Stand Tall Singer!

How many times have we heard “Stand in Singer’s Posture” or “Pull Your Sternum Toward the Ceiling”?  And so, tall I stood. Staying in perfect posture took hold when I was but fourteen years old and effected me until just a few years ago. When I was an impressionable fourteen years old someone gave me a compliment. The compliment was that I had great posture. I took note of what I was doing when that person made the comment. Since then, I have always made an effort to sit and stand tall! This is exactly what we want as a singer, right?

I was the girl on the right!

I have had several excellent voice teachers over the years that have taught me many great vocal techniques and meaningful repertoire. But, I have had one issue with my voice that has always been a mystery. Now that I understand what caused the symptoms, I wonder why it was not so apparent from the beginning. It was a former professional dancer that led me to discover the most important element missing in my singing.

When I would perform with the William Baker Festival Singers I experienced pain emanating from my back within the first few minutes. It wasn’t because we were holding folders, because we sang from memory. By the time we were half way through, I would begin to experience vocal fatigue. This was not my experience in rehearsals. Was it the floor I was standing on? Was it the stress of giving a high stakes performance from memory? But, when I was conducting my own Festival Singers, I noticed a difference. I experienced no pain during or after any performance no matter the length. As a matter of fact, I felt great!

For years, many people weighed in on this issue and offered their remedy:

Attempted Solution #1: After discussing this phenomenon with one of my voice teachers he explained that I should lift my rib cage out of my hips, tuck my tail bone and “lower” into my thighs causing my knees to slightly bend. He recommended that I hold this position while I sing. How can one hold any position while singing? You can imagine that maintaining this position for even a couple of minutes was more exhausting than dealing with the sway back issue.

Attempted Solution #2: Recommended to me by other vocal pedagogues, I should sway slightly while singing. This would increase circulation and therefore keep tension from setting in thus enabling better air flow. This helped relieve some of the tension in my back, but it did little for vocal stamina.

Attempted Solution #3: Stand on a gel mat and change your shoes! I’ve never been able to stand in high-heels because my ankles are made of rubber (which is why I majored in organ). But, I did try various shoes with different degrees of arch support, heel cushions, all to no avail. I even tried rubbing magnesium in these areas. The gel mat was nice, bud didn’t resolve the problem.

Final ReSolution: The Dancer that guided me to resolve to understand the source of my issue was Babette Lightner. After talking with her a few minutes at Voice Care Network , she asked me to sing. I immediately got ready to sing by assuming singer posture. She asked me how I felt. I assessed and said “tight and thin”. Then, with no comment, she asked me to sing and walk about the room, gazing upon different things – the windows, the plants, the lights. She asked me how I felt. I responded with “great!” She asked me again to stand still and sing. Back into singer posture I went. She asked yet again what was different. What is different about walking and singing (while not thinking about it) and standing still and singing? It couldn’t just be the movement, because I had tried that before. It was something more. All these years I had come to believe that standing tall was something you had to manipulate your body to do, that posture was something to be held in place.

But, standing tall meant over-extending my sternum. It meant pulling my sternum up and out. This actually increased the bow in my sway back. This over-reaching position displaced my diaphragm so that it could not collapse or expand freely and completely. All this time, I thought my stamina and breathing issues stemmed from or my sway back. My issue with being able to sing well were created from my idea of a singer’s posture.

Lumbar.Lordosis.Lumbar Lordosis or Sway Back

Now when I sing, I just stand. If I can look all about the room turning my neck without creating tension, then I know I can sing. If I know I can move left to right and front to back, if I can touch my head, the back of my neck, if I can draw elephant ears in the sky, then I can sing.

It’s true that our bodies are not meant to stand still. We cannot hold any position because our bodies are not meant to assume positions. As a part of avoiding the protrusion of my sternum, I also listen to my heart beat and the pulse of the music. With that, I am able to move because I am using my mind and my body as one. And with that, I am able to be singer and not a mechanic. 

Is this you?


maybe instead, you can do this while you sing . . .


maybe your choir could feel free to move:

St. Olaf Choir College sing Wondrous Love, Southern Harmony, arr. Robert Scholz.   Anton Armstrong, Conductor.

To understand more about our bodymind systems, please read more:

Babette Lightner: The Lightner Method

David Gorman: Learning Methods

Continue reading Stand Tall Singer!

The Good, The Bad and The Injured – Today’s Pop Artists

Who are the good? Who are the bad?

Who has suffered vocal injuries due to poor singing habits?

written by Contributing Author of  Jennifer Berroth.

Pop genre is ever present in musical preferences of young people and can have a profound influence on their vocal development.  That influence can be positive and inspiring—but it can also lead to unhealthy singing habits.  Rather than shut pop stars out of the classroom, why not use them to aid in your healthy vocal instruction? Even though we would like our young singers to listen to Renee Fleming, Luciano Pavarotti, and Placido Domingo, none of them are likely to appear on their  Spotify  “most played” list. You’d better believe, however, that they can burst into Katy Perry, Adele, Bruno Mars, or Lady Gaga at a moment’s notice.  Use the following names and video links to grab your students’ interests ~


Lady Gaga has had the same vocal coach since she was eleven years old. She studied voice at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.  She has a history of showing off her versatile vocals from singing with Tony Bennett, performing music by Stevie Wonder, and my favorite, a tribute to Julie Andrews and The Sound of Music.  Her sound is resonant, energized, and open. It’s obvious she takes time to train her voice for whatever style she is singing. At her Super Bowl performance, even though she is gasping at times, she maintains support and energy through-out her phrases.

Kristin Chenoweth has performed many different styles of music but is always consistent with sound and technique.  Chenoweth first earned a Master’s degree in opera performance from Oklahoma City University.  After becoming famous in the Broadway arena she transitioned to movies and giving solo performances around the world.

David Draiman (lead singer of Disturbed)If this name doesn’t ring a bell then you must not listen to much heavy metal (I don’t either). Draiman was first classically trained as a hazzan—a Jewish precentor trained in the vocal arts to help lead the congregation in songful prayer.

  • Years of vocal coaching helped him create his heavy metal, rock vocals. Search for  Down with the Sickness for an audio example (disclaimer: this is not a student friendly song to share) He went back to his classical training to achieve the purer, smoother vocals when his band recreated a Simon & Garfunkel hit Sound of Silence. Hear his classical sound mixed with his edgier rock sound:
  • Draiman on his singing technique:


I am not out to  belittle the following artists.  They would not have achieved their fame without some vocal knowledge or ability.  These artists are examples of what can occur with sustained vocal abuse and unhealthy singing habits.

Adele famously endured a serious vocal injury that nearly derailed her career.  She attributes that injury to overuse and lack of rest, but it was also likely the result of forcing her lower singing register to sing high notes as well as her aggressive glottal attacks with her onsets.  Adele’s throat hemorrhage required her to back out of performances and undergo major surgery because of her vocal injury. You can hear her glottal attacks and pushing.

Fergie is an example of  hypertension in the voice and an extreme forward, nasally sound.  Even though it is painful to hear, it is good for students to have examples of bad habits as well as good ones.

Mariah Carey wowed listeners with her extensive vocal range as well as her difficult melisma passages.  However, years of raising her larynx to hit her trademark high notes have caused her voice to now sound breathier and tighter and her onsets to be delayed.

Compare videos of All I Want for Christmas is You eighteen years apart:

Steven Tyler (lead singer of Aerosmith) An up close look at the vocal folds of the seventy year old rock star ir provided in the following video.  Tyler, sixty-one years old during the filming of this series, put his voice through the ringer with his edgy vocals and screaming high notes.  Tyler, like Adele, was forced to undergo laser surgery to correct his vocal injury, a throat hemorrhage:

Fortunately, Adele and Steven Tyler were able to resume their singing careers after vocal surgery. Many such operations, however, result in complications that can shorten or end a singer’s career. Julie Andrews, of The Sound of Music fame, awoke from her nodule removal surgery without her iconic voice. Vocal paralysis, excessive scar tissue, and severe chronic hoarseness can also result.  In the interest of our students’ well-being and the longevity of their singing voices, we must always emphasize the importance of healthy vocal training to reinforce singing for a lifetime.

Please email author Jennifer Berroth at for questions and more information on helpful teaching tools for your classroom:

Thank you to fellow director Emilia Chiroy for help with these examples. 

Be Prepared To Say YES!

Have you ever had the dream (or nightmare) that you receive a call from a well-known conductor to sing your dream piece of music with mere hours of notice? Should that call come, would you be ready? Are you prepared to sing your best on a daily basis? The answer for most of us is no.

The Boy Scout motto, Be Prepared, influences millions of individuals the world over. You may have noticed, I’m not male, but the lessons Scouting teaches are applicable to the daily lives of singing musicians.

Here are a few ways to stay in best voice every day, not just for the Big Day.

1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! A fully, fluid, filled singer will not need to pull water from the most delicate tissues for vital body processes. The adequate water supply keeps mucus thinly flowing over vocal folds, pharyngeal surfaces, and nasal passages. How much water you need varies with the season, humidity, activity level & physiology. A good place to start is 4 quarts/ liters per day for an adult. Yes, you will need to use the facilities more often for the first few days, then your body adjusts to the new normal. Caffeine caution: as much as I adore my morning coffee – it does NOT count toward my water intake for the day. Some pedagogues will instruct that all caffeine is anathema to professional singing.

2.  Warm-up every day! Play with your voice! Discover and appreciate the changes you hear & feel. Remember to start with moving your entire body to release muscles & joints and remind your system of what it needs to do to sing efficiently. Breathe! Breathe! And Breathe! Then add sound to breath. Rhythmic unvoiced consonants are great for connecting abdominal control to articulators. Add descending, imprecise pitch exercises to the mix in hums or sighs or open vowels. When things feel and sound good – start specific patterns in similar arc to what you did immediately before exploring the entire range. If more practicing is on your agenda, go for it. If it is not a rehearsal day, your warm up session is a great self-diagnostic tool. If something isn’t working as well as usual, evaluate the situation & make your adjustments.

3. Practice – or not – that’s another day’s discussion!

4. Cool down! A good physical trainer at your gym will encourage you to relax and stretch the muscles you used. The minuscule muscles of the larynx deserve the same treatment! Humming and sliding coming back to center. Breathe! Hydrate!

5. Rest! Recover! Shut-up! 🙂 Allow the vocal folds that you have worked out extensively need time to release residual swelling resulting from both impact and sheering forces on edges as the vocal folds come together during phonation. For every hour of athletic rehearsal, you may need 2 hours of silence to recover. Healthy, flexible, well hydrated vocal folds bounce back more quickly!

Of the tips on this list, the Cool-down and Recovery time are the most often skipped by singers of all ages. If you want to sing your whole life long, these few things can help you sing better & longer.

Be Prepared to say YES!


Just breathe

I worked with a singer/former Navy SEAL who, in frustration, said that singing was leaving him light-headed unlike his practice for deep-sea diving. His years of SEAL training presented an unusual challenge to his ‘breathing for singing’ because he had fallen prey to the idea of “tanking up,” or taking in a great amount of air in hopes of sustaining the voice for long periods of time.

Purity of Air

Many singers have the misconception that they should take a full, deep breath and “top off’’ the breath at every opportunity. This means that fresh air is being pulled in on top of stale air which is fast becoming in the lungs. Carbon dioxide is a waste gas produced as part of the body‘s energy making process. The system understands that there is too much carbon dioxide and not enough oxygen, so it asks for more oxygen, causing another inhale. Since the lungs are still partially filled with carbon dioxide, not as much oxygen can get in. A cycle is set in motion that will lead to shallow breathing and holding your breath.

It is not only the amount of air in the lungs that determines whether you will be forced to take another breath, but also the purity of the air there.

The Exhale is as Important as the Inhale

In anticipation of a difficult passage, singers sometimes change the way they breath. Their concern over a lack of breath, triggers a deep, forced breath causing tension.

Try this: Release your ribs and abs and expel all air in the lungs. Hold this position momentarily before allowing air back into the lungs. Repeat the exercise a few times noticing the motion of the ribs and abdominal muscles and the satisfying flow of respiration.

In this experiment you have engaged the spring-like action of your ribs to expand and create a partial vacuum so that air flows naturally into the lungs as a neurological reflex. No thought or extra effort is required. Upon exhalation, the body is designed to take a reflexive, fulfilling inhalation.

Play with the idea of measuring the breath   


The singer needs to do some investigation to notice how much breath is needed for each phrase. Try the following comparisons using this excerpt from “Nymphs and Shepherds” by Purcell.

Over-tank Exercise

Answer these two questions for each step of the following experiments:

1. How far did you sing?

2. Did you have breath left over to exhale when you finished singing?

Experiment 1

A. Deliberately take in as much air as possible and then sing phrase 1.

B. Repeat for phrase 2.

C. Repeat step A and step B but this time expel some air on a “hiss” for 2 seconds before starting to sing.

Experiment 2

A. Take in as much air as possible and begin singing both phrases using only one (Don’t breathe on the quarter rest between phrases.)

B. Repeat, but this time expel some air on a “hiss” for 2 seconds before starting to sing.

Experiment 3

A. Now sing the two phrases using song text, taking a breath on the rest between phrase 1 and phrase 2. Take only as much air as you think you would actually need to sing each phrase.

B. Repeat, but this time expel some air on a “hiss” for 2 seconds before starting to sing.

Try these experiments using a piece of your own music. It will be interesting for you to discover how much air is really required for each phrase of singing.

Italian singing teacher and author G.B. Lamperti offered this advice on breath:

Breathe to satisfy the lungs, not to overcrowd them.”


Heinrich, Jane Ruby. Voice and the Alexander Technique: Active Explorations for Speaking and Singing. Berkeley, CA: Mornum Time, 2005.

Miller, R. (2004). Solutions for singers: Tools for performers and teachers. Oxford University Press.

Polatin, B. (2013). The Actor’s Secret: Techniques for Transforming Habitual Patterns and Improving Performance. North Atlantic Books.

Rundus, Katharin. Cantabile: A Manual about Beautiful Singing for Singers, Teachers of Singing and Choral Conductors. San Pedro, CA: Pavane Pub., 2009.

Vennard, William. Singing the Mechanism and the Technic. New York: C. Fisher, 1967.

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