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.