Show of hands: How many of us have to be aware of our bad singing habits? Little secret here: me, too!
I’m living proof that keeping on top of bad singing habits is a lifelong hobby.
However, I promise they rear their ugly heads waaaaaay less over time (if at all) if you make a concerted effort to stop them in their tracks!
OK, so here’s the cold, hard, ugly truth about how we acquire bad habits:
Developing proper and efficient muscle memory is, quite simply, the foundation of healthy singing. So many muscles go into it: those in and around the vocal cords, stomach, ribs, diaphragm, etc.
Here’s the good news; the more you practice doing it correctly, the more your muscles do what they gotta do!
However, people develop TONS of bad habits that counteract the formation of healthy muscle memory, which leads me to:
We don’t help ourselves enough
Our daily bad habits – like poor posture at our desks – can affect our singing.
We’re the captains of our ships in lots of ways, right? So whom can we turn to when vocal problems occur? Yep.
The kicker is that many bad habits occur while NOT singing: speaking with vocal fry, having bad posture that goes uncorrected (I’m looking at you, people who hunch over computers or sit and walk while hunched over, constantly gazing at your phones!)
It even happens among dancers and athletes who learn how to position themselves properly for that craft while unknowingly creating lousy singing postures (jutting the chin, keeping the abdomen held in rigidly, etc.)
We MUST get woke (as you kids say) to these and other bad habits, or else, it’s curtains for our voices!
Bad habits get reinforced by teachers
“Squeeze your butt cheeks to sing higher”, “Sing through your mask”, “Sing from your pelvis”…
It’s true; one man’s bad advice is another’s good pointer, so there’s always room for subjectivity. However, the barometer is: HOW DO YOU FEEL after you do what your teacher is telling you to do? If you feel worse, STOP pronto and think about getting another teacher.
I have a female student whose choir professor put her in the tenor section because he had fewer guys. She came to me with an exhausted, heavy voice and I had her switch out STAT. Clearly, just because people teach does NOT always make them that smart. Please question authority if anything doesn’t feel right vocally!
So, what makes these habits die?
You are the only one who can make the commitment to do this. The more time you log in with healthy vocal habits, the more muscle memory gets created. And you want that.
Practice in a mirror; see if you’re jutting your jaw; see where you’re holding tension in your body.
Warm up your voice as often as you can. Learn a chordal instrument. Memorize songs and create a wide repertoire. Practice forms of relaxation and meditation. Any activity that requires you to practice is more PRACTICE at practicing things…get me?
It’s like when people whine about having to learn algebra (“When will I use it??”) Maybe never, but you’re learning how to learn, and maybe even think more logically.
Keep a journal
Yes, you hate me but hear me out. Keep a journal of the habits you need to break and track your progress. If you “vocal fry” too much and get hoarse, write about it. If your neck is killing you from computer hunch, write about it.
Look for that click, that recognition of a kindred spirit.
Uncovering the monsters makes it easier to kill the monsters. And, you find out they’re not really monsters at all. They’re just silly old habits.
I have my students really listen to their speaking voices ALL the time…and, lo and behold, a lot of their singing problems vanish a lot more quickly once they’re aware. Or woke, as you kids say.
Get a teacher who can help
Find the right teacher for YOU. Just because your friend loves her voice teacher does not mean that you will.
Go voice teacher shopping. Talk to them; many give free consultations – I do. A good fit is crucial. Look for that click, that recognition of a kindred spirit, the feeling that this person has something to offer you.
Then, as you study and as time passes, does this feeling grow or diminish? Does your voice feel better or worse? If it feels better, great. You’re on your way to forming healthy vocal habits!
Jaime was a Musical Director, coaching voice and performance for Disney and wrote “Working With Your Voice: The Career Guide to Becoming a Professional Singer” (Alfred Publishing). As a session singer, she ‘jingled’ for Coke, Pillsbury, Folgers, Chevrolet, and hundreds more. She’s sung on thousands of live gigs (covers and original music) and toured for years with Leon Russell and Sam Moore. Jaime sang BGVs live and digitally with George Strait, Barbra Streisand, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Webb, Miley & Billy Ray Cyrus, Johnny Mathis, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Willie Nelson and others. She performed off-Broadway in “Search: Paul Clayton”, toured nationally with “Old Jews Telling Jokes” and presently coaches students in voice, performance, beginner guitar/piano, studio singing, songwriting and auditioning in NY, CT, LA, Nashville and virtually. For bookings: www.workingwithyourvoice.com