by Aurelius H. Gori, D.M.A.
This article originally appeared in the Cathedral Choral Society’s member newsletter some years ago. We wanted to share it again because so many of our students – both solo and choral singers – have found it useful. Enjoy!
If you find it uncomfortable to stand while singing, or if your breathing becomes difficult, you probably could benefit from some improvement in your overall body alignment. During long rehearsals, we all have occasionally found ourselves slouching, slumping into our chairs, or crossing our legs. Afterwards our voices feel tired, or worse yet, hoarse. A simple remedy for these problems is for us to become more familiar with our individual body alignment and to take certain simple steps to improve it. These ideas are not meant as cure-alls. Some individuals with specific body tension problems, alignment difficulties or other ailments certainly need much more sophisticated help from body work specialists or medical care. However, I have found that small adjustments in body alignment for singing have been among the most effective and successful methods that I have used over the years when teaching my voice students.
Find your “bald spot” and lift it. Your “bald spot” is the area at the top of your head, somewhere around 2/3 to 3/4 of the way back from your forehead. For those of you who actually have hair in this region, I am specifically referring to the hair whorl forming the top of your scalp. The idea of the “bald spot” simply allows you to visualize the imaginary continuation of your spine upwards through your skull as the trend along which your head should be aligned. To lift the “bald spot”, simply align it upwards along the line of your neck, rather than dropping your head too far forward or backward. This gentle lifting motion allows you to feel an overall lengthening of the entire spine regardless of whether you are sitting or standing. Maintain this lengthening all the while you are singing or inhaling gently.
Spinal alignment also has important implications for correct breathing. Many of us inhale actively and gasp going into our sung phrases, creating a noticeably harsh start to our sound in addition to strain. A “lengthened” spinal column may help to minimize this problem and allow for you to inhale passively as if being inspired by a beautiful sunset. Your onsets or “beginnings” of your phrases may become more flowing and the overall sound will have a better chance of being free from throat tension.
If you are singing while standing, allow yourself to achieve a lengthened regal alignment. Think of how you would stand if you were striding forth as an honored hero in a great procession. Allow your feet to feel as if they are ever so slightly behind you; bringing the head and torso forward may further help keep you from slumping. Even if you find yourself on risers, you may achieve better balance if one foot is somewhat in front of the other. You can always switch feet. Give your knees a slight bend as if you were balancing to catch a ball. You can avoid “body lock” by keeping a gentle wave of constant motion moving with the phrases of the music. This can be so subtle as to look like calm stillness from the conductor’s vantage point. If you must use music, keep your folder light and switch your holding arm from time to time. If you hold your folder with both hands, envision your arms forming an arch around your body as if they come all the way from the center of your back. While this may be challenging on crowded risers, it certainly is possible in other choral configurations.
If you are singing while sitting, sit naturally with uncrossed legs. Gently rock the lobes forming the bottom of your pelvis (commonly referred to as sitzbones) toward the front of the chair. If at all possible, place your hands on your thighs or knees and be “a king or queen on a gilded throne.” If their use is at all permissible, a music stand would help you reduce the strain of holding a heavy music folder, allowing you to focus more on your alignment. As with standing, a regal, lengthened spine and unlocked alignment will help you inhale more naturally, greatly improving your tone onsets and overall sound quality.
To further improve your body alignment, you may consider studying the Alexander Technique or Feldenkrais Method. Many singers have also found great benefit in studying the Chinese martial art Tai Chi that is offered at many venues throughout our region.