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Vocal methods and body dysfuncion

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I frequently read, especially in the web, about the “right method”, the “universal vocal technique”, the “new one” that overcomes to old and no more useful way to sing.

The respiratory dynamics becomes cause of clash between different teachers and coaches, searching for the perfect movement, the absoute control of the body micro mobility. Methaphors ride, comparing muscles to rubber bands, the singers is described like an athlete, the diaphragm (poor diaphragm) to anything that makes it easy to be described.

In my daily work, as osteopath treating singers and musicians, what I often see is the abuse of some hiper thecnicality in the vocal practice, that sometime becomes stressing at a postural and dynamic level. The cause?

Perhaps the lack of student comprehension, but also the low sensitivity (or specific preparation) of the teacher in observing the potentials or limits of the student.

We cannot apply the same methodology with the same results to all our students.

I observe and keep note of the most frequent problems of many of my patients, singers with postural disfunctions, in relation to the practice of singing;

I hope it will be useful to your didactic. The most common problems encountered:

  • asymmetries of ribs movements
  • difficulties in managing the ribs and abdominal movements
  • excessive tension of the trunk and head postural muscles
  • excessive muscular tension on the shoulders elevators.

These, among many others, are frequent problems in students who require my osteopathic cure. Sometimes problems also affect experienced professionals.

Is possible to solve these, restoring a physiological control of muscular activity. However, my invitation is mainly addressed to teachers. Methods should not be stictly standardized but adapted to the specificity of each student body. This principle is correct also for musicians, playing instruments. Improving coastal biomechanic, the coordination of the diaphragmatic bellow, normalizing the postural tension, is the goal of manual and re-education approach, always in collaboration with other specialists.

The management of forces, positions, is an important task for the teacher. He must be always clear in the speech and showing exercises for a correct student’s daily improvement.

Understanding the presence of problems listed above and not treating them, means an immediate loss of performance, and may bring to most serious dysfunctions or pathologies.

And you, teacher, coach or professional of the voice? What are the most frequent problems in you experience? Write them here if you want.

11th International course on phoniatrics and speech therapy

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I’m very glad to participate as speaker in this course. I’m looking forward to learn from important specialists of the voice.

See you soon in Ravenna Italy  26-27-28-29 october


Singers and scars

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Sometimes the singer must undergo surgery, although not strictly related to chordal dysfunction.

The more related with the vocal function is the vocal tract. This region can be influenced in its physiological dynamics and it’s important to assess its mobility post intervention.

The most common scar we can found is the frontal access for thyroidectomy. It appears as an horizontal line, visible just above the sternum, large up to 10 – 15 cm.

Sometimes the access to the thyroid provides scars U shaped that reach the lateral parts of the larynx. In this case the surgery is more invasive.
A frequent consequence of a scar is the retraction. Between the superficial and deep tissutal planes we can observe a loss of mobility, expecially in the sliding parameters, sometimes associated with swelling and fibrosis of the scar’s tissues that do not allow a correct biomechanic.

For the singer the mobility that can be limited is the upwards and downwards movement of the laryngeal tract. Sometimes we can also observe a lateral deplacement to the scar tissue. Often the head is tilted to the side of the retraction or the movements of rotation of the head can be limited in their range of motion. Even the opening and closing of the mouth can lead to a mandibule deviation.

Lateral fibrous scar after surgery

Scars in the neck area can bring to uncorrect positions and a non phisiologic compensation in the phonation. Even scars situated in further anatomic regions can perturb the singing. Scars of the abdominal wall (classical appendectomy, or caesarean sections) can change the dynamic of the abdomen during inspiration and can influence, through deep fascial tensions the phase of appoggio and sostegno.

Where a scar is retracted the effect can lead to postural compensation even without sympthomps. It is essential, during the evaluation of the subject, to keep in mind this possibility.

If a student should have to undergo surgery it is useful to verify, in the post intervention period, if the scar tissue has postural influence in order to prevent the onset of symptoms which will lead in the long term. In this case manual therapy can be a good solution to the problem.

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.


Singers posture and hyper control

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The voice output should be the result of a process of study during years of practice, characterised by discipline and perseverance . In optimal conditions, the voice should be natural , both from the point of view of sound quality both from the point of view of the muscular physiology.

Often, however, I analyze how singers try to change too many factors in theyr body posture. This , rather than lead to an improved implementation creates an increase of body tension and undermine its perception and the right control.

We are in the case of the hyper-control of postural system.

Each singer is a specific case, with its own tensions , characteristics and preferences of use of his anatomical structures . The vocal technique considered optimal for a student may not be equally understood and managed by others with different body patterns . Taking as a reference an hypothetical right body position to use as a basis for practice of singing , when our bodies are tructurally very different can really cause problems .

How to avoid them?

1. Obey your body characteristics . If you have a scoliosis you can never assume a neutral position ” theoretically correct “, especially in a short time .

2. Postural changes and exercises dedicated to reach the right posture should be not related to the practice of singing , especially in the first years of practice.

3. Rely on real professional of posture, too often i listen to bestiality or hypotetical miraculous cures given by so-called professionals .

4. Communicate with your teacher without fear , explain your doubts and every symptom of fatigue and pain. Often a careful analysis already in the singing lesson can remove doubts about technical errors .

5. If you are singing teachers give postural corrections in a minimum way, searching for the control of the neutral position of your student, never causing pain or discomfort. If already you do this…try to be even softer..

6. If you are a teacher with questions about anatomy and postural physiology … , try to study and collaborate with professional osteopathes, phisioterapists and so on.

7. Never believe in miracles related to the postural correction! Having a good posture does not mean you know the right way to sing. However, it’s useful to learn techniques dedicated to cure eventually postural problems .

Small steps will limit the damage and can help to improve your art !

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