I started down what I call my “journey towards healing” back in 2005, when I began to try to find answers to what was becoming an ongoing struggle with chronic muscle pain. I began to pursue different movement modalities, such as Pilates, Yoga and Feldenkrais, because I wanted to get back to a pain-free life.
In one of my other “lives,” however, I am a singer and a songwriter. I began performing in public about 12 years ago and now I gig fairly regularly in small clubs, coffeehouses and concerts around the Northeast.
Over the years, I took vocal lessons here and there (including a stint with a voice teacher who keeps Jon Bon Jovi’s vocal cords in tip-top shape!). I definitely improved over time, but I always had trouble with straining, with reaching certain notes and generally feeling an ease and overall power in my vocals. After awhile, I figured I had gotten as good as I could get — and would have to do the best with the voice I had.
Since getting more deeply involved in movement work, however (including becoming a comprehensively certified Pilates instructor), I have experienced an amazing transformation in my voice: It has become more powerful, more tension-free, open and expressive. I’ll often sing in my car while driving home after a Pilates or other movement class (trying to ignore what other drivers looking at me on the road must be thinking) and feel pleasantly surprised at how I can suddenly belt out a song that’s on the radio, including finding notes that I couldn’t quite reach in the past.
Singing comes from the whole body — especially the core
Over the past couple of years I have really immersed myself in studying anatomy and movement — and now I truly understand that singing (and speaking, for that matter) is not just about the voice box, or the larynx. Singing comes from your entire body, especially your core — and by that I mean your pelvic floor muscles, your deep abdominals, your deep spinal muscles as well as your diaphragm. Working on connecting to your core muscles through movement work, therefore, can significantly affect and improve your voice.
Release tension from your body and your voice has room to soar
Another thing I’ve learned is how much tension in your body — through tight muscles and shallow breathing — can restrict your voice from reaching its full potential. Your body needs to have a dynamic sense of spring, of bounce, of movement, rather than a static, tense, frozen stillness. Working on that, through breathwork, through gentle stretches, through movement, through alignment work, can give your voice room to soar to new heights.
Beyond voice lessons: Pilates and movement work can do wonders for your singing
Of course voice lessons are an important part of improving your singing, especially if you are a beginner looking to gain confidence in your vocals and how to express yourself with your voice.
But for both beginner, intermediate and advanced singers looking to improve their vocals, I highly recommend getting involved in some kind of movement work that focuses on posture and alignment; on releasing tension; on improving body awareness; on breath work; and on increasing core strength.
There are many movement modalities that can address those issues, particularly if done in a private or small group setting, such as Pilates, Yoga, Franklin Method, Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, Hanna Somatics, Gyrotonics, Body Mind Centering and Bartenieff Fundamentals.
The great thing is that at the same time you’re improving your vocal strength and freedom, you’ll also be doing wonderful things for your body as a whole. It’s all connected, y’all! 🙂
I’ll come back to this topic very soon…with specific tips and tricks for opening up your voice potential through movement!
Hi Sharon, what you say here is really great…..movement can open a lot things in your body and general well-being, however, the diaphram is the MOST important part of the body for true control of your voice. (Great training for childbirth as well!)! I studied opera for 3 years when I was 19 so I didn’t blow out my blues/broadway belt voice…..best thing I ever did. When “St. James Infirmary” started sounding like an aria from “Figaro”, I knew it was time to make a decision……..however, the training I got, in Heidelberg, German, was what helped me to use my voice to it’s best potential, and, still allows me to sound now at 64 the same and even better than I was at 34! Vocal teachers are fine, but there is a tendency for them to teach in ‘styles’ which doesn’t help in retaining your own,special quality. Excuse the expression…….use your Diaphram!!!!! heh heh heh Barbara Sparky Starken
Barbara, I agree about the importance of the diaphragm! But in order to access your diaphragm freely, you need the rest of your core and you need to release tension in other parts of your body. The diaphragm doesn’t work alone…it works in tandem with the pelvic floor, the deep abdominal muscles, the intercostal muscles in the rib cage, etc. But yes indeed, using your diaphragm to your best potential is essential!! 🙂
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hi…it was a perfect timing to read your article…i had one introductory voice/singing class about a months ago and i got very confused with the breathing tecniques that involves in the singing pratice in relation to the pilates breathing way.So i decided to wait to make sure not to mixed up all and do both in probably a wrong way…
so could you help me on that one?
Some breathing in singing needs to “release your belly”,it is all the opposite in pilates..how do you see it?
Rita, that is such a good question — I sense another blog post in my near future on this! This is a really important point. Freedom in singing requires a “diaphragmatic” breath, or a “belly breath.” That does mean releasing your belly so the diaphragm has room to expand fully. It’s true that with many Pilates exercises, particularly those that require spinal flexion (such as abdominal curls, hundreds, etc.), a diaphragmatic breath doesn’t work well to support the contraction of the surface abdominal muscles…if you released your belly totally in those exercises, you would lose the abdominal connection. Instead, a “lateral” breath — that is, expanding the ribs laterally to take a deep breath while still holding in the abdominals, works best for those exercises. However, diaphragmatic breath is also important in Pilates and other movement modalities, particularly to get the other core muscles firing, such as the deep transverse abdominals and pelvic floor, and is used to practice other Pilates exercises. Also, diaphragmatic breath is just an excellent way to practice deep breathing…anywhere, really, whether you’re driving in your car, walking down the street, or whatever.
So…my answer to your question is basically — work on all kinds of breathing! Getting a good diaphragmatic breath will be very important in your singing work, but learning to do a good lateral breath is also great work that helps you figure out how to expand your ribs and stretch the muscles in between your ribs…and that will also help your singing.
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Great advice! I agree completely. Using body awareness and its strenghs through pilates. I look forward to the specific tips and tricks for openign up your voice through movement. It is one of my passions as well.