Many people say the same thing about producing their voice well when I first meet them: “You have to have good posture” or “you need to stand up straight.” It isn’t long before we explore this in more detail and discover that postural alignment it isn’t just about “standing up straight”. So, what is it about, and why is this important?
“Alignment” rather than “posture”
I may be splitting hairs but I much prefer the term alignment, or postural alignment to posture alone, especially when considering voice use. This is because the word posture conveys something fixed or held in some way.
A free voice is all about flexibility, in the body, the larynx, your vocal folds themselves. This doesn’t mean that you have no control, rather that things are balanced so that the movements can happen efficiently and effectively. Think of the words buoyancy and poise here, rather than the static posture.
This of course requires some practice. Most of us don’t think about balanced alignment, we just do things. Unnecessary muscle effort, tension and pain are often the result and these will not help your voice.
Your larynx (voice box) is a moveable, protective cage of cartilage inside which your vocal folds (cords) live! It sits at the top of the trachea (windpipe) and is suspended from a small bone under the chin, the hyoid bone. This means that the whole structure is flexible and can be moved. There are muscles, not shown, which can stabilise it.
Notice how close the larynx is to the chin and how it runs along the same line as the spine. What you do with your head and neck alignment and your jaw will have a knock-on effect on your larynx , and therefore your voice.
Your spine is actually not straight. It has three curves in it. It is important to understand this. trying to “stand up straight” as if the spine is a pole running along the back of your body will cause you to mis-map it internally. i.e. you will try to hold it in a tense and unhelpful way.
Notice also that the thickest part of your spine (lumbar) curves into the centre of your body, to provide balance and to channel your weight. You need to be aware of this to find your centre of gravity, for that flexible and buoyant movement we mentioned earlier.
This of course is definitely vital to using your voice. Air needs to be able to move up and against your vocal folds to make them vibrate and produce sound. You can see how the ribs are joined to the spine (above). They need space to move freely when air moves in and out. That spinal curve is important; don’t try to iron it out.
You’ll notice that in the image of the spine above, the hips are also in line with the rib cage. This is also important. Your pelvic alignment can throw the whole system out of balance.
You also need to be able to use the muscles of your abdominal wall effectively to control the air flow and pressure you need for speaking or singing.
Postural Alignment of Your Head and Neck
This relationship gets a special mention. Just as it is important to map the way the spine sits in your body, it is helpful to know that your head is not joined to your spine like a toffee apple on a stick! The connection is actually made at two points (occipital), at the atlas joint (the C1 or first neck vertebra). This allows you to nod. The joint below, the axis joint at C2 allows the head to rotate.
So what? If you understand that the head moves freely around these pivots, there is less chance of holding it rigidly and creating tension at the back of the neck.
Your head and neck alignment can actually affect the centre of gravity of your whole body. Stand upright and try sticking your chin out or pushing it down. What happens to your body alignment? How is your voice affected? This is just the tip of the iceberg . Matthias Alexander, the originator of Alexander Technique was the first to note the importance of this when he suffered with his speaking voice.
Finding an Effective Postural Alignment
Aim for the following:
The tip of the ear in line with the shoulder, in line with the ribs, hip and centre of the ankle
Make sure you can move and walk.
Allow your body to have its “micro-movements”: Nobody stands completely still without adding tension.
Check that the head is sitting comfortably on the spine and that you can nod and rotate it freely, without stress at the back of the neck
Avoid dropping your chest, locking your knees or tipping your pelvis/leaning back.
How to explore further
Try out your voice whilst using different postural alignments. Notice what things affect it or make speaking or singing feel difficult. Record yourself or get someone to film you (360 degrees) so that you understand the effects and how to find the best balance for you.
If you’d like to ask questions or explore work on this topic please do comment on this blog below or get in touch.
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