Ok, here I want to tackle the understanding of the spine and its direct effect on our vocals! I have had many students come in expecting to enable to slouch and get the results they desire when singing and in truth it will just not work that way. Before we go into this I want to express that I am not a chiropractor or doctor. I am simply relaying to you all the things that I have learned over my decades of singing and I want to share that information with you in the hopes that you will use it to become a better vocalist yourself.
I remember being told by friends that I had good posture, and I would think to myself, "how strange a compliment is that?"
It didn't occur to me later that years of vocal lessons and dance has affected my life that I would probably not have expected. And though I do go to the chiropractor, and I am regularly adjusted, the truth is I do tend to focus on my posture. Not just because I find poor posture mildly unattractive, but also because I know the effects of poor posture on my body.
Did you know that the weight of your head alone increases when leaning forward, even by an inch? You end up putting stress on your neck and vocal cords that affect your ability to sing freely! Yikes!
When your shoulders are rolled forward, you decrease the ability to fill your lungs. YOu are effectively restricting the amount of oxygen you can take in and consequently having adverse effects on your breath support. Yikes, x2.
So what are some of the problems with having poor posture?
There is plenty of research on the subject of posture regarding vocalists. So many assume that the way they stand doesn't have any effect on their singing at all. Though after researchers have explored this fact, the opposite is true.
If we thought of our bodies as structures built to do something specific, we would need to think like architects. Our bodies are the "building" we are trying to establish, though we are malleable, able to bend. When you think of an instrument like a guitar, a piano, or a wind instrument like a clarinet or tuba, you think of firm structures used to create the desired sound and effect.
When you think of a vocalist, you think of a person who has taken the time to learn the power of their physical instrument.
Our bodies are a series of moving parts that form a pliable instrument that can be used to do amazing things, but we must first learn how this instrument works. We must learn to take our bodies into our control and create a functional instrument.
We will start that process with the Spine.
The Spine is the support beam of our bodies, providing the structure necessary to become a human instrument. It gives us the ability to create more space to breathe, and it takes on the weight of parts of our bodies so that we don't use our muscles unnecessarily; it is the piece that holds us upright and together. Without it, we are incapacitated.
If you see a chiropractor, they will likely explain how the spine is interconnected to every part of your body. All the vital organs are connected through the spinal cord to the brain, and an unhealthy spine is out of alignment. It could cause further damage if not addressed. I go to my chiropractor regularly. I have noticed immediate relief of shortness of breath or pain, even migraines when I visit and recommend the treatment by a chiropractor to anyone interested.
The interesting thing (to me) is how the spine is structured. It has three corresponding curves that bring balance and fluidity to the body.
A quick overview;
The Cervical curve is at the top of your spine, directly below the skull. This curve, consisting of seven vertebrae, when aligned appropriately, will hold up the weight of your head and allow your laryngeal muscles to move more freely. Essentially if your head is stationed correctly upon the curve of your cervical spine, you will have more vocal mobility! When out of alignment, your voice will be more cumbersome to work with. You will be using the muscles in your neck to hold up your head instead of allowing the bones in your spine to do the hard labor.
Next, we will move on to the Thoracic curve of the spine. This portion of the spine holds the ribcage. The Thoracic section of your spineis where you will fin the space for breath support. One of the main issues most people deal with in this area is the shoulders rolling forward and not standing tall. Rolling your shoulders forward and slouching shrinks the space for your lungs to expand, but what is worse is standing tall and getting a full breath then opening your mouth to sing and losing it all in one shot by dropping your chest again and rolling the shoulders forward, subsequently forcing any breath you may have out in a rush. This is a chronic issue for many aspiring vocalists. You won't get far if you don't gain control over the spine in that area. Standing tall and maintaining the proper posture will keep that breath where it belongs. You must stay standing tall to maintain breath support. You must not roll your shoulders forward or drop your chest when singing. These are counterproductive actions and will steal your support system from under your voice.
Finally, there is the Cervical curve. At first glance, one would assume that there is no real effect to the breath support system from the lumbar curvature of the spine, but the truth is the diaphragms is attached to the lumbar section. If you have taken voice lessons in the past you likely have heard a version of the phrase "use your diaphragm". To give you an idea of what the diaphragm actually is I will describe to you as best I can and add an info graphic to help.
The diaphragm is shaped much like an umbrella, its base is connected to the lumbar section of the spine as we have discussed and then the fibers of the muscle spread out over the stomach and liver separating the lower half of your torso from the thoracic section. This muscle is one that can compress and stretch your lungs to give greater depth of breath. It can also be used to strengthen your lung capacity by strengthening the diaphragm through breath support exercises. When you "use your diaphragm" you are using the muscle that gives your breath support the greatest strength. It is more at your disposal to manipulate than say, your lungs. You can expand your lungs with training, but the diaphragm will support them. That being said, the importance of this is that the diaphragm must be connected to the spine in order to receive instructions from your brain. The place your diaphragm is connected is your lumbar curve!
In an effort to keep my blog posts wth a 5 minute read I want to conclude here.
The spine is far more important to your voice than you may have anticipated. And standing straight and tall will help you sing more fluidly, have better breath support you can be more confident in and it will improve the health of your organs at the same time! This is a win, win, win, win situation. All you have to do is stand tall, shoulders back, feet apart and hold your head high.
Hope you enjoy!