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A surprisingly gentle way to create change…

Updated: Jul 23, 2022

With the Edinburgh Festival coming soon many people I know are getting themselves ready for an important gig. Refreshing their warm ups. Thinking about technique. Wishing perhaps they’d remembered things a little more clearly when they were in their trainings…jotted stuff down.

It’s always a pleasure to work with such folk - to offer a little something that might help and sometimes I find a new favourite move or image which I hope will be useful to them. It’s invariably something that I enjoy myself.

My newest best tip comes from a novel place - the wonderful world of Diane Jacobs and her method of Dermoneuromodulating (and no that’s not a tongue twister - although it works quite nicely as one). Dermoneuromodulating suggests that touch which contacts the skin and the nerves that lie just under it might be a possible and plausible way to work with the body - and her book offers some places and ways to start exploring. I’m going to share one particular exercise / investigation here - I think it’s really cool ! It involves sliding the skin over the SCM.

The SCM or Sternocleidomastoid is that big neck muscle you can see running from behind my ear down to my breast bone in the picture. Slightly counterintuitively (and just like the trapezius) it turns the head to the opposite side - it’s clear in the picture - my right SCM is contracting as I turn my head left.

The SCM is an interesting muscle : big, conspicuous, confusing, busy and very often involved in discomfort and difficulty of relevance to a voice coach, but, it also - rather curiously - hardly ever draws attention to itself directly. I have literally never had a client or student say ‘I’ve got a really tight…or sore SCM’ when they walk into my office although they quite often do say that if I palpate it. The SCM is often implicated in headaches and jaw issues, it’s a muscle of respiration (if you breathe into the upper ribs) and it seems to have something to do with dry coughs.

In vocal massage we work with the SCM quite a lot but Diane Jacobs suggests only using it as a landmark and rather than working with the muscle directly she suggests sliding the skin along its borders. This is the move I’m enamoured with at the moment.

Start by comfortably exploring the range of motion of your neck as you rotate it left and right. So in the room I’m in this afternoon I see a sad pot plant to my right and a jar of massage wax to the left. Now locate the border of the left SCM - I find it easier to do this if I reach across my body.

I’m being a bit squeezey in the picture so you can see where I am but you can be lighter. Now wait for a feeing of the skin sticking to the fingers and then, simply and deliciously, slide your fingers and thumb with the skin and over the muscle. The fingers draw the skin down towards the clavicle and the thumb slightly floats the skin up toward the jaw. Hold in that gentle ‘skin stretch’ for a couple of minutes and then release with care and subtlety. Now check the range of motion - has it increased ? Has the quality of movement changed? How does your voice feel? Repeat on the other side. Sometimes it feels almost miraculously freer.

Interesting isn’t it. How curious that merely sliding skin over a muscle could significantly change the competence of a really significant function of the cervical spine - rotation - and maybe even the sound of the voice or the feeling of swallowing.

Try it before your show once you get to Edinburgh…or to start the day…or before rehearsals…or in your lunch break. And if you’d like someone to explore it with you drop me a line at and come and see me at 58 Broadwick Street.

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