The ways in which we use our bodies in our day-to-day lives effects how we sound when we sing.
What do I mean exactly?
When your body is your instrument, the way you use it when you are not singing influences how it behaves when you are.
An example I like to give is of a tenor I worked with who was extremely tall (nearly NBA tall, well over six feet). He had always been taller then everyone around him from the time he was young. Because of his height, his interactions with other people nearly always required him to look down at the people he was speaking to, round his shoulders, cock his head and neck downwards both to try to make eye contact, and to also make himself appear smaller and less imposing to those he was with. When he would get up to sing, the same physical pattern would appear. . . a physical shortening and collapsing. Singing from this position created tension in his neck, throat and sternum which prevented him from accessing the full breadth and energy of his support, limited his range and squeezed his sound. Yet he didn’t even realize it because that physical position felt so normal to him since it was his day-to-day habit. The simple act of lengthening through the back of his neck and allowing his shoulders to widen and slide down his back in preparation for singing drastically helped his technique and improved his sound.
It is very difficult to maintain a neutral physical position when you sing if it isn’t used in your day-to-day life.
So I instructed my tenor to begin physically checking in with himself several times throughout the day. . . .to ask himself as he stands in line at the market or as he is driving or as he has a conversation with friends “Where am I in my body?” and then to make those simple adjustments in that moment to bring himself back to a neutral, aligned and free body usage.
It is so important to do this when you are NOT singing so that the body truly has a chance to change its’ habit. There are too many other things to think about when you are singing that the body is going to rely on its’ default. So the task becomes to change the default. How to do this?
Start to pay attention to how you use your body when you are NOT singing.
The next time you are standing in line at the store, take your body through the following check-list. It will help you become aware of your habits and change your default.
- Am I clenching my jaw, are my molars touching?
- Is my tongue stuffed up sucking at the roof of my mouth or thrusting towards my front teeth?
- Are my knees locked?
- Is my lower back swayed/arched?
- Is my belly tight or sucked in?
- Can I lengthen up through the back of my neck out the top of my head?
- Can I “unzip” my sternum, ie. allow my chest to widen?
- Can I allow my shoulder blades to slide down my back?
- Can I drop my pelvis and my tailbone?
- Can I soften my abdomen and let my belly go?
- Can I let my tongue fall away from the roof of my mouth?
Once you have taken yourself through the check-list and found your neutral open physical position, cultivate an awareness of what it feels like to be in that body. This is how we create the muscle memory of a new default. After some time has passed, check-in with your body again. You will likely have gone back to the old habit, so run through the check-list again and set up that new default again.
The more often you have the presence of mind to do the check-in and bring yourself out of the old habit and into the new one, the longer you will be able to maintain the new physicality until it becomes your default whether you are singing or not.