Bad habits of vocalists and what to do about them #2. Posture
Posture for singers
Everyone has them – those little things that we do without even thinking about them. Bad habits in singing, as well as in life, are things that we don’t necessarily notice we do unless someone points them out to us. Over these posts I’m highlight the most common bad habits I come across in singers, and ways that you can catch them before they become full scale problems. The last one was on breathing and this one covers posture.
Our posture and how we hold ourselves is a key factor in so many areas of life. It can affect how we come across to others, how much power and confidence we emit, and how much support we have on our voice. Here are a few of the most common areas that we need to pay special attention to when thinking about our bodies in relation to singing.
There are so many different habits people are in when it comes to their heads. Stiff necks are a common complaint, and can actually affect the function of the voice. A lot of stress and tension is held in the neck, so it’s a good idea to keep yourself stretched out and as loose as possible in that department. Commonly, many people have a tendency to favour one side of their neck to the other, resulting in a slight tilting of the head to one side. This can be magnified when we sing as another tendency is often to lift the chin upwards, especially when reaching for notes. Neither of these are helpful to voice production as they put extra strain on the muscles around the voice, and it’s a good idea to spot them and to try and counter them as much as possible. Keeping a straight line for your instrument to play through means no extra strain is put on the voice and it can work as wonderfully as it was designed to.
Top Tip – Feel along the top of your head to the point right before your skull starts to curve downwards at the back. Grab a few strands of hair and pull upwards allowing a very slight downward tilt in your chin. This neck position (feel how long it feels at the back) is the perfect position for your instrument to function freely and easily. Tilt your head forwards and back, and return to your previous position. Get used to how it feels and try and stay as close to this position as possible when working through your vocal exercises.
When we are unsure or unconfident, one of the first things that happens is we shrink inwards our shoulders come forwards and we hide away. This is one of the least helpful positions we can put our bodies in for singing as it drastically restricts our breathing. Not only this, but it makes us look uncertain and as if we don’t want to be somewhere. In a vocal performance, if someone looks like they would rather be anywhere else than in front of you singing, then anyone watching is more than likely to switch off quickly. Standing tall and confident can actually help you to feel stronger and more at ease, and making sure that your breathing is as free as it can be is just going to make your voice sound at its best, hopefully giving you more confidence.
Top Tip – Stand, clasp your hands together behind your back, and pull down. Really puff out your chest and dig your shoulder blades downwards, pulling your hands as far down as you can. When you release your hands roll your shoulders back 3 times, and allow them to fall into place, with your hands hanging down by your sides.
The age old question of what do I do with my hands. If you’re playing an instrument then luckily, you escape this issue (even then your posture can be problematic when leaning over a guitar or keyboard). However for the times when we don’t have a guitar to occupy our fingers, for a lot of people what to do with the hands can lead to some very bad habits. Clenching fists, hands in and out of pockets, scratching, standing hands together a-la von Trapp…these are just a few of the many inventive ways that we find to keep our hands amused when we don’t have a clue what to do with them. Ultimately, most of the time what we do doesn’t affect our voice specifically, but it does look bad, is distracting and we need to be aware of what we are doing.
Top Tip – If you’re a fidget, try doing a singing session whilst holding some hand weights or a few tins of beans. Every time you go to move your hands, you’ll realise. Once you’re aware of doing it, you will begin to stop yourself.
When we are standing, we need to be planted strongly. Feet shoulder width apart, knees soft and facing forwards. Another nervous feature we often display is to shift our weight from side to side, or forwards and backwards. If we put all our weight on one foot, often we’ll be unbalanced and our bodies be skewed, causing unnecessary muscle tension. Being strongly planted doesn’t mean having to stay completely still. It just means that whatever position we end up in, we are holding ourselves with strength and are balanced.
Top Tip – Imagine that your feet are shackled down shoulder distance apart, and hold yourself up straight, using your muscles to hold your hips firmly in place. Take a few breaths and see how it feels just to stand firm in this position. Move around the top of your body in whatever way you want, but from the hips downwards, keep yourself still. This way you get used to being ‘planted’. Try this whilst having a conversation with someone. It’s amazing how much we rely on other parts of our body when trying to convey emotion without even realising it.
To identify habits makes them much easier to break. A good idea is to have a friend or a fellow singer who you work with, get them to point out habits you may not have noticed, and share with them things you want to work on, and ask them to let you know when you’re slipping back into them. You can do the same for them. Sooner, rather than later, ‘that finger thing’ that you do, will be a thing of the past!
The Musicademy Worship Vocals Course is a full years’ vocals programme in a single DVD box set. It covers all the basics of breathing and posture before taking you through warm-up exercises and finally getting into a variety of singing techniques – all with a worship-focus and outworked with contemporary worship songs.
Catherine Mayne is what she likes to call ‘a creative type’. Working freelance as a singer, actress and vocal coach she likes a bit of variety to life, be it appearing on film, treading the boards in London, in the recording studio, or teaching others to sing in her lounge. She has worked extensively with vocal groups, providing coaching and instruction for choirs, and workshops for contemporary vocal groups on microphone technique, blending and harmony work amongst many other things. Catherine offers coaching to singers of all levels, individuals and groups, and across all genres, believing that a good fundamental knowledge of your instrument is the first step to success, no matter which route you plan on taking.
If you would be interested in either private vocals coaching from Catherine, or a day’s vocal workshop for your worship team, plese contact the Musicademy office [email protected]. Catherine is based in Walthamstowe, East London but can travel.