In 20 years of teaching voice you start to notice certain things that seem to creep into the studio over and over again. As a younger singer, I’m sure I was guilty of some of these errors, too. Maybe this sounds familiar: You are standing with good alignment (you’ve been working hard on this), you inhale deeply, you start to sing expecting your voice to soar…Something’s wrong, the voice is not coming free; no matter how low in your body you are trying to connect, no matter how hard you are working, it seems to be all stuck in your throat. Yes, there may be tension issues and other technical problems, but today we are going to focus on the Kink in the Hose.
Some teachers refer to the imagery of having a column of breath to carry the sound. I once heard Marilyn Horne refer to imagining the breath as a water fountain with a ball being carried at the top of it. This image of the flow leads to my analogy of the kink in the hose. Misalignment in the body will prevent the free flow of breath much like a kink in a hose prevents the free flow of water. Some postural problems are due to poor muscle balance and require correction starting with proper postural assessment and a good exercise prescription, which may require the assistance of a personal trainer or physical therapist. Today, however, I’m going to assume that there is good alignment with no overt postural problems. Here are three common problems that can occur once the mechanism of singing starts.
Hyperextension of the back
This occurs when the singer over-exaggerates standing tall. He is trying to keep shoulders back and sternum lifted as he has been instructed to do, but over compensates. In doing so, the abdominal muscles are pulled taut so they don’t have the freedom to move as required. The back is shortened in this posture so that the back of the ribs are compressed and likewise do not have the freedom necessary to facilitate effective breath management. Breathing tends to become more shallow if this posture is maintained. This posture can sometimes be difficult to spot since the ear-shoulder-hip-ankle may still seem aligned. Strong core muscles can help minimize the tendency to back extension. Watch that the distance between the pelvic bone and the bottom ribs stays the same at the front and back while maintaining a neutral spine (a slight expansion of the ribs will be felt).
Anterior pelvic tilt
This one I’ve encountered most often with transfer students who have been encouraged to focus on belly breathing. They push into their belly, which pulls the ribcage forward, forces the pelvic bone to rotate forward and causes more curvature in the lumbar spine. These singers often feel like they are working very hard, yet can’t seem to connect the voice to the breath resulting in a thin wobbly voice. Looking at a side view will help identify this problem easily. Focus on maintaining a neutral spine. Reworking the habits of inhalation may take a little time, but thinking of costoabdominal breathing may help. The reward of a fuller, steadier, more powerful sound that seems so much easier to produce is usually incentive enough to get quick results in the correction of this poor postural habit.
Posture is well-aligned and maintained through inhalation and then, as the first note is sung, the head moves forward, usually leading with the chin. There are a couple reasons this can happen. One is the singers desire to connect with the audience and move closer to them. This is sometimes accompanied by the full-body lean towards the audience. This singer has to become aware of tendency and let the audience come to them. Another possible cause of forward head is the subconscious idea that this is helping get the sound out. The singer is most likely not even aware of this happening. Aside from resulting in a less than convincing performance this posture will cause tension around the larynx impeding the freedom of the vocal mechanism and of airflow. Watching in a mirror and using it as a tool for feedback can help this problem, whatever the underlying cause.
Aside from hindering vocal performance, these poor postural habits left unchecked can lead to back problems and even eventual vocal pathologies. I’ve listed just three of the most common ones that I come across. If you know of other postural problems that occur during singing or have an issue yourself please feel free to comment and open up the discussion.