Attention All Singers: How To Sing Better By Using A Bad Cough!

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singers best friend a cough

So I had my niece and nephew over this weekend, which was great (this is relevant I promise)…

Except, the little fella (4 years old) had a really nasty cough, and when I mean nasty I mean nasty, it kept him up all night.

Now I normally don’t get anything due to my super clean diet but I have finally succumbed to this cough, I haven’t even spoken yet this morning and I know I have it, how?

Every time I swallow It hurts…

that’s how.

As a singer, there are few things that really put a stop to singing so completely…

Now talking can’t happen without a bout of coughing, (sounding like a crazy seal laughing)…

As a matter of fact, it’s nearly impossible to breathe without setting off another round of coughing, do you like the comparison to a seal?

Then I thought you know what, there is a really important singing skill you can fine tune when you’re like this that is such an important skill to work but a hard one to fine-tune…

So it’s not all bad…

Well I know that some of you may not agree, but I am more a glass half full kind of dude so for me I will always look for something positive in the new situation that presents itself (back to my point)

 

So what are those skills that will help you to sing better?

The first one is a skill that is often overlooked,

And it makes a big difference to how efficiently you breathe, in other words, how much air you get into your lungs quickly…

Now I know there are other factors in this but I want to just focus on this one here…

The skill is learning to breathe in silently…

That’s right this is a crucial skill to have.

When you breathe in the sound if it’s noisy is a sign that your vocal folds are partly closed.

This then stops you from getting enough air into your lungs to sing…

Also, this will dry out your vocal folds, irritating them so they create mucus to protect themselves so you cough more and the cycle just goes on and on…

 

So how does your bad cough help your singing?

Well right now (while you have a cough that is) your vocal folds are super sensitive even if your vocal folds are just slightly closed this will set you off on a coughing spree!

So this is a great time to work on getting that skill of keeping the vocal folds open fine-tuned…

So embrace the cough and work on that silent breathing(am I being too positive?)

Once you can breathe in silently enough without setting off another crazy seal laughing fit…

Then you know you’ve just improved this valuable skill of breathing silently that will help you to become a better singer…

Bonus!

Ok so now you know what it is, let me give you an exercise you can do to learn to keep your vocal folds open.

You know what in my experience (of over 20 years of teaching singing)…

Often if a student struggles with the first exercise I’m going to show they definitely get it when I show them another way to feel the vocal folds opening…

So I will give you not one but to exercises so if you can’t hold the vocal folds open on the first exercise you have another exercise you can try to get you there (you might find that switching between the two exercises will get you )…

I know I’m just too good to you, right?

 

The first best way to keep your vocal folds open so you can sing better is (drum roll)…

Sucking through a straw?!

That’s right…

…you read right

…the first way to keep those vocal folds open so you can sing without hearing your breathing all the time is to stick a straw in your mouth and suck on it!

Nice!

(By doing this we engage a natural reflex action which will open the vocal folds to the maximum).

OK, so before I go through this exercise with you…

Some of you might say “dude I can’t sing walking around with a straw and use it every time I want to breathe in” and you would be right…

The aim here is to learn how the voice feels when you suck in through the straw…

Then the next time you want to breathe in silently you simply imagine you are breathing in through the straw again and you’re there ( in the real world this like everything takes a bit of trial and error but with a little patience and practice you will get there)

 

How to do the first exercise correctly…

Firstly locate your larynx (the pointy thing sticking out of the middle of your neck at the front).

And lightly touch it with your index finger (lightly as we do not want to control it with our finger just notice how it responds to the straw sucking)…

To make sure you have found it swallow and it should bob up and down…

Now Take the straw but it in your mouth and suck on it.

You should notice that the larynx (the pointy bit under your index finger) went down as you sucked in…

If you didn’t feel that then keep trying until you can.

You should also notice that as you suck in it feels like the back of your mouth opens up(as if you could put an egg in it).

We want to keep this feeling as this is the soft palate lifting up.

So now that you have the larynx and soft palate responding reflexively the vocal folds will have also responded by opening up to get more air in…

Cool hu?

You have now learnt a really valuable skill a quick way to learn to keep your vocal folds open.

What you need to do now is get used to this feeling of the vocal folds being held open (the sensation comes from the middle of your throat in the larynx)…

And learn to isolate the vocal folds being held open feeling as you stop sucking in through the straw and relax the face( otherwise you will look very strange!)

Let the larynx behind you index finger rise up again and let the soft palate down slowly while all the time keeping that feeling you’re holding something open in the middle of your throat…

And that’s it…

OK, it’s actually not that easy and takes a lot of practice (it’s like learning to juggle 3 balls at a time, in theory, it’s easy but in reality…I’m still trying!).

That’s why I decided to give you to exercises, as working between the two might just do the trick.

Oh before we look at the second exercise you really do need to know what the larynx is and what it does for singing as not only is it very cool, it also is a crucial part of the singing puzzle that every singer must understand. You can find out more about the larynx here.

On to the next exercise…

The pre-yawn

I call this the pre-yawn as you don’t want to get into the full yawn…

…as this creates a lot of tension (this also makes you look like a wide-open mouthed crazy person!).

With a little bit of practice, you will be able to trigger off an actual yawn.

Then work on holding the pre-yawn position (the bit where you mouth suddenly opens wide and air is being sucked in),

It feels like the back of your mouth just opened up (like you could fit an egg into the back of your mouth)…

At the same time that this happens, you will also need to be touching your Larynx again (the larynx is also called the voice box and the specific name for the pointy bit is the thyroid cartilage also called the Adam’s apple)…

Notice that your Adam’s apple drops (a good sign that you are doing the exercise correctly)…

Now ladies also have the Adam’s apple it’s just not called that so you will also be able to do this check…

Now relax your face and let your mouth go back to its natural position while keeping the egg in the back of the mouth feeling and lowered Adam’s apple popping up (make sure you do not hold the Adam’s apple down you are simple lightly touching it with your index finger so you can notice what it’s doing)…

Your breathing should be silent know…

If it’s still a little noisy go back to the straw exercise and play around with these 2 exercises until you can get that silent inhale…

It feels a little weird at first…

To help you deal with this new sensation and build some confidence with it think of it like this…

  1. You’re still alive so you must be breathing!
  2. If you look in a mirror see that you are breathing (you will notice this in your shoulders as the lift up and down or around your waist as you moving in and out as you breathe in and out)
  3. Put your hand in front of your mouth and you would notice the air going in and out.
  4. You can feel your body breathing

I remember when I first did this I would think am I even breathing? As I couldn’t hear it…

My girlfriend at the time would regularly pock me in the ribs to see if I was still alive when I was fast asleep in bed! (not cool).

This is the way that I learnt ( I also teach my students this exercise) to control my vocal folds so that I can open them at will and close them too.

I will be putting that skill to great use over the next 3 to 5 days as I work on not coughing by keeping them open and trying to remember that this cough is just another great opportunity to fine-tune my singing skills!

So it’s Sunday morning right now and I am huddled up on the bed quietly writing this blog post, my son is next to me… he sounds like he has also been given the gift of a cough, snotty nose, sore throat…

…doesn’t sound like much of a gift right now does it!

Use this skill and you will reduce the amount of time you cough generally too…

It’s a win-win!

You don’t need to wait for the next time you get a cough to work on this exercise…

You could start working on it now, your vocal folds will thank you for it…

Remember this is a great way to just fine tune your singing technique to improve how you sing is something that needs constant maintenance and fine-tuning (only if you want to be a great singer)…

I will be giving you more fine tuning tips on how to sing better (and updating you on my little life’s adventures and observations) in the future so don’t forget to subscribe to my mailing list to be notified of when I post the next one.

You can join my mailing list here.

Let me know if you can feel the difference in the comments below or if you have any suggestions as to what you would like to give you tips on.

Have a great day…

(from a coughing like a seal) vocal coach Dylan.

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