Posture In Singing
Good posture is essential for a singer. Quite apart from wanting to appear, and feel, poised and confident in front of an audience, there are technical reasons why good posture is the most fundamental requirement in singing.
What is good posture?
Good posture is optimal vertical alignment of the various parts of the body, with minimum tension. A concept used in jazz dance and ballet is that of having an imaginary string attached to the top of the head. The string pulls straight up, causing head, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles to become vertically aligned. A similar result is sought by the Alexander Technique’s ‘forward and up’ direction for the head. We want the body to be erect, but as relaxed as possible.
For singing, the sternum is also slightly lifted to expand and elevate the ribcage, and rotate the lowest ribs downward and outward. Probably the most common student faults are a forward slump of the shoulders and sternum, which collapses the ribcage, and elevation of the chin, which pulls the larynx out of position.
Why is it important? Three reasons:
1) Correct vertical alignment with minimum tension leaves the vocal mechanism (the larynx and surrounding musculature) in as relaxed a state as possible. The larynx is suspended in a web of muscles which are attached to the skull and chin above, and the sternum and collar-bones below. Any unusual tension or alteration in the position of these muscles (such as lifting the chin) affects the functioning of the larynx itself.
2) Having the ribcage lifted and expanded frees the diaphragm to contract and descend as fully as possible with a minimum of resistance. This means you get a maximum inhalation with the least possible strain, and your breathing is as swift, easy and silent as possible.
3) Having the ribcage lifted is also optimal for the contraction of the oblique abdominal muscles and internal intercostal muscles. In combination with the natural elasticity of the ribcage, these muscles exert pressure upon the contents of the torso, and give the singer control of the air pressure being applied to the vocal cords. This control of air pressure is sometimes referred to as ‘Support‘.
How do I teach good posture?
Good posture is crucial because without it, the singer cannot breathe or support efficiently. I use demonstration, some simple exercises, and continuous feedback to encourage the singer to adopt good posture. The student’s best friend while working on this area is a mirror and/or video camera with which to monitor themselves, in addition to the teacher’s correction and feedback.
For more detail regarding the breathing mechanism, see the Breathing section.
For more detail regarding support, see the Support section.
Please note: There are substantial differences between the approaches to posture and breathing of the various national schools of voice teaching. The approach I describe here is that of what Richard Miller calls the “International Italianate School”, and this is what I teach. There are also distinctive British and German approaches, and these are reviewed in detail in Richard Miller’s book “National Schools of Singing”. (2)