I always say “Your body is your instrument, not your voice”. And in my opinion, the single most important part of your body involved in good singing technique is the one part of the body that most singers are the least familiar with: the pelvic floor.
Your pelvic floor is an area of muscular and membranous tissue that extends between your legs from your pubic bone in front through to your tailbone in back. Both men and women have a pelvic floor.
We all know the feeling of needing to urinate and having to hold it until we find a bathroom. That “holding it” sensation is you pulling up on your pelvic floor. Try it now. Stand up and pretend like you are trying not to urinate and pull your pelvic floor up towards your belly-button. Now let your pelvic floor return to neutral, then go in the opposite direction. Bear down on your pelvic floor in the direction away from your naval as though you were trying to have a bowel movement. Good! You have just successfully manipulated your pelvic floor in both directions.
What does the pelvic floor have to do with singing? For singing, the ability to employ a downward motion of the pelvic floor is extremely helpful for efficient breath support. Let me explain why. Most singers use the muscles of the support in the wrong direction. They take their abdominal muscles, clench them up and push them in. In doing so, they are pushing their diaphragm up which pushes too much air out. The function of the abdominals muscles in support is to support the diaphragm to stay low and move slow so the singer moves the LEAST amount of air possible needed to vibrate the vocal cords creating the optimal amount of sub-glottal pressure for resonance. A slight bearing down on the pelvic floor helps keep the abdominal muscles of support consistently engaged without pushing inwards, and in doing so, helps support the diaphragm to stay low and move slow creating the optimum amount of air movement and sub-glottal pressure to create a beautiful, resonant sound without getting out of breath.
Try this: Stand up and put your hand on your lower belly way below your bellybutton. Now bear down on your pelvic floor the same way you did above, as though you were having a bowel movement. You should feel the abdominal muscles under your hand engage. Now put the palms of your hands on your oblique muscles (they are the muscles right above your hip bones on either side of your abdomen) and do the same thing, bear down on your pelvic floor. You should feel your obliques under your palms engage as well. When you engage the pelvic floor by sending it down, you also engage all the other abdominal muscles necessary for support in the correct way. Now lets put breath to this. Keep your palms on your obliques, inhale and then exhale on a hiss. Start the hiss by engaging a gentle downward motion of the pelvic floor (gentle is very important here, don’t slam them down). Keep the pelvic floor engaged and low and don’t let it go until you are comfortably out of breath, then release it on the inhale. Now let’s add a vibration to it. Keep your hands on your obliques but instead of exhaling on a hiss, we are going to employ a lip trill (like propeller lips) on a comfortable pitch. Inhale and then start the lip trill by engaging a gentle downward motion of the pelvic floor. Keep the pelvic floor engaged and low as you vibrate on the lip trill and don’t let it go until you are comfortably out of breath, then release it on the inhale.
This is the basis for using your pelvic floor in singing. It’s all about opposition. When the pitch rises, lower the pelvic floor a little more to counteract the body’s desire to want to help that pitch rise by pushing the support in and up. Instead we want to go down and out. The higher the pitch goes, the more you lower your pelvic floor. When faced with a very long phrase, singers tend to push the muscles of support in and up to eek out whatever air is left in their lungs to make it to the end of the phrase. DON’T. . . .you have a better tool. Instead, start the phrase with a good gentle engagement of the pelvic floor and if you reach a moment where your body starts to worry about making it to the end, engage your pelvic floor a little lower and a little stronger to help you keep whatever air is left in your lungs and ride you to the end of the phrase.
Sing in the new year with this new idea of support. From my family to yours, happy 2017!