The Alexander Technique provides an answer to singers frequently asked question regarding the correct singing posture. Correct singing posture is based on good general posture. Singers with bad posture will simply tend to stand badly in a different way when the attempt to "stand straight" for singing. This article provides an experiment to see how well your singing posture works for you, and suggestions on how to correct it.
A question that singers often pose to me, as an Alexander Technique teacher is "what is the correct posture for singing?"
Singers come to the act of singing with an already established postural pattern. If this posture is faulty, as it most commonly is, then when they come to sing they try to correct this posture by "standing straight." Most commonly this involves tensing their legs and pulling back the shoulders in a way which narrows their back thus fixing their rib cage and affecting the ability of their floating ribs to expand to allow full expansion of the diaphragm.
It is normally easy to demonstrate to singers that their idea of "standing straight" is the very worst thing they can do for their breathing and voice by asking them to do the following experiment.
Experiment: Stand in your best singing posture and sing a few lines of a song. Now have a good slump. Make sure that you bend your knees. And now sing those lines again. What happens?
In 90% of cases singers find that their voice is more resonant and their breathing easier. Why is this? Simply put, what most singers think of as a correct singing posture simply tightens them up restricting both the breathing and the whole vocal apparatus.
Does this then mean that we should sing in a slump? No. This exercise is really to show singers that their habitual idea of good posture is counter-productive. But if we do less tensing allowing the legs to be somewhat freer and not pushing ourselves up, and pulling the shoulders back things will be easier.
Frederick Matthias Alexander, the actor after whom the Alexander technique is named worked with his voice problems by observing himself in mirrors in the act of vocalizing. If you do use mirrors you will need at least two, arranged so that you can get a side view of yourself.
If you were to use mirrors you may also see something that Alexander saw in himself, a tendency to tighten your neck as your head gets pulled back and down or poked forwards as you project your voice. This movement puts pressure on the larynx, restricts the free working of the vocal folds and in bad cases, causes nodules. The attempt to "stand straight" tends to activate extra underlying tension throughout the body, which makes this tendency even greater.
The educationist and philosopher John Dewey, as student of F.M. Alexander noted many years ago when writing about posture, that only the person who can already stand properly does so. If a person has developed a faulty postural pattern, they simply do not have the pattern encoded in their nervous system to stand properly, and any attempt to do so will simply result in standing badly in a different way. The idea that by an act of will they can stand correctly is simply a delusion.
So if we wish to find the correct posture for singing then most people will need to go through a process of reeducation of their postural and movement patterns in everyday life. We cannot suddenly transform ourselves when we come to the act of singing.
The process that Alexander went through to change his habits involved many hours of acute observation and experiment using mirrors. You can read about this in the first chapter of his book "The Use of the Self." More commonly today people can go to an Alexander teacher who can guide them through this process, with verbal and manual guidance. Vocal improvement and freedom of breathing are directly associated with better use of the whole body. If you wish to improve your singing find an Alexander teacher who is comfortable working with you in the act of singing as your posture improves, to help you identify and remove more subtle interference with your voice.
To find a qualified Alexander technique teacher find the Alexander technique professional society for your country on the internet. Or go the UK Society of the Alexander Technique (Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique) website and they will have links to all the societies to which they are affiliated.
David Moore has been teaching the Alexander Technique for over 26 years. He is the director of the School for F.M. Alexander Studies in Melbourne, Australia which runs an international training school for Alexander teachers as well as offering a wide range of lessons and courses to the general public.