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  • Writer's pictureMelody Bell

If the bathroom isn't a singer's favorite room in the house it soon will be.

We are all familiar with how great our voice sounds when singing along with our favorite tune in a hot, steamy shower.  And since most bathrooms are made of tile or other water-resistant materials, the echos usually adds the perfect amount of reverb to cover up any vocal inadequacies.

However, I'm talking about the best-kept secret in the bathroom for singers and it is NOT the shower and reverb bouncing off the walls are the like filters or the effect that make anyone sound good.

Hiding in plain sight is one of the most effective tools for singers that we use every day and don't even realize. I'm talking about the toilet.

I'm a modern and contemporary voice trainer.  Traditionally, it means that we teach the styles of music that you hear on the radio: pop, rock, blues, jazz, etc...  Instead of making breathing, posture and breath support the main focus like classical methods might, they become the byproduct of good singing technique.  What that means is regardless of the method, we are still engaging the same body parts when singing correctly.

The main body part I am referring to is your diaphragm.  One of the reasons I don't have singers focus on the diaphragm when singing too much is because they often accidentally engage the wrong muscles.  Maybe not with me in my studio but often at home. 

As a second-degree black belt in Hapkido, much of my training time was spent learning how to relax every muscle in my body except only the ones that were needed, exactly when they were needed.  Keeping my entire body relaxed while I felt the energy move up my leg, turn through my hip, begin to untwist from my relaxed arm and the right at the moment it goes to leave my hand, I form a fist and strike the target.

If I did a good job, my entire body would have been relaxed until the moment I formed a fist and struck the target.  At that point, all the energy would be directed out of the fist. If I would have made a face, then I would have had excess energy, not in my hand but instead going towards making that face.  I'm sure singers can appreciate all that goes into a single punch as audience members often have no idea how much work and practice we put into an entire line of a song we just sang.  I'm sure singers can relate because it requires the same type of bodily focus and awareness. 

If you know or have read anything about singing, then you know that you need to use your diaphragm for breath support of more air as the notes get higher in pitch.  Your body does not use muscles that raise or lower to make the pitches.  Instead, the pitches are made horizontally.

One set of muscles pulls the vocals folds and stretches them thinner for higher notes.  Another set of muscles push them together and makes them thicker for lower notes.  

The muscles of the vocal folds act like a trombone in your neck. There is no need to lift the body for high notes or sinking for low notes.   In fact, doing so can actually trigger them to work differently.   After all, we don't lift and sink when we talk... and we talk on the pitches all the time! So why would you lift or sing when you sing if it doesn't help actually hit the notes? This brings us to the subject matter at hand: Toilet Voice!

Similar to martial arts and singing,  we can either have a productive experience when using the porcelain throne or experience strain. 

As mentioned earlier, when a singer lifts or raises their body in an attempt to hit a high note, it does not help them.  In fact, it can prevent the muscles that make pitch from switching and forth easily.

As a result, the singer experiences slight vocal strain.  Usually what happens, is instead of stopping and trying to re-sing that phrase a different way, the singer will focus on pitch and try to yell through the phrase to hit the notes which intensifies the vocal strain and makes it more obvious.

It is not a guarantee but close to it, that if a singer is lifting and reaching for high notes that they are straining and not using their voice correctly.  You can usually even hear it at the same time.  Repetitive vocal strain can cause long term damage. Therefore, the idea of a good singer is to have a full tone in a large range without strain.  This is where the toilet comes in!  It is almost the exact same result as if you were attempting to have a productive experience on the toilet and tried to lift your body reach upward at the same time.  You would be wasting energy.

As the frequency rises, the muscles need to lower in the body or ground to keep the balance.  Frequency can be broken down into wavelengthsPitches are the different wavelengths that the human ear can hearThe pitches are the frequencies of the human voice and ear send and receive. As the pitch goes up, the secondary resonance moves upwards in the body.  This is referred to as chest voice moving to head voice.   But that is the resonance naturally moving in our bodies.  If the muscles follow the frequency up they will jam up.  The muscles need to ground as the frequencies ascend to balance the body and the tone.  As this happens (like it does naturally when we speak) there is no strain for high notes.  

So how do singers do this and where does the toilet come in?

We talked a little about how counterproductive it would be if you tried to lift or reach upwards while using the toilet.  Let's look at the opposite for a minute.  Traditionally when we are sitting on and using the commode,  there is a downward push of the muscles involving the diaphragm.

Now let's get a little personal.  Have you ever had to talk to someone or shout something out during that moment?  If it was a productive moment then your muscles were doing their thing downward and your voice was on a high note and not strained.  That bathroom voice makes for awesome singing!

The problem occurs not when I have to send a student to the restroom to practice scales, but when the neck muscles tighten at the same time.

The key is to learn to relax your entire upper body while the muscles in the mid to lower body engage! 

This is why the bathroom voice (aka toilet voice) is effective. 

To make the most of this technique (on or off the toilet):

Let your voice do its thing.  Focus on how your body feels instead of how your voice sounds. Stop making adjustments to how you are using your body by the way your voice sounds.Start making adjustments to your body and then discovering how that adjustment sounds!

Learning to relax the entire upper body: face, neck, arms, jaw, eyes, shoulders, etc... while engaging the lower body to sing takes time.  We are learning to relax one part while completely engaging another.  This is also where a good voice coach can take years off your training time.

Women who have gone through natural childbirth have experienced something similar to this with the valsalva maneuver.  That is the bearing down a mom-to-be does when she is in labor and is pushing the baby out.  Vocal strain & good singing would be the least of the concerns in that situation.  

However, it still reminds me of the story of Buddha's birth.  It was said that his mother sang while she was delivering him.  If you have experienced natural childbirth in any way, that seems impossible.  However, If you hear a childbearing moan on the moment of contraction,  the only thing missing would be vibrato and a melody which is usually heard moments later by a newborn.

Whether you choose to practice this technique on your own or not is up to you.  I can say that the average healthy human has an opportunity to practice it at least once a day.  I'm not encouraging readers to hold loud impromptu bathroom conversations with strangers.

However, in the privacy of your own home, that would be the perfect time to sing and project, "Can someone bring me a roll of toilet paper?" Feel free to put a little vibrato and an impromptu riff on it as well.  It will prevent tension and put a smile on the face of whoever is bringing you the TP.

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