallet is a difficult spot to asses. Keep your lips touching and stay in this place for just a couple more minutes. If you feel the need to use a timer for this, I suggest a full two minutes. This amount of time will allow you to explore continued relaxation. Some will feel little muscles twitch if you are so accustomed to staying tight throughout your jaw. If you have jaw twitching, I suggest doing this exercise more often, daily if possible.
Trying this exercise before bed is a great idea, just lay in bed and focus entirely on your face and jaw muscles.
Moving from your jaw to your neck can feel a tad disconnected. Still, I promise you the continued act of relaxing muscles will help the overall health of your pharyngeal and laryngeal areas, and in turn, give you more freedom while singing!
In the neck area, I like to use my hands to hold tension along the length of my muscles from my skull base to the collar bone and force a more immediate sense of awareness. I like to press along the length of my neck by applying a small amount of pressure to help relax the muscles. Massaging the muscles in your neck from the base of your skull moving down will drive you to a greater sense of relaxation.
Do this regularly to help you gain a more relaxed a free vocal!
Let me know how this exercise works for you!