Tension Is the Enemy of a Singer, Part 2: Neck Tension

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We have been discussing how tension in various parts of the body negatively affects singing by blocking the free flow of energy, breath, and sound throughout the body. Tension can also trick the body into feeling a false sense of support while singing, which can lead to vocal damage if not replaced by actual, technically correct support. In this three-part series, I have chosen to address the three most common physical tensions that I see effecting singers. Last week I focused on jaw tension. This week we’re going to talk about neck tension, what you can do to identify it, and some tools to release it.

When the tendons and veins in a singer’s neck pop out while singing, the culprit is neck tension. It’s usually a key indicator that a singer does not have a good handle on their breath support. When a singer cannot rely on the solidity and consistency of their lower support, they often try to control the production of sound with the muscles in their neck. This creates an enormous amount of tension in that area, which negatively affects resonance because it puts a squeeze around the larynx. To this end, singers with neck tension also often suffer in their higher register. As the pitch rises, so does the amount of tension in the neck muscles as they work to push the pitch higher and higher. They do this because the singer hasn’t internalized how to correctly engage their lower support to manage the rise in pitch effectively. It can be a vicious cycle because as long as the neck muscles are engaged in supporting the sound, the lower support will not take over the job, yet your subconscious won’t let those neck muscles release if you intrinsically don’t trust the lower support to take over the doing. Therein lies the rub.

I have found one exercise really helpful in breaking this cycle. It is very simple and designed to help your subconscious begin to trust that you do not need your neck muscles to make a good sound.

Slowly turn your head from side to side, looking from one shoulder over to the other in a slow, smooth motion. Once you feel comfortable in the movement, begin to sing a simple descending five-note scale on “ma” while continuing to turn your head from side to side. Have someone watch you to make sure that when you sing you are not locking your head, neck, and torso together, turning them as a unit from side to side. If the neck is soft and free, the head can turn independently of the body. Also have someone watch to let you know if you get stuck and stop turning your head as phrases begin or end. These are both indicators the neck has gone back into tension. It is impossible to tense or lock your neck if you are continuously turning your head from side to side.

In doing this exercise, you are taking away the security blanket of what’s been supporting your sound and you will really see where you are with your lower support. It will force you to go farther to engage that support because the neck is no longer able to engage. Once you feel the lower support kicking in and your subconscious realizes that you can make a good sound without using the neck to control it, over time you will begin to trust that you can let the neck go when you are not turning your head and a good sound will still come out.

Look out for next week’s post, wherein I’ll discuss tongue tension, how to identify it, and an exercise to help release it.

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Arden Kaywin
Arden Kaywin is voice teacher, vocal coach, and vocal producer in Los Angeles with over 10 years experience working with developing singers and nearly 20 years as a professional singer herself. She holds a master’s degree in music and vocal performance from the Manhattan School of Music in NYC, where she studied classical voice and opera.
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