Posture in Four Takes:
Take 2 – The Head Position
The second area where small changes can make big differences is the position of the head. Many singers come to me with what I call “social media posture;” that is, the head is forward and down as if looking at a mobile phone. In the noble posture, the head is balanced atop the spine and one is looking forward to something at approximately eye level.
Why is the position of the head important? First of all, think of balance. The skull of an adult can weigh from 12-20 pounds. Imagine a weight such as a gallon of milk (about 8 lb.) or a 20-pound bag of groceries hanging from the neck or shoulders at the front of your body. What a load that would be! Yet if the head is forward, we must use the muscles of the neck and upper back to keep the head from falling further forward. If you have to carry a load, it is much better to distribute it evenly and balance it. Applied to the body, if the head is in balance atop the spine, there is only minimal muscular effort to keep it in place. However, if your head is forward, the muscles of neck and the upper back are working to hold it and you end up with tight muscles and, eventually, a limited range of motion.
For singing, of course, one wants to find the body and head position which allows for ease of production and maximum resonance. Personally, I believe that finding the proper head position is just as important for space in the pharynx as lifting the soft-palate. Think about the larynx, where our vocal folds produce sound, housed in the front of the throat. A posture which places muscular stress on the throat and neck will affect the quality of the voice.
Try this simple exercise to get a sense of head position’s role in sound production. Stand in your normal posture. While reciting something (the alphabet, or the lyrics to a song), move the head forward for a few seconds and then back while standing in place. Even in the speaking voice, you should notice the change of quality and resonance with change of head position. Repeat, finding the place where your natural resonance seems to be best. This is the basic head position for singing,
The change in resonance when we move the head forward or backward is due in part to the changing of the resonating space at the back of the mouth and upper throat (pharynx), and in part due to the increase and decrease of muscle strain in the area immediately surrounding the larynx.
Try vocalizing with the head in the position where you found the best speaking resonance. You will experience sensations of resonance and a feeling of ease in production in the throat. You will naturally feel space in the pharynx without having to do a lot of stretching or lifting.
In the following blog entries I will outline some ways to find a balanced posture with a head-neutral position. This is so foreign to most of us that we need to work to find it and practice it!