Why do people stand up straight to sing (& what does straight mean anyway???!)

I remember when I first decided I wanted a better singing voice (a long time ago in almost anyone’s books) I was vexed by the question of how to stand up straight and indeed whether I should even bother.

This question continued to baffle me through many years of yoga practise and training to be a teacher.

Singers are not the only people who have to deal with this issue it seems!

In this article I’d like to explain why there is this obsession with standing up straight, explain why it’s really not that simple, and finally give you some pointers about how to get creative with your posture rather than just feeling like you’re hopeless for slouching all the time!

Firstly: Why do we stand up straight to sing? Well we don’t necessarily – however to the extent that we do, the answer is different in the context of different parts of your body.

From the point of view of your abdomen and chest, if you collapse forward in a slouch you’re simply going to have less room to fill your lungs and hence run out of breath sooner. You will also have less muscle wall poised and relaxed and primed to squeeze air out. A load of that muscle wall will already be scrunched together and therefore have no power to contract.

From the point of view of your neck and throat, your vocal cords are pretty good at taking air in straight through them in one direction… …not so good at taking it in at an angle or even around a corner. Also they have to vibrate to make a noise right? Well you need space for that vibration to happen, scrunching up in a slouch removes that space.

Your head is the most interesting bit… If your head is on top of where your weight goes through your feet in the ground then it’ll be pretty easy to balance the rest of you. Your head is very heavy and has the most leverage on your body since it’s at the top. If you tilt forward or back a bit then your whole body will have to constantly grip a ton of muscles simply to stop you overbalancing!

Bad news if you want less gripping in your torso and neck as described above.

So right now I bet you’re thinking ‘oh hell I always slouch and I can’t do sh**t about it!!’. For everyone in that bracket – here’s your get out clause: If you have to chronically tense a ton of muscles to achieve a straight alignment, then you’re going to re-create all the same scrunching and gripping problems that you were creating before in your slouch!

In other words standing up straight can actually make your problems worse ie give you less breath, less breath control, less space for your vocal cords to vibrate etc…

The point is if you hadn’t spend have your life staring at phones/tvs or hunched over computer screens etc you’d probably have no problem effortlessly standing up straight as a bolt! But life doesn’t give you that luxury and besides you probably enjoyed a load of the stuff you did while ruining your posture and that counts too right? 🙂

What you’re looking for is the position of minimum tension.

You need to get creative in asking and answering the question of ‘how can I hold myself up whilst using as little muscular effort as possible in the process?’

The better you get at answering this question… …the straighter you will stand up! In general anyhow.

However, each step forward may be different and some may involve slouching a bit more in some way while others may involve straightening up.

Let me give you a few of the parameters you should be looking at. It’s surprisingly straightforward really when you get into the details.

For example if you’re running out of breath then it’s probably going to be something in your torso that needs to change to make more space.

On the other hand if you’re feeling strain in your vocal cords then it’s your angle of your neck and the position of your head that’s gonig to be more important.

But also remember that the moment you make a change in one point of your body, you’ll create knock on changes elsewhere. ie a change in the position in your head will create changes in your lower back.

All this becomes exponentially more complicated when you have a musical instrument involved, or a mic in front of you… or maybe you’re sitting down sometimes and standing at other points…

Many singers do a great job of expressing their souls beautifully and sustainably through terrible posture (outwardly at any rate).

The bottom line is we all start from where we are. As long as you treat what you have with sensitivity and creativity you can move forward in developing expression through your voice and truly the sky’s the limit!

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