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For vocal control: balancing force in the TA and CT muscles

There are two groups of muscles that control your vocal registers. These muscles are called thyroarytenoids (TA) and cricothyroid (CT). To sing contemporary (popular) styles of music, the force in these muscle sets must be especially balanced and coordinated. When one set is much stronger than the other, vocal problems like these occur:

  • Limited vocal range.
  • Frustrating pitch issues.
  • Lack of control of vocal “licks” or ornaments.
  • Limited vocal tone color options.
  • Lack of ability to mix the voice.
  • Vocal register breaks.
  • Vocal tension.

The CT muscles “work” the voice of the head, or upper vocal register, lengthening the vocal cords by tilting the thyroid cartilage. The TA muscles “work” the chest voice, or lower vocal register, by shortening and thickening the vocal cords, of which they are the core.

People who strain on the chest voice need a stronger head voice (controlled by the CT muscles). People who have trouble reaching lower notes (common with classically trained singers trying a contemporary sound) need to strengthen their TA muscles. For a singer, more important than knowing the names of these muscles is learning to identify the sensations … how the voice should feel and operate … when these muscles are balanced.

When there is an imbalance, vocal training can strengthen the weak ensemble to match the strong ensemble. How? The way you strengthen any muscle is use it – and use it correctly. Here are some tips:

* If you tend to strain at the higher end of your chest voice (also known as a push chest voice):

Practice singing with the voice in your head. Do exercises that take you much higher than you would normally go when singing songs, but be sure not to bend over or push to do so. Just climb as high as you can effortlessly. Keep doing this on a regular basis and you will strengthen the muscles that control your upper register. The voice in your head will begin to influence the voice in your chest and you will be able to sing notes that were previously difficult or almost impossible to reach without straining.

* If you have received classical training and find it difficult to avoid lowering your voice in your head when doing musical theater or contemporary (non-classical) songs:

Practice singing with your chest voice. Feel the vibration in your mouth and chest; avoid a “hootie”, “covered” or hollow sound. Set up your chest voice the same way you would your head voice … stretch out and don’t lean forward or hunch over. Sing songs and do exercises that raise your middle voice, but keep your voice “talking”; do not “pass” to the voice of the head. Important … while using this voice, DO NOT PRESS. In fact, it helps to imagine a plane of glass in front of your mouth when you sing … try not to leave a breath mark on it. Make sure you have a chest voice. If you are not sure which register you are singing in, find a good voice teacher who can help you learn to identify the corresponding sensations of being in the head or chest voice.

When you achieve a balanced force in the TA and CT muscles, it will appear that you have ONE built-in vocal range, because the voices from your chest and head can easily be mixed into what is commonly called a “mixed voice.” The most accomplished and masterful voices are also the most mixed.

For highly effective vocal muscle balancing exercises called “combination steps,” as well as excellent vocal instruction, look for the 6-CD pack on the website below:

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