For many students, finding the noble posture is elusive. We are so accustomed to our habitual posture, that it is difficult to maintain any variation upon it for more than a few minutes. Here are three ways to find the proper alignment, while standing, lying down, or sitting.
- “The Wall “– standing.. Stand leaning your back against a wall or door. Your feet may be away from the wall, or against the wall if that is comfortable. Most important is the alignment of the trunk and head. The hips are leaned against the wall; the shoulder/upper back area is against the wall. The back of the head is against the wall. If the head cannot comfortably reach the wall, you can place a rolled-up hand towel behind the neck for gentle support and it will hold your head in a moderated position. The shoulders should be relaxed and down. In this position, you should be able to inhale and feel the abdominal muscles expand, and when you exhale, all the points of contact with the wall should remain; only the abdomen contracts. You can practice singing in this position. It may feel strange at first, but ultimately it is a very efficient use of the body for the long exhalations required by singing.
- “The Floor” — lying down. For many, this position is easier to find than “The Wall” because they do not have to hold the ribcage up. LIe down on the floor facing up. Bend the knees and place the feet flat on the floor. Find a place of comfort for the lower back. You might need to put a small support under your head, such as a book. You should be able to take a breath and feel the expansion of the abdomen. For those who have trouble releaseing the abdomen, this is often the easiest way. However, because in this position the postural muscles do not have to work to hold up the body or hold the head in position, it is not as useful to practice singing in this position.
- “Backwards on a Chair”— seated. Find a good sturdy straight chair, one that has a seat which is horizontal rather than angled. You are going to sit backwards on the chair, straddling it. Holding the back of the chair for balance and stability, find the position where you are seated out near the edge of the chair, at a balance point. Keep the hands in contact with the back of the chair as you experiment with this!!! You should be able to both slouch and arch the lower back. Try to come to a neutral position of the lower back and keep holding on to the back of the chair for balance. You will feel that you have to engage your core muscles to maintain this position. It is especially effective for those who over-arch the back. The head should not be forward. In this position you should be able to take a breath and feel the expansion of the abdominal area. Maintain the balance as you inhale and exhale. This position is felt to be the most difficult of the three by many, but if you tire standing against the wall, it is another way to train the muscles and is closer to what you must do while standing.
In practicing singing, it is unfortunately common to begin to ignore the posture as you take on musical and vocal tasks. Then you go back to your habitual posture. “The Floor” is most useful to FIND the alignment, but not for practicing singing, because you do not have to raise the ribcage against gravity. “The Wall” and “Backwards on a chair” are very useful for helping maintain a healthy alignment while singing, as you teach your body the noble posture and your muscles become accustomed to it.
The process of finding and maintaining this posture can be subtle. It is far easier to imitate an extreme military or balletic posture, both of which are too rigid for beautiful singing, than to find the noble posture. In everything we have covered regarding posture, nothing should be rigidly held. In order to achieve a lovely phrase based on a nuanced flow of breath, the body should be in a position of readiness; if any part of your body is locked into a fixed position, the flow of breath will not be as smooth and easy; the voice may seem pressed, or breathy, or may be less flexible.
Finding the noble posture and using it while singing often releases pressure in the throat. Students sometimes feel they are not “working hard enough,” either in the body or in the throat. Because this method is very efficient and uses large muscles of the body, it is not as effortful as other ways of breathing. My response to this comment is, if you feel you are working less, are you making it to the end of the phrase? Is your tone full? If so, you have transferred some of the “work” to the large muscles of the core of the body and the throat is free to do just what is needed.
In the next post we will discuss practicing breathing with the noble posture, for and while singing.