Welcome to Vocal Wednesdays!
Every Wednesday I share a vocal tip or warm-up. After 17 years of teaching people how to sing I have so many things to share with you every week!
As a voice teacher I am frequently approached and asked for vocal warm-ups to use in choir or as a soloist. I LOVE warm-ups and think it’s crucial to use them whenever you’re going to sing. It’s an easy step to skip when you are practicing (because who doesn’t want to get to the fun stuff like songs?), but it can also be THE tool that takes you or your choir from average to AHHHMAZING! The trick is knowing which warm-ups you or your choir needs, when to use it and why it works.
If you are just joining us, welcome! We are currently working our way through the Breathing for Singing series. Here are the posts in the series thus far:
- “Breathing for Singing: What You Need to Know about BREATH”. I HIGHLY recommend reading this post before continuing with the rest of the series.
- “Breathing for Singing: 4 Awesome Exercises with a Yoga Ball”
While working with a yoga ball is SUPER amazing and has great benefits, sometimes we don’t have access to one or we don’t want to carry one around. Likewise, if you’re working with a choir-having a lot of yoga balls is not ideal, unless of course you like chaos! lol. Today we are going to work with a CHAIR, something found in nearly every room.
First things first, let’s talk about the best way to SIT in a chair for optimum breathing.
As you can see in the picture to the left, the feet are flat on the floor, facing forward. The knees are also forward and the legs come out directly from the hips. Think of drawing a line from your shoulder down to your hip to get the torso in correct alignment. Notice the ear is also in line with the shoulder. These are great points of reference for self-monitoring your alignment.
When working with a choir you could have singers break off into pairs and have each singer check the other for proper alignment. This is especially helpful for the singers who do not have much kinesthetic awareness.
Another option is to have the one singer mimic the other singers posture. Because we are very habitual in our posture we may not realize that what feels ‘natural’ is actually a learned-posture (usually incorrect) and not the way God actually intended for us to sit or stand.
Notice the main difference between the incorrect and correct postures in the above photo. I have found in my teaching that MANY students have an incorrect tilt in their pelvis. This tilt may not alter the lower half of our body like the legs and feet, but it GREATLY affects our torso and head/neck position. When sitting, the pelvis tends to tilt forward (as pictured), but when standing, it tends to tilt back (causing the bum to stick out). Either way, it’s something to watch out for.
One way to find the correct tilt when sitting, is to rock back and forth and sided to side on your bum, finding the sit bones. Sometimes it’s helpful to take your hands and place them under your thighs and pull the fleshy part of your thigh outward. When you can feel the sit bones, center your torso over them. Then, imagine the line from your hip to your shoulder to your ear. Alternatively, imagine you are wearing evening attire, girls in a strapless dress and men in a tux. It’s funny how quickly our alignment improves when we are dressed up!
You may be asking yourself what and where are my sit bones? Some people can feel them, some not and that’s okay. Here is a picture (right) to help you understand where they are and what they look like when sitting. As you can see there are two ‘points’ of the pelvis that are on the chair. You should be CENTERED over the sitting bones.
In case you were curious, the anatomical name for the sit bones is ischial tuberosity. ….and that’s why we call them sit bones-so much easier!
My favorite way to use a chair as a breathing exercise is to lift it. Turn it around so the back of the chair is towards you. Lift the chair up, putting your hands on the outsides of the back rest. As you lift the chair, your elbows should move out to the side, opening and expanding the chest area. Keep your knees bent, like a mini-squat so you don’t hurt your lower back. The head should be in line with the spine.
You will get the most out of this chair-lift by isolating the spot in your song that is giving you grief, whether it’s a long phrase, a coloratura passage, or singing a high note. Be in the position as pictured left and when you get to the difficult passage, lift the chair up, moving your elbows out to the side. You can continue the motion upwards or if it’s a long phrase, move the chair up and down slowly throughout the phrase.
I find a sturdy chair works best, rather than a folding chair. You could also lift a sturdy crate, a large medicine ball or even a short piano bench.
Remember it’s not just the lifting, but also being in the mini-squat.
Why does this work? In order to lift the chair you will engage the abdominal muscles. By engaging the abdominal muscles (which are attached to the diaphragm), you are slowing the ascent of the diaphragm. Likewise, lifting the chair with the elbows out, lifts the ribcage, which in turn slows descent of the ribs and the release of air from the lungs. The mini-squat is accomplishing FOUR things! First, it protects your back when lifting. Second, it encourages whole-body singing. Third, it is grounding – which is a great way to approach high notes. Last, it’s distracting. Let’s face it, sometimes we just need to get out of our own way, right?
Finding the right alignment when sitting is crucial for breathing. We need all of our muscles and bones to be ALIGNED for them to be able to work efficiently. Working with a partner can be helpful in finding correct alignment. Without a partner, it’s important to have ‘points’ on our body to mentally align (ear to shoulder, shoulder to hip, sit bones to chair).
Getting out of your chair and using it as a tool to engage the abdominal muscles and open the ribcage is a ANOTHER great way to learn how to manage your breath for singing.
I’ve got plenty more ways to train those breathing muscles so stay tuned! If you don’t want to miss another exercise be sure to sign up over on the right side of the page to “Never Miss Another Post!”. Until then, have a fabulous Wednesday!