Well, here it is: Part 2! It’s a bit later coming than I had hoped, and that’s because I had such a wonderful week of acapella camp with the Here Comes Treble Girls. If you haven’t seen it already, check out the clip of their showcase I posted to Instagram and Facebook on Friday. They killed it! And what was so exciting for me was to see how much their breath control improved after learning about all of the alignment recommendations I discuss in this blog post. It was incredible to see the improvement- the girls felt it too! This stuff really works!
So thanks for being here- obviously my last post either intrigued you or didn’t scare you away! I hope Part 2 provides you with some insight or strategies that can help you access the best voice your body has created for you.
So let’s review: alignment and breath good, posture and tension bad. If you haven’t yet read part one of the posture posts, please go to that now before reading on, as I think it will explain my last statement in far greater detail! How do we accomplish this? There are a few things I’d like to suggest.
Over the past few months I’ve taken up yoga and there is no doubt the bodily awareness and control you gain from regular yoga practice is incredible for a singer. I’ve noticed such a difference in my ability to ground myself, be free of tension, and more importantly just be aware of where I hold my tension when I sing. If this is something that you’d like to explore for yourself, I really encourage you to check out a local yoga studio (Yoga Haus or Amana Yoga for those of you in the KV area) or if you’re like me and find it hard to make your schedule work with studio schedules, check out Yoga with Adriene on YouTube. I have loved my time practicing with her gentle prompts. She has an incredible way of helping you be aware of your body, despite not being physically in the room with you, and of helping you to practice yoga within your body’s current capabilities (NO you don’t need to have a rubber band for a body to do yoga. It really, truly is for everyone. Trust me. Try it!). Awareness of alignment is an invaluable tool for a singer to be able to realize when you’re holding or clenching in parts of your body that might inhibit your breathing potential.
And now, with that bodily awareness in mind, here is my alignment checklist. I start from the bottom and work up, building a rectangle if you’re looking at your body face on, but a straight line looking at your body from the side.
Feet: They should be hip width apart, toes pointed forward, weight evenly balanced on all four corners of the two feet. Some teachers recommend having one foot in front of the other which I don’t mind if you are 100% sure your weight is evenly distributed, but in my experience that is rarely the case, which is why I prefer feet directly under the hip sockets, building the foundation of the bodily rectangle.
Knees: They should be slightly bent so that you can envision your breath filling up from the floor all the way up to your lungs, but not so bent you feel like you’re skiing. Make sure you have that connection right to the floor and that your breath doesn’t stop at the hips when you inhale because your knees are locked. Try it both ways to see what I mean. You’ll definitely notice a difference!
Hips: They should be directly on top of the centre of the weight on your feet, building that rectangle. Many people have a tendency to overly sway their back, sticking their hips out too far or tucking them under (dancers I’m looking at you!) which prevents the side-view straight line from forming and simply uses too much muscle strength. This causes tension, disconnecting your breath from your lower body. It’s all about alignment- let your skeleton do its thing the way it’s meant to be and keep your hips level. A good way to ensure you’re not carrying any extra tension in your hip muscles is to move your pelvis around in a figure eight as you are singing. I do this exercise with students often and it’s incredible how much more depth of sound they discover when the breath drops. Try it out!
Chest: Should be open, allowing your shoulders to be more or less on top of your hip sockets, completing the rectangle down to you feet, through the hip sockets. It should have a lifted feeling that originates in the solar plexus, but beware! Trying too hard for this can cause a lot of tension, particularly in the shoulder blades and neck, or it can make a singer push their rib cage out which ruins the side-view alignment and cuts off your ability to breathe into your lower back. There should be a total ease here with nothing protruding anywhere in the middle. Check in a mirror or get a friend (or teacher!) to help you find this length in your middle. Make sure you find ease and space for the breath throughout your entire torso- no tension allowed!
Head: Should be evenly balanced on top of your spine like a bobble-head, with no clenching where your skull meets your top vertebrae. This causes a lot of tension in your breathing and will affect your vocal production when that tension makes its way to the back of your throat, which it will. Make sure you’re not reaching up with your neck, nor crunching down, which some singers tend to do to “help them” reach the really high or low notes. But it truly doesn’t help at all. It just stretches or scrunches you vocal cords unnecessarily. In the middle, baby bear!
Now here’s the thing. I know there are some of you out there who will see this list and go through it trying really really REALLY hard to be an A+ student. And that is commendable, but please….
Take a breath.
In fact, take a breath in between each step and make sure there is zero tension.
Tension is your enemy. Explore an ease of movement, always guided by your breath (this is where yoga becomes very helpful). Try to find the ideal alignment your skeleton was designed to achieve. As Adriene (of Yoga with Adriene) says, “Find what feels good!” Find that alignment and the space within you that allows you to get the deepest breath possible. Don’t let the worry of being “right” or “good” cause you unnecessary tension. It ultimately does the opposite of what you’re hoping to achieve and makes singing so much harder. Just be present, breathe and be confident that your body is “good enough.” You are good enough. Find that ease and space and enjoy playing your instrument. Afterall… you’re the only person in the world who gets to play it!
One final note on alignment is that all of this is merely an anchor to guide you on maximizing your use of breath. In performance, it’s ok to move around- in fact, I encourage it, as long as the movement supports the performance, doesn’t distract and you are able to maintain proper belly breaths. And of course, in musicals or operas movement for acting is absolutely necessary! I in no way want singers to be statues when they perform (hello tension!). Singing is breathing and life, and performances are so much better when your entire body helps you communicate your message and share your talent. Just use these tips on alignment to help you discover you full breathing potential and make sure you always access it, regardless of what your body is doing.
While I do hope this blog post has given you a new perspective on posture for singing and hopefully given you some helpful hints, I, again, cannot stress enough how important it is to find a knowledgeable singing teacher to guide you. (And no, this isn’t a ploy to come work with me, as much as I’m sure I’d love singing with you! Just find a teacher you connect to and enjoy working with. It is so important for longevity and excellence in singing.) They have the outsider’s perspective, training and experience necessary to help you improve areas you don’t even know need improving and grow as an artist in a healthy, informed way. If you’re serious about improving as a singer there is simply no other way to do it.
So, good luck, and until next time keep on Finding Your Voice and Let it Sing!