Posture and Body Alignment
What does your body have to do with singing?
Posture is one of the foundation skills that you will need to master before you even make a sound. The way you hold your body will affect everything from your breathing to vocal flexibility. Most people realise that as a singer your voice is your instrument. This is only partly correct. As a singer your entire body is your instrument.
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Let’s take a look at how the body in its most basic form is made up. If we divide the body into 3 separate areas we have:
- The lower body. This is your feet to your hips.
- The torso. This is your waist to your shoulders.
- The neck and head.
If we were to draw two lines from the thinnest point to the widest point on each of these 3 areas we would find that we are made up of 3 “upside down” pyramids.
Let’s just consider the properties of a pyramid in its “correct” form.
As you know the widest, heaviest and most stable part of a pyramid is the base. When the pyramid is inverted the widest part becomes the top. If you were to try and balance an inverted pyramid what would happen? It would fall over of course.
Our bodies are made up of not one, but three of these inverted pyramids. To make matters worse gravity is continually pulling us down. So why don’t we just collapse in a heap?
Our bodies continually use muscles to adjust body alignment. The body contracts and expands muscle to make tiny adjustments to stop us from falling over.
So what has this got to do with singing? How can this possibly affect the sounds I make in my throat?
If your muscles are continually tense they will not function in the necessary way they need to for skilled speaking and singing.
Stand with your feet together, so that your body’s weight is focused and greatest at that point. Now, get someone to push you from your shoulder to one side. Do not resist and notice what happens. Basically you will fall over if your body doesn’t “adjust” itself.
Do the exercise again. This time when you are pushed see if you can resist falling over without moving your feet. What happened? What muscles did you need to contract and tense in order to keep from falling over?
- Lower body muscles
- Abdominal muscles
- Muscles in your neck and throat
It will become very clear in the next article on breathing that tension in the abdomen and neck will make it nearly impossible to develop breath control, a vital aspect of singing.
Have you ever seen a singer stand with their feet together? Choir singers are notorious for doing this. Next time you watch someone sing check what they are doing with their feet!
So how can we correct this “inverted pyramid” problem? We need to lower our centre of gravity by standing with our feet a shoulder width apart. The shoulders are the widest part of our skeletal frame, so it makes sense to widen our stance to match the shoulders. We are now balanced from feet to shoulders. Or are we?
Stand with your feet in the wide balanced stance. Get someone to again push your shoulder sideways. Notice anything different this time? You are much more balanced.
Now get someone to push you backward. Do not resist. What happens? Unless your body “adjusts” you will fall backward.
Do the exercise again. This time when you are pushed try and keep yourself from falling without moving your feet. What muscles did you have to contract in order not to fall?
- Abdominal Muscles
- Lower back muscles
- Neck muscles
As you are already aware, tension in the middle and upper part of your body will lead to inefficient breathing and vocal coordination.
So how can we correct this balance problem? Our feet are already a shoulder width apart. Put one foot slightly in front of the other. It doesn’t matter which foot you choose. Maintain an equal distribution of weight between your feet. With this stance you are now balanced.
Test it. Have someone push you from the sides and from the front and back. Your lower body completely controls your stability, leaving the middle and upper body to remain relaxed and ready to handle the demands of skilled breathing and vocalizing.
This new stance is a huge improvement over the “choir stance” however there are a couple of small adjustments that can be made for even greater stability.
- Keep the weight of your body slightly on the balls of your feet. There is a slight tightening of the abdominal and neck muscles if the weight is on the heels.
- Avoid “locking” your knees, as this will tilt your lower pelvis backward and upper pelvis forward. This will emphasise the curve in your lower back. In effect this will alter your breathing muscles. Soft knees, slightly bent, will maintain proper pelvic position and movement.
Now that we have sorted out the lower part of our body, attention can shift to our torso. It is important to adopt a high sternum and chest position as this will aid in the coordination of skilled breathing. The shoulders must remain low and relaxed. Greater understanding of the importance of the ribs, chest, and shoulders will be examined in the next chapter.
So we have sorted out the lower and middle parts of our body, but what about the third “inverted pyramid”, our neck and head? It is impossible to widen the base of our neck to support the head, so what is the solution? We want to create a feeling of lift, a sensation that our head is “floating” on top of our neck. As if our head is defying the gravitational pull.
Stand in the correct stance you have just learned. Imagine someone attaching a piece of string to the crown of your head and gently pulling up. Feel the back of your neck lengthen. Make sure there is no unnecessary tension in the neck and face when you do this exercise.
From this position tilt your head forward and backward while vocalizing an “ah”. What do you notice?
- In the “chin down” position the sound will appear “squeezed”
- In the “chin up” position the sound will appear “strangled”
This should give you a clue as to the optimal “tilt” of your head.
Lengthen the back of your neck with the “piece of string” exercise. Put your hand behind your head and try and push your head forward. Resist the pressure that is being created and maintain equilibrium. Slowly release the pressure and eventually take the hand away maintaining the exact head position. This exercise will help to align your neck and head to the rest of your body and center your head on your spine.
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- Feet should be a shoulder width apart with one foot slightly in front of the other. Maintain equal weight distribution with weight slightly on the balls of the feet. Relaxed Knees.
- Adopt a high sternum/chest position but keep shoulders relaxed and low.
- Lengthen the back of your neck and maintain a centered position of the head.
It is important that you condition yourself to adopt the proper posture every time you sing, whether it is in practice or performance. The key to learning is to condition the body and mind so that the skill becomes automatic. Once this occurs you can focus on building a new skill.
I hope you gained something from this Interactive Article on posture and body alignment.