To produce your best tone, correct alignment is essential. If there is tightening or pressure in any area of the body, the breath cannot enter the body efficiently. This causes a “short circuit” in our internal information system, resulting in a constricted vocal sound. To make things more challenging, our muscles tend to “memorize” our body alignment as we sing. Therefore, if you are reinforcing incorrect alignment, it will stick with you in rehearsals and performances. Even when singing a piece years down the road, our bodies remember misalignment that occurred previously.
Reinforcing proper alignment during your private practice and in the choral rehearsal will help solve intonation, sound, and rhythmic problems in your music study. As singers, we want to sing with our entire being, and proper alignment is the first step on the way toward creating a powerful, engaging sound.
Body Alignment from Toe to Head: 6 Points of Balance
Feet: Your feet should be hip-width apart (shoulder-width is too far), with one foot just a bit in front of the other. Instead of placing one foot slightly in front, try a parallel position too. Experiment slowly with placing your feet hip-width apart and then shoulder-width apart. Try this several times. Do the same with the position of your feet (one in front or parallel). All bodies are different, so find the position that feels most natural to you.
Now become aware of the bottom of your feet. Our feet are tripodic. No, we don’t have three of them, but there are three points of contact with the floor. Wiggle your big toes and then wiggle your little toes. Feel your big toes and little toes connect with the ground. Now notice your heel. If you’re able to wiggle your heal, you should see a doctor. Now, notice the connection from your heel to your big toe and little toe on each foot. You should feel an arch in the middle of the foot. As an experiment, press your feet flat on the floor. You’ll likely feel a negative reaction in the knees. Maintain a feeling of lift or arch in the feet as you sing.
Knees: The knees should feel flexible and never locked. Allow the slightest bend.
Pelvis: With your thumbs, locate the hip joint on both sides. This is a ball and socket joint where the femur meets the pelvis. Lifting your leg up and down can assist you with locating the hip joint. Feel a lift, or buoyancy, from your hip joint to your shoulders. Your back should feel long, but never straight. Your spine is naturally curvy.
Chest: If you are lifting properly, your chest will feel relatively high and your ribs will feel open and expanded. Another way of achieving this position is to lift your hands above your head, stretching upward, and then lowering them slowly to the side while maintaining the stretch. You should feel expansion and left between the waistline and your two bottom ribs, the floating ribs.
Shoulders: Roll your shoulders forward too far and then back too far. Lift your shoulders up to your ears and relax them down into the center. The shoulders should float on your ribcage. Your arms are relaxed by the side with a slight bend at the elbows. Keep your hands relaxed.
The combination of a high sternum, expanded ribcage, and shoulders that float on top of the ribcage creates the “noble position” or appoggio that I spoke about in A Recipe for Beautiful Singing.
Neck/Head: Your neck should feel long and open all around. Your head should feel suspended and not jut forward. To achieve this suspension, locate your AO (Atlanto-occipital) joint, which is where the top of the spine (cervical spine) meets the base of the skull. One simple way to locate this joint is to pretend you’re a bobblehead. Another is to shake your head yes, then no, and then discover where your yes meets your no. The average adult head weighs about 10 or 11 pounds, so balance is key.
In my next post, we’ll discuss body alignment while seated.