When you learn any musical instrument, you need to learn how to hold it. This is the same for singers. If you want to sing well, then you must understand that your body is your musical instrument. When we sing, we don’t just stand a certain way because it’s a nice thing to do. We do it because there is a bio-mechanical advantage – or in other words – because the muscles work more efficiently and our tone is more resonant when the body is aligned. Good vocal production is utterly dependent on “how you hold your body” and solving posture and alignment problems can create dramatic and instant improvements in your vocal tone.
Why Deal With Your Posture?
Here are three reasons why you should maintain good posture when you sing:
- Look good: Good posture helps you appear more confident and at ease to your audience. Your audience will enjoy your singing more..
- Feel good: Your general health will be better if you practice good posture as it allows your breathing and circulation systems to function more efficiently and helps relieve fatigue and tension. Apart from this, you will feel more confident and in control if you practice good posture. This is especially useful in stressful situations such as performing. There is a pyschological boost you get from knowing you look good and that you are putting your body into a position that has worked well for you in the past.
- Sound good: Your voice will sound fuller, richer, more resonant if you practice good posture and you will achieve this boost of sound quality easily and naturally. A slumped posture with your head/chin jutting forward will put pressure on the larynx and shorten the neck. This affects the acoustic properties of the vocal tract, destroying tone quality. It also makes it harder to pronounce your words clearly. Similarly, a sunken chest restricts the movement of the diaphragm and prevents the breathing muscles from working efficiently.
What is Good Singing Posture?
The ancient Italian School described the ideal posture for singing as the “noble posture” or a “soldier at ease”. The elements that create this posture are:
- Feet: Your weight should be evenly spread across both feet. Do not put your feet together as this will raise your centre of gravity. Instead keep the feet positioned under the hips. Stand with one foot slightly forward. It doesn’t matter with foot. In fact, you can change the forward foot over long rehearsals.
- Knees: should feel loose and ready to be moved. Avoid pulling the knees back and locking them as this will tilt the pelvis forward.
- The spine: is lengthened by bringing the head up and the tailbone down. The spine extends further up into the skull than many singers realise.
- Shoulders: remain relaxed and sitting comfortably down the back
- The head: balances easily on top of the spine so that the back of the neck is lengthened and the front of the neck is shortened.
Finding the balance
The separate aspects of good posture outlined above need to be brought together as a unified whole. If you try to change some part of yourself without being conscious of the whole, you might disturb the balance of the entire body. Posture, breathing and vocalising form an interconnected system, but, it is posture that determines how efficient the muscles that power this system are able to work. Posture is the common denominator.
For some singers, the idea of good posture is unpleasant and hard work and attempts to achieve good posture simply tighten them up causing problems with the breathing and with vocal function. Another way singers might create problems is in trying to “relax”. It seems the right thing to do, but relax can also be dangerous. Often it causes the body to collapse due to the idea that everything should be comfortable. It is a bad idea to try and eliminate all tension. Your body is not a robot! It cannot operate without tension. During standing, sitting and movement your body must continually adapt and use muscles to adjust its balance and aligment against the earth’s gravity.
Good posture is never about being locked in one place. You should not be rigid, but rather buoyant, with a feeling that your body is switched on and that your singing is connected to the body. One way you can help yourself achieve this is to ensure that you regularly change position during choral rehearsals and singing classes. Try to alternate between sitting and standing and also make effective use of the spaces in the whole room.
Improve your posture
Improving you posture involves developing your awareness of how you (i) look, (ii) feel and (iii) sound when your body is well aligned. Positive experiences with your posture during singing lessons and choir rehearsals can become a template for your personal practice.
The best way to monitor how you look is to work in front of a mirror and also to get feedback from a skilled professional (such as a singing teacher or body-work professional). If you are instructing singers, ensure that the feedback you offer is meaningful and something physical that they can do or monitor. Simply instructing singers to “sit up” or “stop slouching” is likely to be ineffective and possibly counter-productive. Instead you should use instructions such as “check that your weight is spread evenly across both feet” and “allow your jaw to fall open”.
You can also video record yourself singing from various angles. The most obvious visual signs that you are in poor posture are: (1) chin jutting forward and locked jaw, (2) sunken chest (3) tight abdominal muscles (4) signs of tension on the face. The most obvious aural signs that the students are in poor posture are: (1) a thin sound that lacks a sense of core, (2) excessively bright or dark sound, (4) nasal sound, (5) poor word intelligibility.
For most of us, a sedentary lifestyle and large amounts of time sitting in front of computers and the like mean that our bodies have learned many bad habits. You must establish good posture at the start of a rehearsal or class and monitor this for the full duration of the session. With time and regular practice good posture should become an automatic feature of your vocal technique and, ideally, it should carry over into everyday life.
Some Posture Exercises
1. Stand in a doorway. Think of your body as expanding in every direction to fill the entire doorway.
2. Stand in front of a mirror. Look at your body alignment and then try to lengthen your spine by extending your tail bone down towards the floor and the top of your neck towards the ceiling.
3. In a standing position, raise your arms extending them towards the ceiling. Keep you head and neck aligned but note the comfortably high position of your chest and ribs. Bring your arms down into a resting position, but maintain your chest position.
4. Perform a Pilates style roll down. From a standing position, ensure your feet are hip width apart and the knees are unlocked. Gently drop your chin to your chest and continue to roll forward slowly towards the floor. Imagine that you are unstacking each vertabrae in your back one at a time. Keep your core muscles strong as you roll down. Stop rolling down when your body tells you that you have reached your limit of motion. Then slowly roll back up, imagining that you are restacking each vertebrae individually. When you are upright, roll your shoulders back and let them relax down your back
5. Include stretches and appropriate body movement into your warmup routines and singing classes.
6. Take some lessons with a body work professional who uses the Alexander Technique, Pilates or Feldenkrais.