Using the Body to help Technique – International Voice Teachers of Mix

Using the Body to help Technique

Weekly Teaching Tip – Nov. 13, 2017
by Keri Hughes

In Teaching Good Singing, Dean Kaelin shares one of his favorite phrases, “The note moves up, the body stays down.” Keeping the body down, or “grounded” is a key component of singing with ease. Sometimes we have the singer lean forward or bend the knees on ascending vocal lines to help the singer stay grounded in their body rather than chasing the resonance sensations upward by lifting the chin, tongue, shoulders, or even sometimes the eyebrows! Using a downward movement as the pitch ascends can also be a great tool to help singers stay in a relaxed condition while dealing with the pressures and anxieties of being on stage.

Over the last few months I’ve had musical theater singers from amateurs to professionals come in with the same problem: though they could execute challenging vocal passages at home or in their lessons, they were not able to sing with the same freedom on stage during rehearsals. The tension they experienced may be caused by nervousness, not hearing themselves well, or the challenge of adding choreography and staging to singing. Whatever the cause, the singers disconnect from their bodies and are unable to settle into their technique so they try to “help” the high notes by pushing the voice, making the problem worse. Especially when I have a new client coming in hours before the final dress rehearsal for a “miracle lesson,” I have found the most effective and straightforward way to help the singer stay grounded under pressure is with physical movement.

Example 1: Adella in “Little Mermaid” needed to sing a short operatic style vocalise at the top of her comfortable range. While she did well in her lessons, she was “freezing up” every time she attempted the line in rehearsals. She was standing still for her blocking so we added a simple arm gesture. She began the phrase by raising her arms up and bringing them out and down in a sweeping motion as she sang the vocalise. It suited the phrase and the character and the downward movement encouraged her to exhale and relax the muscles in her face and neck allowing her larynx to stay stable so her higher range could be navigated with ease. Success!

Example 2: Hodel in “Fiddler on the Roof” (a long time chest puller) was struggling with the higher notes in “Far from the Home I Love.” The repeated comments by the director about the problem were causing a great deal of anxiety, making the stress and strain worse. We worked first from a technical perspective and succeeded in freeing the voice, but I could tell she didn’t trust the new feeling. I asked “What are you wearing for this song?” She told me she had on a coat and scarf. I encouraged her to hold her coat in the center as if she were trying to stay warm and subtly pull down on the coat as the vocal line ascended. This movement served as a distraction from her anxiety, connected her to her body, and gave her something concrete that she could do consistently onstage to help the body relax and encourage the larynx to stay low.

Example 3: Mr. Snow in “Carousel” had a high A to sustain at the end of a song. His blocking required him to slowly raise both arms as he sang the note in the traditional ‘big finish’ pose. I noticed he was also bending one knee and sitting back a little – he told me this posture was part of his fisherman character. I encouraged him to direct his focus into the lowering of his body with the bent knee rather than the raising of his arms and this was just the help he needed to consistently release the A without tension or strain.

The more you have your client sing while doing their choreography or blocking in their lessons, the smoother their transition to performance will be. Help them identify places where a physical movement can be used, added or adapted (while still honoring the blocking given by the director and choreographer) to encourage the body to stay down and grounded so they can sing with the wonderful balance you have been teaching them. I hope you find this tip useful in your studios. Happy Singing!

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