It is very easy for singers to get caught up in the minutia involved in perfecting their vocal technique. The process is a challenging one for most singers and takes a huge amount of time and effort. There are so many moving parts – various small and large muscles to be controlled, different sensations that need attention, individual thoughts to focus on, etc. – that it is extremely easy to lose the big picture of healthy coordination that is truly the end goal for all singers. For indeed, the individual parts of the vocal mechanismdo not work individually. That type of compartmentalization is merely our own way of simplifying the process in order to work on it and improve it. The parts are always working in conjunction with the rest of the mechanism and always work better when the other parts of the mechanism are functioning correctly and more efficiently as well. This is the way the whole body is designed, as well as the vocal mechanism.
It is obvious to singers that problems with the breath can affect how the mechanism works. If the breath is held or pushed, it will affect the airstream, the approximation of the cords and the resulting tone quality. This also holds true if there is too little breath resistance. A balance between the two extremes of the appropriate coordination is needed for the vocal mechanism to work at its optimum level and create the best sound quality. This is only one example of how one part can affect the ability of the rest of the mechanism to work correctly.
However, once certain healthy coordinations of the vocal mechanism become more automatic, they begin to help each other create a better overall coordination of the mechanism. I call this the “upward spiral” of the learning process. Correct breath resistance helps anchor the larynx and achieve the laryngeal tilt, use of the “ng” ring encourages breath resistance and helps keep the vocal cords from being overblown, etc. The wonderful thing about the upward spiral is that the singer has to do less work in order to achieve a healthy, functioning technique.
What many singers fail to realize, because it is never been explained to them, is the fact that the body also works as one mechanism, just as the vocal mechanism does. We tend to conceive of the body in parts, but it always works as an interconnected whole. Therefore, issues in one area of the body can adversely affect other areas that would seem to us to be unrelated. There are many clear examples of this. Pulling up and away from the floor (instead of allowing one’s weight to drop, release downward and be grounded) tightens the back of the neck, the lower back and creates overstretches the muscles in the front of the torso. Shoulder tension from emotional stress, extensive computer use, etc., tightens and affects not only the whole torso adversely, but also the hip joints. That is because there is still a strong, muscular relationship between each shoulder and the opposite hip joint from our time millennia ago as quadrupeds. The joints in each of our limbs are all affected by one another. An issue in one knee, for example, affects the functioning of not only all of the joints in that leg, but all of the joints in the other leg as well and also has an effect on the joints in the arms.
The relationship between the different parts of our body is not always obvious to us, because we lack the awareness of subtle differences in muscular tensions. Because of that, the subtle tensions build up over time without our conscious awareness until the breaking point comes and, “all of a sudden,” we feel pain and don’t know why. Or even if we don’t get to that point, we carry around unhelpful tensions in our bodies every day that can get in the way of the healthy working of the vocal mechanism without our knowledge.
Therefore, it is important for singers to realize that they need not only be concerned with unnecessary tension in the vocal mechanism, but also with unnecessary tension in the whole body, since it can have such an impact on how well the vocal mechanism functions. The Alexander Technique directly addresses this issue of unnecessary tension and helps students of the Technique not only release it, but work on achieving an upward spiral in how the body is being used. The key to achieving that upward spiral is called the Primary Control.
The Primary Control consists of the relationship between the head, neck and the back. When this relationship is free and balanced, it acts as a key, unlocking the door to coordinated freedom and ease throughout the whole body. Singers tend to have different keys to unlocking their vocal technique, but the Primary Control is consistent with everyone. It make a huge difference in how the AT student breathes, moves and feels throughout the whole body. It automatically helps balance muscle pairs all over the body by releasing unnecessary, unhelpful tension and activating helpful energy in muscles where needed. It frees the torso and the breathing reflex in the rib cage and renews the inmate springiness in the spine. It frees the joints in the arms and legs and helps release the weight of the body through the legs and feet and into the floor for true grounding. And, very importantly, it brings about a wonderful free coordination in the body as a whole, which makes movement seem light, effortless and very pleasurable.
Understanding that the body as a whole mechanism is crucial for every singer’s optimal vocal functioning. The vocal mechanism does not exist in a vacuum, apart from the rest of the body. It is completely integrated into the body and, since the body is so interconnected, every part of the body can therefore affect the vocal mechanism. Singers should take advantage of wonderful help the Alexander Technique has to offer to get rid of excess tension and improve poor coordination in every part of the body, as well as addressing tension and coordination in the vocal mechanism itself.
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