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Stretch It Out - Maintaining Your Voice's Biggest Support System
Whether you are a professional athlete or a professional speaker, properly warming up your muscles is essential to peak performance.
If you are a track star, you would never start a race without stretching out your hamstrings, and warming up your quads - so why wouldn't you take the same care for your voice if that is your money-making muscle?
Lawyers, news anchors, teachers, politicians, preachers, actors, singers - you should all take at least ten minutes before your lecture, before your speech, or concert to stretch out your muscles that support your voice.
Here are a few easy, quick, and relaxing stretches that will give your voice the jump-start to a successful performance:
1. Relax Your Jaw & Mandibular Joints
Your mandibular joints connect your lower jaw to your skull, and can be a source of a lot of tension. To release the tension in your joints, start by locating the mandible joints. Simply place your fingertips in front of yours and open your mouth, locating to area where you can feel your jawbone moving (you will feel the joint pushing forward as you open your mouth).
Once you have located the joint, massage the area using small circular motions as you open your mouth. Open for ten massage motions, then close your mouth and exhale slowly.
Repeat for three cycles, opening your mouth wider with each cycle. Be sure to inhale and exhale slowly, just as you would when stretching out your leg muscles.
2. Neck Rolls
Believe it or not, your neck is one of the most important structures for proper vocal performance. This vital support system helps maintain proper posture when speaking or singing, which is necessary for a performer to reach their full range. An excess of tension in the neck can prevent a singer or speaker from reaching both ends of their range by shortening the vocal folds, and causing the folds to separate and not closed properly. For a vocalist to reach a full range, the vocal folds must coordinate with the supporting muscle structures (including the neck) to contract and come together properly.
To properly stretch your neck, slowly lower your chin to your chest and roll your chin slowly to the left so that your chin is slightly above and in-line with the top of your shoulder. Hold for ten seconds, then slowly roll back to the center of your chest. Repeat to the right side, hold for ten seconds, then come back to the center. Do this three times on each side.
The purpose of this exercise is to stretch the Sternocleidomastoid muscle, which extends from behind the ear, over your throat and attaches to your collar bone. Tension in the Sternocleidomastoid can put excess pressure on your throat and vocal cords, which can restrict airflow throughout your vocal chords, and even cause your pitch to go higher.
3. Relax Your Shoulders
The shoulders, more specifically the omohyoid muscle is another important support structure for your voice. The omohyoid is a pair of two muscles that run from the shoulders to the hyoid bone (located above the larynx and aids in the movement of the tongue and swallowing). The omohyoid helps to keep the larynx in place, which is why poor shoulder posture can directly effect the position of your larynx, and also the quality of your voice.
Too much tension can cause your omohyoid to pull the larynx too far upward (too much tension in the shoulders), while conversely, a forward "hunch" of the shoulders will cause the omohyoid muscle to push the larynx downward--both effecting the proper function of the larynx.
To keep a balance of tension in the shoulders and your larynx in its place, try simple shoulder shrugs and rolls.
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and shrug your shoulders up to your ears (as high as you can go), while slowly breathing in. Hold for a few moments while at the top of the shrug, then slowly exhale as you bring your shoulders back down to place. Repeat five times, being sure to inhale and exhale slowly.
After repeating the shrug five times, now roll your shoulders front to back in a circular motion, while maintaining a straight back. Roll front to back five times, then reverse the motion for another count of five.
4. Test Your Posture
Doing all of these exercises is not only to warm up your voice, but to assure that your muscles are learning proper posture. Posture is fundamental to the quality of your voice, and not to mention general health. Poor posture can only make muscle tension and structural problems worse, so regularly check that your body is aligned properly and that your are teaching your muscles good habits.
The Wall Test (via
The easiest way to check that your posture is correct is the wall test. Stand with your back and head against the wall, feet about six inches away from the wall, and neck tucked in. Now, raise both arms parallel to the ground and rotate them up against the wall. Try to touch your wrists to the wall without arching your back. If your back arches, your body is not maintaining proper posture.
You can help to correct the problems with the stretches mentioned above, however if you have a severe arch or problem with this test, you may want to consult a specialist (chiropractor) to see if there are more serious alignment problems.
The best way to prevent a trip to the chiropractor is to a good old fashion prevent-defense. Prevent the problems before they get out of hand by stretching your support muscles every day. Even one tense muscle can cause a ripple effect, pulling everything out of line.
For more information on vocal training, structural support problems, or muscle tension effecting your voice, contact the
Colorado Voice Clinic
Mon, Feb 23, 2015 @ 11:32 AM MST
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