You might not be clad in a fluffy bathrobe and slippers, and you probably won’t be handed a flute of bubbly, but a trip to the vocal spa is a worthy investment for your instrument which will benefit from the freedom which massage gifts it.
Essentially, this treatment is like a sports massage for the vocal athlete; it is a tool used for maintenance, healing and prevention against injury by identifying and getting rid of unnecessary tension in the body. Anyone can have a vocal massage, but those who are heavily dependent on their voice as part of their vocation, or whose lifestyle includes much vocal overloading would highly benefit, including:
And, you – the singer.
Tension can carry out it’s intrusion of our bodies as a result of many things, including being hunched over at the computer or from suffering anxiety. Some tension, however, is necessary. For example, we have a muscle called the ‘cricothyroid muscle’ which is, predominantly, used when we sing higher pitches. In order for us to sing these higher pitches, this muscle has to help the vocal cords lengthen and tighten, therefore creating necessary tension.
It’s the tightness in the entourage of neck, jaw and tongue muscles (amongst some) that we don’t want to entertain. Some tension is both audible and visible, making us resemble Bruce Banner’s transition into the Hulk (with the exception of turning green); we might notice our neck muscles bulging, have a swallowed sound, a protruding head or a clenched jaw, for example. Other tensions are silent fugitives that you may not even know you have been harbouring until they have been released. Either way, tension can dampen our sound, limit our stamina, quash some ruddy good potential and, even, develop into a vocal pathology.
You won’t experience a vocal rebirth as you hop off the massage table, suddenly finding that you are a classical soprano. However, if you were to ask: ‘Will this give me vocal freedom? Could this unlock some vocal accessibility that I didn’t know I had? Will this help me maintain my important instrument? Could this make me question the existence of witchcraft?’ Well, to those, I would answer ‘yes.’ To read about more ‘vocal magic’, Click here
It doesn’t have to. Pain is subjective and, for me, some routines can be uncomfortable, but it depends on the therapist and their practice.
I had been noticing some jaw tension, and would often sit at my husband’s feet of an evening and ask (nay, demand!) a neck rub; being a vocal coach, I knew it was time for some release, so I had made an appointment with Stephen King (not the literary figure), a vocal coach and therapist at King Vocal Diagnostics. I had experienced vocal massage before – something which I chose to have after a long cruise ship contract and knowing full well that I attract tongue tension as if it were a persistent lover. I had had the pleasure of speaking with Stephen King on several occasions, hearing him talk about his work with ‘Myofascial Release’ something which, since developing a new obsession with healing, I wanted to experience.
In this instance we aren’t talking about the coverings of cupboard doors or some other fixture disguise. Bodily ‘fascia’ is, basically, connective tissue that hugs our muscles and organs – it’s a bit like sellotape on a wrapped gift: it’s what holds us together. ‘Myofascial Release’ is the approach of freeing up sticking points in the fascia which, in turn, releases tensions throughout the body. It includes the whole body exclusively as part of the healing process, which offers the opportunity to identify the potential culprit of the tension that is creating symptoms in other parts of the body. Singing is a whole body experience, so tensions harboured in one part of the body, could impact our vocal function.
Imagine that the body is a town, and that all the different areas of the body are small neighbourhoods with impressive architecture and sweet little valleys running through them. Some of these neighbourhoods have earned themselves a bad reputation because of the way the inhabitants and owners have behaved. It is within these parts where you might find the potentially dangerous family who go by the name of ‘The Tensions’ (a bit like ‘The Mafia’, if you will). Regardless of where they claim home they often send hate mail to other parts of the town to stir up trouble, even though they may live miles apart. Vocal massage is like the town sheriff, locating the trouble (or Tensions) and evicting them from the town, leaving the neighbourhoods to live in peace.
Looking at fascial trains (or the way in which this connective tissue weaves within us), a therapist could work on a singer’s abdominal area which could then free up the jaw – and that is exactly how Stephen King began my session. Whilst working on the abs, I was surprised to feel the jaw area begin to tingle. Later, with the attention on the fascia at the neck, I felt the same tingling sensation in abundance in my legs. Fascia-nating! (I’m not even going to apologise for that one!)
Stephen King has described how, after experiencing vocal massage himself, he discovered more vocal flexibility, giving him access to approximately 5 extra semitones within his range. After my session, I had:
And – it was all pain free.
The importance of vocal maintenance is paramount for the professional voice user. We can’t escape the Godzilla of ‘tension’ in our day-to-day lives, but we can help prevent it wreaking so much havoc. In the 19th century, when Charles Darwin’s ‘Theory of Evolution’ circulated, the spiritual was challenged. ‘Myofascial Release’ and manual therapy is scientific, but there is something spiritual about the natural human-to-human contact, and the discussion between one individual to another’s fascia through the power of touch. ‘Myofasical Release’ is now showing up in Yoga and is a used to treat people with chronic pain, of which cancer patients and Crohn’s disease suffers make up some of the clientele.
Could the process of healing be the point where the spiritual and scientific meet in harmony?