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/