Singing live often feels like walking a high-wire without a net. With all eyes upon you, you negotiate through song after song with nowhere to hide should things get shaky. In reality, most of us would have a hard time walking ten steps along the broad side of a 2 X 4. If this is true for you, the problem may be hidden in your stance. If you’re young, posture is something your parents nag you about. If you’re older, the shape of your body seems forged by nature, unchangeable. The reality, though, is that posture directly influences the way we sing. Never mind how many times your mother told you to stand up straight, poor posture makes for poor singing.
Pitch problems, lack of projection and longevity can easily be linked to posture. Tension around the pelvis causes us to overblow, making notes ride sharp. Tension in the neck and jaw restricts the ability of the vocal folds to stretch, making pitches flat. Tension around the larynx also reduces the diameter of the throat, meaning less resonance to project the voice. Slouching restricts breathing and saps muscle strength. You may look casual, but your body is working harder than it should to sing. The result is not cool.
The key to posture is balance. Contrary to what you might think, muscles hold our bones in place. Without muscles constantly adjusting to the pull of gravity, our bones would fall in a heap on the floor. To relieve the stress, bones should be stacked one on top of another, like the wooden pieces of a Genji game. Imagine your legs as tall, slender cylinders bridged by a square block representing your pelvis. Rising from the pelvis are shorter cylinders, like the spools which hold thread, a piece of foam placed between each one to absorb shock. Balanced atop the column of spools is a flat board lying horizontally, forming the widest section of the pile, your shoulders. Your arms are cylinders hanging from each end of this board and your neck a continuation of spools crowned by a much larger skull piece. Keep this pile of odd shapes from tumbling down with a minimum of muscle activity and you win.
Muscle fatigue is brought on by seemly harmless, unconscious behaviors. Sit at a desk, a computer or even a piano for a number of hours and the body starts curving forward, placing stress on the back. Sitting for long periods also causes rear leg muscles to tighten while front muscles weaken, tilting the pelvis. The shoulder which bears the weight of a guitar strap, especially a bass, rises higher than its counterpart once the guitar is removed. Singing into a microphone with your head extended like a turtle tightens the neck. As the years add up, these posture related tensions become so reinforced that the body forgets how to turn them off. More force is needed to over-ride the restrictions. Breathing and flexibility, key components for vocal control, are compromised.
Hanging from a bar is a great way to flush out accumulated tension. You should try and hang out every day. Since gravity is the force which pulls us out of whack, it makes sense to use it to re-align things. When suspended, your bones will naturally form a straight line, just like wooden blocks dangling by a string threaded through their center. The longer you hang, the more your muscles relax. If it’s too hard on your hands and arms, address your body in sections. Drape your head over the end of your bed to release your neck, fan your ribs and stretch your upper back. Pushing yourself up on a ledge, the way you’d get out of a swimming pool, will take the weight off your legs and allow them to hang free. When you return your weight back to your feet, look to maintain that free-floating sensation. Like walking on tip-toes, you won’t weigh any less, but the point is to feel that way. Look for simple ways to suspend your weight throughout the day to keep your posture stress-free. Learning to maintain your balance while singing means never fearing another high-wire performance again.
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