Postural tensions and vocal emission

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The management of a singer’s presence on stage and the ability to mimic movements are crucial factors, especially in the field of opera. Maintaining body positions for interpretation provides good support to vocal gestures and their effectiveness. The director’s instructions for guiding a singer’s movement or static positioning on stage, are determined by what is needed for the scene.

The practice of surface electromyography (EMG), used for decades in rehabilitation, is noninvasive and in rapid consultation with the user, it can be useful to show tension on muscle groups that are activated during singing.

It is certain that on stage, an interpretive gesture is equally as important as vocal technique and the required physical effort communicates the singer’s intentions and particulars of the character they are playing to the public. The border between the good management of singing during a scene and overuse of the body can be determined by the artist using a measuring instrument (like the EMG) to calibrate their postural contractions. Achieving an acceptable limit of body use makes vocalization more manageable. The result is a more agile character in the control of their voice, who is posturally less static and equally effective in sound emission.
The immediate benefit for the singer is mainly in the period of pre-recital study, which can be managed to avoid postural overtraining, especially in the cervical and perilaringeal areas. This approach directs more focused attention on the singer’s voice control of the piece.

In the act of singing, we cannot dramatically divide a postural apparatus from a phonatory one, because many muscles are related to both to the postural and the emitting system. Singers’ difficulty in managing postural action can create tensions, pains and problems in the sound’s formation.

An EMG can be useful for easy control of one system (postural) while the other one is working (sound emission).

In the example, we notice the effect of a correct and a less optimal postural contraction during a soprano’s sound emission.

In this case, the artist, has made two vocalizations with distinct postural intentions; the first is full of pathos, while the second, is posturally more relaxed but with a focus on vocal control.
The EMG measured the electrical activity in the two cases.

Overall not many differences are shown in body language, but at the level of perilaryngeal muscles (sternocleidomastoid muscle) changes are evident during intense activity when execution requires greater bodily expressive intensity.

In the second case, the EMG shows the lower activity of the tested muscle; the voice result instead, has a good quality.

It must be noted, especially in artists of this caliber, that the management of the postural and phonation systems seem to be almost independent, due to the singer’s ability to modulate the specific activity of both.
This competence does not create excessive unintentional interference between the postural system and vibrating apparatus, rather it’s clear proof of great artistic ability.

Thanks to soprano Jessica Pratt for her collaboration on this piece.


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