To sing with ease and efficiency our bodies benefit from being open, released and ready for action. Whether we are standing up or sitting down there are some basic guidelines we can follow that will help us sing to the best of our ability, and reduce the risk of vocal fatigue or strain setting in.
Allow yourself plenty of breathing space. You need to take in more air for singing than you normally do (during day-to-day life).
Let your shoulders relax, and release any tension in your arms, so you are not preventing your ribcage expanding at the sides (i.e. below the armpits). Imagining you’ve got two inflated balloons, one under the back of each arm, can help.
Your ribcage can open wider at the base than it can at the top, as the lower ribs aren’t joined onto the breast bone/sternum. Your lungs can also expand more at this lower level. When we take a deep breath our lungs and ribs expand at a lower level than they would for normal breathing.
Be aware of how your ribcage expands as you inhale. You will feel bigger as you become, literally, inflated. Remember that your ribcage can expand in all directions (to your front, back and sides).
If you find it difficult to breathe deeply, it may be that the curve in your lower back is creating too big a hollow (called lordosis) which is preventing your lower ribcage expanding at the back. To allow the lower back and ribcage to open out, tilt your pelvis so your lower spine extends downwards and your ‘tail’/coccyx tucks under. This will cause your lower back to flatten out (and your tummy to lift slightly), reducing any inward curve/hollow that you may have in your back, and allowing the ribcage and lungs to expand more freely for deeper breathing.
Stand (or sit) Tall
It is easier to sing when you feel alert and alive (rather than slumped or sluggish). Think ‘up’ through the spine and your body becomes more alert and ‘uplifted’. Slump, and your energy levels drop, you become ‘depressed’. Allow yourself to expand vertically – lifting out of the hips and thinking up through the spine to the crown of the head and into the air above.
Don’t Cut Your Own Throat
The voice box/larynx is an essential part of singing. It is a complex piece of kit with many moving parts. To work comfortably and efficiently our voice box/larynx needs to have freedom of movement.
If the muscles around our larynx are tight this will make it harder for us to sing. We want to release as much neck tension as possible.
Allow your shoulders to drop down, and the back of your neck to be free and open. If the back of your neck feels short, check that your head is not reaching forwards (your ear should be above your shoulder not in front of it), and that your chin is not lifted.
Tension in the tongue, the jaw and the face can also restrict our voice production, so keep relaxing and releasing.
Here’s a checklist of how to prepare your body for singing:
- Face & jaw – relaxed
- Head – lifting up from the crown, ear above shoulder
- Neck – long at the back and released
- Shoulders – relaxed and open, across the chest and across the upper back
- Arms – released, let them hang down, thumbs (not knuckles) facing forward when your arms are by your sides. If you are sitting down your arms can rest on your lap.
- Pelvis – tilted so the coccyx is tucked in and the lower back area is fairly flat and open (rather than hollow and curved)
- Knees – released (knees should never be locked when singing)
- Feet – about a hip’s width apart, facing forwards and flat on the floor (no high-heeled shoes, or crossed legs)
Before you start to sing, use the checklist above to do a full ‘body scan’ – from top to bottom, or from bottom to top – to make sure your body is ready for action.