Are We in Gym Class? I Thought This Was Choir – PT III

Adding Movement To Benefit Healthy Singing In Your Rehearsal

by Contributing Author Niccole Winney

How Can I Incorporate Movement in Rehearsals?

Just do it! Movement is a natural human response, especially movement to music, which makes incorporating it into rehearsal quite simple. There are a few listed below for you to try . . .

Movement in Choral Warm-Up :

Movements that are core strengthening.

Movements that support breath energy and muscle energy.

Movements that support the sound.

YOGA POSES help with technical aspects such as body alignment, strengthening the core muscles, and connecting the breath to movement. But it also teaches focus, presence, vulnerability, patience and self-love. These yoga poses can be found at these links: https://dailyburn.com/life/fitness/beginner-yoga-poses-positions/ https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/types/forward-bends

Mountain Pose​ opens the chest and belly while grounding and elongating the spine.

Chair Pose​ strengthens the legs and back, which is helpful for standing rehearsals.

Forward Fold releases tension in the lower back. 

Warrior 1​ strengthens the arms, legs, hips and chest -considered an energizing pose.

Warrior 2 stretches the legs, hips and chest.

Downward Dog yoga pose stretches the calves, hamstrings, spine, chest and shoulder while toning the abdominal muscles. 

Energized movements ​are another way to rid singers of tension while warming up the breath and body. Many of these are good to get blood flowing to the muscles and also help improve focus and concentration. 

Shake it out​: Starting with the right hand, count out loud with each shake eight times.  Switch to the left hand counting each shake eight times. Then move to shaking out the right foot eight times followed by the left foot eight times, still counting out loud. After completing both hands and feet start the exercise over but only count to seven. Continue counting down until you reach the number 1. 

Mirror After Me:​ This is a movement exercise that helps improve focus and steady beat. All movements are done in 4/4 time. The director starts by clapping 4 beats while the choir is silent for the first 4 beats. On the second measure, the choir claps the same 4 beats that the director just completed. However, while the choir is clapping, the director makes up and completes a new gesture (such as snapping or stomping). It is the choirs job to remember what the new movement is and complete it one measure behind the director. The director may choose to make the movement as big or small as they would like. My students LOVE this game, but do not realize it is improving their memory skills, watching skills, and helping to warm up the body! 

Marching in Place: ​Get singers to loosen up. Marching causes the heart to pump blood to the muscles faster and deepens the singers breathing. If marching in place is also placed with a vocal warm up, it has the added benefit of actively engaging and strengthening the core muscles. 

Movement During Rehearsal

After involving singers in a movement based warm up, it is important to foster an environment that promotes and expects singers to move frequently in the rehearsal space. Singers need to know that it is okay to sway to the music, to be able to bend the knees, work out muscle tension or play with different hand gestures while singing in order to ease vocal and muscular tension. Furthermore, the more frequently the director uses movements throughout the rehearsal, the more likely the singers are to adopt these practices on their own. Below are some ways to incorporate movement throughout the rehearsal to make sure singers are staying engaged and tension free.

  1. Movements that ease neck and jaw tension include “pretending to”: 
    • Use a paintbrush to paint the phrase that is being sung
    • Smooth the frosting on top of a cake while singing
    • Lift the sound up and over your head
    • Draw a rainbow arch that follow the phrasing of the musical line
  2. Movements that engage the core:
    • Plie on ascending phrases
    • Sing an entire phrase while holding a squat 
    • Throw a frisbee or baseball on an ascending line
  3. Movements to improve energy and focus:
    • Tap the sternum to keep the pulse while singing
    • March to the beat
    • Mini stretch breaks, shake it out breaks, or yoga pose breaks in between rehearsing pieces. 
    • Make standing a regular expectation in rehearsal. While it may seem that standing for a long rehearsal can be tiring, choirs that stand throughout their rehearsals sing with more energy and have less vocal and mental fatigue because their muscles are more likely to be engaged and do not collapse their breathing mechanisms as frequently. 

 What If This Is All Brand New Information For My Choir?

Take time to build trust with your choir while incorporating these new ideas. Your singers may surprise you and be excited about trying something new. If they seem reluctant or uneasy, start with smaller movements and work towards bigger movements over time. 

Helpful Tips On Implementing Movement

  1. Know the pedagogical reason for asking your choir to do a movement exercise and share that with your singers. Is it to help engage the core? Is it to help create a relaxed, tall posture? To help with breath support or moving through a register break?
  2. Be confident and completely comfortable with the movements you present to your choir. ​Often, directors have to give 130% of their energy and confidence to get even a 70% engagement from their singers. If you are hesitant and uncomfortable with the activity, your singers will be too. If this is the case, practice teaching it and get comfortable with the movements several times before even presenting it to your choir. 
  3. Create a positive, trusting and encouraging environment.​ Singers have to feel comfortable and safe in the rehearsal space to truly let go and try new ideas. Experimenting and modifying movements is welcome and acceptable, so trying things on a smaller scale are better than not trying at all.
  4. Make movement in warm ups and rehearsals an expectation.​ Do not let it become routine that movement is for the warm up only.  If movement throughout all parts of the rehearsal is the norm, it will take away the novelty of doing a “new” or “strange” movement exercise and will allow singers to relax into it and reap the benefits of the exercise.
  5. Encourage singers to adopt movement for exercise at home or even in combination with their at home vocal practice. ​Simple things such as yoga, planking, daily walking and diaphragmatic breathing exercises can help strengthen muscles and will get the singer more comfortable with moving their body at their own pace. 
  6. Give it time.​ The singers will catch on eventually and gradually take ownership of their own movement. The more encouraging the director stays towards movement, the more frequently it will occur. 

Take Away

Consistent and encouraged movement in rehearsal (and performance) may be the opposite of what you have experienced. However the benefits that come with movement help singers use their instrument by weeding out unnecessary tension and focusing on what is best for their voice, mind and body.

Please check out the resources below ~

Resources

Bech-Hanssen, G. (2017, November 8). Why Your Diaphragm Could Be the Core Strength Game-Changer You’ve Overlooked. Retrieved June 1, 2020, from

https://www.yogajournal.com/teach/why-your-diaphragm-could-be-core-strength-game-ch anger#gid=ci0218f62e90002522&pid=3_straw_diaphram

Benson, J. S. (2011). A Study of Three Choral Pedagogues and Their Use of Movement in the Choral Rehearsal. Florida State University Libraries​      ​. Retrieved from https://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/islandora/object/fsu:253955/datastream/PDF/view

Berbari, G. (2017, July 26). 13 Unexpected Life Lessons You Can Learn Just From Practicing

Yoga. Retrieved June 1, 2020, from https://www.elitedaily.com/wellness/life-lessons-from-yoga/2026746

Cefali, V. (2018, September 24). A Mindful, Community-Building Choir Warm Up. Retrieved June 1, 2020, from https://www.smartmusic.com/blog/a-mindful-community-building-choir-warm-up/

Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). The real-world benefits of strengthening your core. Retrieved June 1, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/the-real-world-benefits-of-strengthening-your-c ore

Healthline. (n.d.). What Causes Muscle Rigidity? Retrieved June 1, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/muscle-rigidity#causes

Healthline. (n.d.). Diaphragm Overview. Retrieved June 1, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/human-body-maps/diaphragm

Menehan, K. (2013, June 23). Movement in Rehearsal. Retrieved June 1, 2020, from https://www.chorusamerica.org/singers/movement-rehearsal

Montigne, J. (2013, July 24). 5 Essential Yoga Poses for Singers. Retrieved June 1, 2020, from https://www.chorusamerica.org/node/3155#.UfWQExAUsHQ.facebook

Oare, S. (2017, December 30). How and Why to Incorporate Movement in Choral Rehearsals. Retrieved June 1, 2020, from

http://kansasmusicreview.com/2017/12/30/how-and-why-to-incorporate-movement-in-cho ral-rehearsals/

Are We in Gym Class? I Thought This Was Choir – Pt. II

How Does Movement Benefit our Singing?

Since we now know why stillness and rigidness is not good for fostering good posture and vocal health, check out the many reasons movement is beneficial for singers.

Movement Combats Tension! 

Movement is a natural remedy for relieving muscle pain and tension. When we move our bodies our oxygen levels and blood flow automatically increase, helping to ease the muscles while releasing endorphins that aid in stress-relief.  Even simple movement in the rehearsal such as naturally swaying to the music, or lightly massaging neck and jaw muscles can help warm up the muscles and relieve stiffness and pain. Over time, the more a singer practices movement, the less likely they are to suffer from chronic tension.

Movement Improves Posture! 

Creating an environment where singers are invited to move freely helps singers tune in to what their body needs and allows them to act accordingly. Simple movements during rehearsal, such as bending the knees, swaying, stretching, using hand movements that support the sound can help a singer to re-energize tired, tense muscles. This helps the singer to reset and establish an open, buoyant body alignment. These small movements can even be modified and carried into performances without becoming a distraction to the audience!

Movement Builds Core Muscles!

A large part of the singer’s support mechanism is made up of core muscles. Many singers have been ill informed with the advice to “sing with your diaphragm!” While the diaphragm is a part of the core mechanism, it is a completely involuntary muscle. Controlled by the phrenic nerve located at the top of the neck, the diaphragm acts as a top to our core muscles and attaches along the base of the ribcage. The diaphragm’s main purpose is to create a vacuum effect to help pull air into the lungs. It contracts and flattens during inhalation and relaxes during exhalation.  The diaphragm is interconnected with the other core muscles (abdomen, back muscles and the pelvic floor) that help support a singer’s sound. It is important that all core muscles are equally strengthened and engaged in order to help manage a singer’s breath support and airflow.  “You can think of these muscles as forming the sides of a pressurized container: the pelvic floor is the bottom, the deep abdominal and back muscles form the sides, and the diaphragm is the lid on top. If any of these muscles don’t perform their important tasks perfectly, the container will start to lose pressure, weakening the stable base you need to move effectively.” (Bech-Hanssen). If any part of the core muscles are weakened or not equally engaged, then a singer will involuntarily compensate in the intrinsic or extrinsic muscles of the larynx. Thankfully, movement during rehearsal acts as a ‘reset’ to the body by helping to engage ALL of the core muscles. Even simple movements such as swaying the body, engaging in hand motions, or bending the knees while singing relaxes the muscles in the larynx, eases leg, back and neck tension, and automatically engages the core muscles. Constant movement while singing helps to strengthen those muscles over time and helps the support mechanism that manages the airstream through the vocal folds without any added tension. 

Movement Gives the Brain a Distraction!

Singers have to balance so many aspects of their craft both technically and artistically. Sometimes, a singer may have perfectionistic tendencies and overcompensate on directions given by a director because they want to ‘do it right!’ Other times, singers may experience mental roadblocks (usually manifested through neck and jaw tension) because they are uncomfortable singing passages that deal with register breaks, lack of breath control, or simply due to working through stage fright. These ‘stressors’ invite tension into the body. Thankfully, movement can serve as a distraction for the singer to focus on something else rather than ‘doing it right’ or potentially ‘messing up.’ According to a study conducted at Florida State University using gestures that mimicked the melodic line or rhythmic qualities of the music were proven to improve sound, ease tension and improve rhythmic and stylistic accuracy (Benson). Allowing singers the freedom to play with movement in rehearsal serves as a vehicle to get the singer out of their head and into expressing the music while dissolving tension and road blocks simultaneously.

Part III next week:

How Can I Incorporate Movement in Rehearsals?

Just do it! Movement is a natural human response, especially movement to music, which makes incorporating it into rehearsal very accessible. I’ll list ways that I’ve used movement during warm ups and throughout the rehearsal. 

Are We in Gym Class? I Thought This Was Choir.

by Contributing Author Niccole Winney.

Freedom of Movement Creates Freedom of Sound

Two years ago, upon accepting a music education position in Kansas City,  I decided to rebuild the after school choral program. Thinking about what kind of culture and expectation I wanted to create in my rehearsals, I determined that vocal-health awareness needed to be among the most prominent qualities. Of course, that meant establishing a routine of doing a full body, voice and mind warm up before singing our repertoire. However, right out of the gate in our first rehearsal one of my students raised her hand and asked “Um, I’m confused… Why are we stretching like its gym class if all we have to do is sing?”  After asking a series of questions, I learned that my students had never heard of doing a physical warm up before singing. And when it came to posture, their previous teacher had said “stand up straight like a soldier, head up, hands down by your side and whatever you do, DON’T MOVE.”  

Performance presence is important, but creating an expectation of absolute stillness invites tension into the vocal mechanism and body; ultimately sacrificing the singer’s ability to use their instrument freely.

How Does Stillness Create Tension?

Keeping a still stance while singing lets tension creep in for a myriad of reasons; some of which many trained singers and teachers may find surprising. 

  1. Stillness creates a breeding ground for poor body alignment. ​While some singers have learned to “lock into” singer’s posture, the reality is that, without movement, ‘perfect alignment or posture’ is never maintained. The inability to move, sway, or adjust during singing intensifies muscle fatigue causing long lasting tension. Practice makes permanent. Muscles are weakened from fatigue habits such as slumping forward, rounding the shoulders, standing with the weight on one leg, or projecting the head out and down. These poor habits cause the breathing mechanism to collapse reinforcing misuse of muscles in the throat and neck. A better result will occur when we rely on our core muscles for support. Remember that singing is a whole body-mind activity.
  2. Stillness eliminates our ability to relax overly tightened muscles causing rigidity.​ Tight muscles are often caused by a sneaky and overlooked tension culprit called stress. Our body operates on a fight or flight system. While most of us do not face the stressors our ancestors did, such as outrunning a wild predator, the body’s nervous system still responds to stress the same way. Things as widely ranged from a long work commute to a strained relationship can cause fatigue to creep into the muscles.

We put additional pressure on our blood vessels when the body senses a ‘stressor” causing a lack of blood flow to the muscles which in turn causes them to tighten and lock up. Movement is the natural remedy for combating this issue as it stimulates blood flow and releases endorphins. Furthermore, a rigid rehearsal atmosphere where singers are not welcome to move will contribute to a singer’s subconscious daily stress. This is especially true if the singer is concerned with “getting it right”. Not being able to move to ward off tension intensifies muscle rigidity and which in turn causes the neck, throat, jaw and shoulder muscles to kick into overdrive instead of allowing the airflow created by the core muscles to support the voice.

Why Is Movement Good?

Since we now know why stillness and rigidness is not good for fostering good posture and vocal health, check out the many reasons movement is beneficial for singers in next week’s post: Why is Movement Good?

Performance presence is important, but creating an expectation of absolute stillness invites tension into the vocal mechanism and body; ultimately sacrificing the singer’s ability to use their instrument freely.

Lynn Swanson leading early morning choral warm-ups at Northview Elementary Chorus, Kansas City, MO.
Karen Hall, Chorus Teacher, 2016.

Resources

Bech-Hanssen, G. (2017, November 8). Why Your Diaphragm Could Be the Core Strength Game-Changer You’ve Overlooked. Retrieved June 1, 2020, from

https://www.yogajournal.com/teach/why-your-diaphragm-could-be-core-strength-game-ch anger#gid=ci0218f62e90002522&pid=3_straw_diaphram

Benson, J. S. (2011). A Study of Three Choral Pedagogues and Their Use of Movement in the Choral Rehearsal. Florida State University Libraries​      ​. Retrieved from https://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/islandora/object/fsu:253955/datastream/PDF/view

Berbari, G. (2017, July 26). 13 Unexpected Life Lessons You Can Learn Just From Practicing

Yoga. Retrieved June 1, 2020, from https://www.elitedaily.com/wellness/life-lessons-from-yoga/2026746

Cefali, V. (2018, September 24). A Mindful, Community-Building Choir Warm Up. Retrieved June 1, 2020, from https://www.smartmusic.com/blog/a-mindful-community-building-choir-warm-up/

Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). The real-world benefits of strengthening your core. Retrieved June 1, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/the-real-world-benefits-of-strengthening-your-c ore

Healthline. (n.d.). What Causes Muscle Rigidity? Retrieved June 1, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/muscle-rigidity#causes

Healthline. (n.d.). Diaphragm Overview. Retrieved June 1, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/human-body-maps/diaphragm

Menehan, K. (2013, June 23). Movement in Rehearsal. Retrieved June 1, 2020, from https://www.chorusamerica.org/singers/movement-rehearsal

Montigne, J. (2013, July 24). 5 Essential Yoga Poses for Singers. Retrieved June 1, 2020, from https://www.chorusamerica.org/node/3155#.UfWQExAUsHQ.facebook

Oare, S. (2017, December 30). How and Why to Incorporate Movement in Choral Rehearsals. Retrieved June 1, 2020, from

http://kansasmusicreview.com/2017/12/30/how-and-why-to-incorporate-movement-in-cho ral-rehearsals/

PAJAMA MOVES – it’s the small moves that can make the biggest difference.

EXERCISE! Thoughts of pain, time, and hassle? It doesn’t have to be that way.

Change the thought of EXERCISE to MOVEMENT and feel good just about all the time.

You don’t need to move your body fast and work hard in order to experience great benefits. You do not have to go to the gym or to a class. You do not have to buy cute work-out clothes.

A healthy body is a healthy voice ~ Keeping your strength, endurance and range of mobility helps not only the body but also the voice – benefiting the respiratory, laryngeal, and vocal tract coordinators.

Every function of every organ and system in your body is enhanced by body movement. When they are activated, your:
1. Respiratory and circulatory systems deliver more oxygen and glucose to the muscles that enable more cognitive sharpness.
2. Metabolism increases.
3. Glands of the immune systems are better supported and protected(1).

The most important thing is to be consistent and use appropriate movements. This does not have to involve heavy weight lifting, aerobic classes, or even a personal trainer.

3 PAJAMA APPS – STAY IN YOUR JAMMIES AND STAY AT HOME

Down Dog Yoga App

Down Dog: My absolute favorite app in the world. It is rated the top yoga app in the app store.
Best feature: User friendly
Important features: FREE at least until May 1. If you are an educator, it’s free until July 1: downdogapp.com/schools If you are a healthcare worker, it’s also free until July 1: downdogapp.com/healthcare

Sworkit App

Sworkit: Quick workouts, varying levels. Free trial, but then you have to pay to play.
Best feature: Designs 6 week plan for you based on age, gender, weight and skill.

Tai Chi: Chinese martial art practiced for both its defense training and health benefits. The term taiji refers to a philosophy of the forces of yin and yang. Free, but
Best feature: Lovely traditional Chinese music in background.
Great features:

Worth checking out online:

Babette Lightner

THE LIGHTNER METHOD:

  • Ease common chronic physical pain such as knee, back and shoulder pain.
  • Shift frustration, anxiety or worry to clarity and calm.
  • Transform effort, strain in moving to light, lively mobility.
  • Experience
  •  Experiencing your current capabilities rather than always try to improve/change.

THE ANCIENT ART OF MINDLESS WALKING:

Walking.Mindless.

THE TAKE AWAY
You don’t need to carve out an hour a day or even a few days a week. You can do small twelve minute sessions of any movement to receive great benefit. Those twelve minutes make a vast difference in stamina, outlook and focus.

I hope you’ll give it a try!

Footnotes:
1). Thurman, L. & Welch, G. (2000). bodymind & voice: foundations of voice education. The VoiceCare Network, USA, Book 3, 639-640.

Images: https://www.google.com/search?q=pajama+moves&newwindow=1&safe=active&rlz=1C1CHZL_enUS761US762&sxsrf=ALeKk00MxY3tpm_d0lXTSEXrsGJYUrp1aw:1587563043471&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj_ro6alfzoAhUCna0KHbPWDDEQ_AUoAnoECAwQBA&biw=1422&bih=624#imgrc=_pwpT1HKrtcpzM

Prioritizing your goals when working with novice or mature Chinese singers in a choral setting

Lynn Swanson working with members of the Zhuhai Classical Children’s Choir,
Zhuhai, China

Understanding the Use of Articulators and Resonators in a Choral Setting specifically for those working with Chinese choirs ~

This presentation and accompanying video is made specifically to help those that are working with novice Chinese choristers learning to sing classical music. It is designed to help Chinese singers whether they are mature or young.

During the time I led choirs in China, I learned that the native Chinese speaker used their articulators differently from the native English speakers. It is critically important to understand what articulators are and how they are used before any singer can begin to expand the vocal range as well as achieve good intonation. Good intonation is especially critical in a choral setting and is often neglected. I found that the primary focus for many Chinese choirs was expression. The first concentration should actually be on securing accurate pitches and exact rhythm. Then attention can be given to expression and how to bring the lyrics to life. 

•It’s important to understand the differences in how to use articulators and resonators when singing different languages.

•Requirements for the use of articulators in the Chinese language is different from that requirement while singing Classical music.

• Before you can make a beautiful sound, you must learn how articulators bring energy to the resonator. •

•You must learn how to use articulators and how to use resonators according to the music you are singing.