The Intelligence of the Changing Voice
A violinist opens her case one day, noticing it feels a bit awkward. The latches are a bit further apart, the lid a bit heavier. Then she picks it up and she feels like her arms have shortened. She starts to play and her tuning is off, even though she places her fingers where she normally does. In fact, not by any choice of her own, she is now a violist. It feels like a bad dream until she stops trying to make it sound like a violin and starts to embrace this new instrument and accepts her future as a violist, as something she can celebrate and learn to maneuver differently than the violin.
Many of us female singers can relate to this dream. We reach a point in peri-menopause or menopause, when we feel our voices are not the voices we have enjoyed freely for the last several years. But try as we might, our old way of doing things is not working. Our thyroid and cricoid cartilages are completely ossified and less able to move with agility, the elasticity of our lung tissue has decreased, there is less mobility in the joints of our ribs and chronic dryness often seems insurmountable.
All this leads to …negative thinking. Our brains are really good at it, it turns out! Neuroscientists coined the term “negativity bias.” As Neuroscientist Dr. Rick Hanson points out, “Your brain is like velcro for negative experiences and teflon for positive ones.” As most performers know, it just takes one bad performance for us to fear the next one. Performance anxiety kicks in, our throats tighten, we begin to perspire and shake.
For women who are going through vocal changes, every day can seem like that “bad performance” day. That high note that was there before is now tight and thin. It’s important to note, that the vocal folds’ primal function is to save our life, keep us from choking. When our fear kicks in, “will it be tight, will I hit that note, will I have the stamina…?,” our negativity bias causes a misplaced fight or flight response, where the stimulus of performance anxiety skips our prefrontal cortex and goes straight for the amygdala. Our throats tighten. Our swallowing muscles start to help out.
While there are a number of interventions that address the physical changes of the changing voice, it is important to address our response to those changes and notice how much of the unwanted tones and tightness are related to our thoughts. In comes The Alexander Technique which is a re-education of the way we function by changing our thinking and causing a reduction in tension and stress. Practicing (something musicians are good at already!) noticing and pausing is where the work happens.
Stimulus-intention to sing
Notice-“hmm I am tightening my legs, shoulder, neck
Ask-“Where might I be a little bit easier?” Repeat. Repeat.Repeat
By practicing the pause and the notice, we actually rewire our brain’s response to the fear or “negativity bias” around the changes in our voices. The fight or flight response is diminished and the muscles that are not needed for singing release as do our voices.
Pause. What do you notice about your new instrument?
Celebrate your singing!
Our specialty at The Ageless Singer is the application of The Alexander Technique principles specifically to our use as singers-body, mind and soul!