A huge challenge for most singers is to find the correct body coordination for singing. This is the foundation for a healthy vocal technique and allows for optimal sound quality and consistency. A few lucky singers were either born with or naturally find good coordination and it only has to be tweaked a little here and there by a teacher for optimal results. Everyone else needs to work for it, but it is definitely possible to find the right body coordination with a good, knowledgeable teacher, which then takes the work away from the neck, jaw and tongue, allowing the singer to experience significantly more vocal ease as a result.
Correct body coordination is, of course, a combination of the right amount of work in certain muscles and relaxation in other muscles. I have found in my own teaching that most singers are woefully under-energized in the areas that absolutely need to be energized for exhalation/singing – the abdominal wall, the lower abdominals (right above the pelvic arch) and the lower back (at the lower ribs). I always heard as a young singer that there are two categories of singers, those who do too little work and those who do too much. When I was young, I had the dubious honor of being an underworker in the body and an overworker in the throat, jaw and tongue, a double whammy. When a singer is an underworker, it can be very challenging to get the body working enough to provide a sufficient amount of body resistance. It took me personally a long time to understand that my lower body actually had to do some consistent, concerted effort every time I sang. At first, it felt like too much work, because the muscles were unaccustomed to do doing anything, but as the other parts of my torso gradually learned to work in conjunction, a balance between all of the parts occurred and it no longer felt like an excessive amount of work in one area. Instead, I experienced an energized, vital sense in my torso that felt imminently reliable as a basis on which my voice could rely.
I use a variety of methods to help singers experience that energy and vitality of the lower torso in the studio, but one of the best ways to bring that about is through physical exercise. Certain types of exercise naturally bring about both the energy required to support the voice and the some of the coordination we need to employ while singing. If you too are under-energized, below are some examples of exercises you can try on your own and then go sing. The goal is notice how your lower torso feels while you are exercising and then keep the same energetic, effervescent feeling you have in your torso while singing. Try one or two and see if they help you have a different sense of your body and add more vitality and natural coordination to your support system!
Disclaimer – the contents of this article are not to be construed as medical advice. If you have any physical limitations, please work within those limitations and do not try any exercise that will be too strenuous for you. Doing aerobic exercise and breathing hard through the mouth in cold weather is very stressful for the vocal cords, so try to exercise indoors when it is cold outside. Do not sing directly after exercise if you are winded – wait a few minutes first, then do just a tiny bit of the exercise to remind your body of the previous energized sensation, and then sing. As always, if anything is uncomfortable or painful, stop immediately and seek professional medical advice.
Walk briskly for 20 – 30 minutes (the amount depends on your fitness level – the fitter, the longer you will need) to activate the lower torso. Pay attention to how your torso feels while walking. You should feel a light, slightly bubbly feeling when you have gotten it energized.
Run around the block or for about 5 minutes to activate the lower torso. Pay attention to how your torso feels while running. You should feel a light, slightly bubbly feeling when you have gotten it energized.
Do 10 – 15 minutes of non-stop swimming. Focus on how your torso feels during this whole-body exercise. When you get to the studio, stand in place and mimic some arm movements for swimming for 1 – 2 minutes to help you recall the felt sense of activity in your torso. Then sing.
Do 10 – 15 minutes of poses. Focus on those that require the torso to be strong and help stabilize the whole body to hold the pose vs. poses that stretch the torso. Notice how your torso feels while holding the poses.
Do 25 – 30 jumping jacks, focusing on how your torso feels while doing them. This is an easy one to do in the voice studio!
Tug of War
This sounds strange, but tug of war activates the muscle coordination for singing perfectly. I often pull on my students, using a lunge in the legs – think fencing, shifting back and forth on the legs, one in front of the other, with slightly bent knees and free hips and ankles. Both of us start with our weight on our front legs and hands joined, then pull back away from each other by shifting our weight to our back legs, taking the resultant strain in our torsos, not our arms. The torso has to resist, causing the abdominal wall to activate and the back to widen – exactly what we want for singing! After doing this, you should feel a sense of vibrancy. This can also be done alone by holding both sides of a doorknob and pulling back using your legs in lunge as described above.
This sounds even stranger, but laughing for 20 – 30 seconds at something absolutely hilarious can really get both the torso energized and the ideal body coordination for singing going automatically. Try this, making sure that you are not straining your vocal cords in any way, and then sing with that same approach. After all, laughter is the best medicine.
For more articles and information, visit my website, http://www.thebricelandstudio.com