The Secrets of Singing: Posture

The Secrets of Posture
by  Janak Ramachandran

Control and coordination of the way your breathing supports the creation of sound is the single most important aspect of producing high quality notes in tune.  But there is a skill prior to breathing that is the beginning and end of everything in singing.

The first and most critical foundation of breathing and singing is posture.  By posture, I don’t mean the ‘sit up straight’ or ‘stand at attention’ type of posture.  In fact, these types of posture throw the body out of balance and are counterproductive in singing.  They can actually diminish your ability to sing with strong tone!

Since breathing is the foundation of singing and posture is the foundation of breathing, posture is ultimately the foundation of singing.  But if we’re not trying to sit up straight or stand at attention, what type of posture do we want?

Certainly slouching and caving in the chest is not the answer.  You want the upper body to be comfortably upright.  The secret to upper body posture when breathing and singing is relaxation.  Your goal is to remove tension from every part of your body above your abdomen.  This postural goal can seem counterintuitive because we often think of ‘gearing up’ for a song or a phrase or a word and we often do it with tension in some parts of the upper body.

There is an important role for tension but it is located below the rib cage in your core abdominal groups and in your thigh and butt muscles (more on this later).  The upper body should feel like you are a puppet on marionette strings.  You are so relaxed and comfortable that those invisible strings can pull you wherever they want without resistance.

It is absolutely critical when preparing your body for singing that you consciously include a survey of your posture.  You want to be rooted in your core muscle groups and feeling the source of breathing and singing from this area.  We want the shoulders and upper chest to feel relaxed and unperturbed by vocalizing or breathing!  In addition, the face needs to be consciously loosened and relaxed.  We are often dramatically unaware of how much tension we carry in our faces.  Consciously relaxing the muscles around the jaw, on the forehead, and in the cheeks can do wonders for preparing and practicing toward the development of a beautiful and powerful singing voice.  And most importantly, the neck and the inner throat and tongue must be completely tension free.

Two secret spots are key to cultivating the upper body relaxed posture.  One is the point where the tongue connects to the throat (the part you can’t see if you open your mouth and look in the mirror).  Consciously relaxing this point is a secret catalyst for creating a truly relaxed posture in the upper body and for regaining it quickly in the middle of song (it can even help relax the shoulders!).  The second spot is the muscles under the chin.  If this is loose and not tensing downward (check with a finger while singing), it is a strong indication that the larynx (inside the throat) is staying lower rather than leaping up and choking off the sound.

Great singing can happen from standing, sitting, or lying on the ground.  Sometimes we can feel it easier to be grounded in our singing muscles from a standing position while sitting can make it seem easier to remain loose and relaxed in the upper body.  Lying down can help particularly for specifically encouraging your face and neck to relax.  Regardless, because the effort in singing is rooted neither near the head nor the feet but rather sourced from your ‘center of gravity’, so to speak, strong tone and skillfully nuanced singing can occur from a number of even awkward positions (imagine some of the positions in which an opera singer might sing their dying song).  It is not important whether you sit or stand or lie down—the secret is relaxed posture.

But it is more than just relaxing.  We noted earlier that the place for tension is in the core muscle groups.  The distinguishing characteristic of singing posture is that you want to actively cultivate a disconnect between the relaxation of your upper body and the tension in your core muscle groups.  This can be much easier said than done.  But awareness and conscious focus on this postural aspect of singing can help tremendously.

The reason this disconnected state of upper body and core muscle groups can be challenging lies in the fact that we rarely do anything in life where the lower core muscles are working while the upper body is completely passive and receptive (rather than having its work supported by the core muscle groups).  If we lift a box, there is tension in the upper body being supported by the lower body core muscle group as well as the legs (ideally—if we’re being physically healthy about approaching the lifting of a box).  If I do a bench press exercise, I need my core muscle groups to healthfully approach the arms extending the weight upward.

Perhaps the most colorful explanation comes from Lucciano Pavarotti who, when asked by an interviewer to explain the secret of singing with such beautiful tone and controlled power, playfully responded (paraphrasing):  “Well, I don’t mean to be crude but you have to use the muscles you use when you go to the bathroom!”  (The funnier part of this exchange was probably the way the interviewer tried to quickly move on from this off the cuff remark J).  I love this comment not only because it is funny but because it is particularly instructive.  We are remarkable creatures who use our core muscles for all sorts of important and critical functions including singing (one key muscle is not used while we sing and so, we don’t go to the bathroom while singing, remarkable creatures that we are…).

So singing and the relaxed and muscled posture that supports it is very much a working activity.  Many aspiring singers regularly underestimate how much work is needed in the core muscle group to make the difference between a memorable singing voice and a forgettable vocal attempt.  Stay focused on your relaxed posture and the core muscle groups and you, too, will enthrall audiences with the quality of your singing voice!

Now that your instrument is ‘set up’ properly, the work created by the core muscles goes into the breathing, which is then fueled through the vocal cords and received by the upper body resonating space of the neck and throat.  To read more about breathing check out The Secrets of Singing: Understanding your Instrument

Related topic: Secrets to Breathing

For individual coaching on the techniques in this article and the development of your singing voice, contact Janak for voice lessons.

Copyright © 2011 Janak Ramachandran. All Rights Reserved


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