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It is summer in NZ! And I have been using it to do some singing research. I’ve been long interested in the Feldenkrais® method for a good while now and I am using my New Zealand Summer break to explore this method and see what benefits it brings to my singing. An experiment to discover the benefits of the Feldenkrais® method for singers!
Last week I started my sessions in ATM (Awareness Through Movement ®). I decided to start practicing this method as a complement to my own singing training.
ATM is a method that allows you to find greater awareness of your own body and, through this, learn to move your body in a more efficient way. For example, you learn to decrease the effort used when performing day-to-day activities, such as sitting, walking, etc. However, it also helps you have a smarter body that works more efficiently.
This method is also known for having many benefits for musicians, including singers, so I decided to give it a try and go all in.
Every somatic method is different, but in this case, after a week of full-time training, I can see some of benefits of the Feldenkrais® method for singers.
Posture and breathing are so interconnected that it is impractical to separate them when analysing the benefits of somatic movement for singers.
In my experience as a teacher, almost all my new students, whether or not they come with previous singing experience, usually think that all breathing for singing means is:
And most of them assume that learning to breathe for singing is something that you can learn in one lesson.
The ‘breathe with your belly’ instruction is a dangerous one. It can be useful for some people at certain times, and that is why we singing teachers sometimes say that, but in general it is a very simplistic instruction. Many either hear from others or read somewhere that for singing you should breathe with your belly. Breathing is quite a bit more complex than that and there are more than one or two ways of breathing – there are tons of them!
The important thing to understand is that you can breathe in a way that is helping your voice or not helping it. Sometimes some new students will try to push the belly out with quite a bit of force, even arching their lower backs, in an attempt to achieve belly breathing, and this won’t be helpful for singing. In fact, this type of breathing is probably doing more bad than good to your voice.
Tied to the previous point, many people have heard that to sing well you have to ‘breathe with your diaphragm’ or ‘sing with your diaphragm’, etc. One thing to clarify here is that we always breathe with our diaphragm as it is our main breathing muscle. It is true that in different breathing patterns, different muscles will be involved in breathing too, but the diaphragm is always working, except in some particular situations in which perhaps the diaphragm is quite tight, so we use accessory muscles more to breathe.
But the point here is that breathing with your diaphragm is a concept that means something different for everyone and so, that makes it a dangerous one. For example, I commonly see new singers tensing their tummy very tightly thinking about that instruction, which creates the complete opposite effect.
Another dangerous one – ‘breathe deeply’ often means ‘breathe very noisily’ to a lot of people, and this often affects your voice negatively.
Something to have in mind when we think about breathing is that different ways of breathing prepare our body for different situations. For example, the breathing you use for yoga is different from the one that you use for singing because your body has to be set up differently for those different activities. Of course, it doesn’t mean that yoga is bad for singing! But it does mean that you should breathe for yoga when you do yoga and breathe for singing when you do singing.
The Awareness Through Movement® method, when practiced regularly, helps you develop a smarter body. In other words, it trains your body and your mind, so you use your body more efficiently.
In singing, this is especially useful. One of the reasons why singers get voice fatigue and encounter other voice problems is because they organise their bodies to produce sound in a non-efficient way. They often use too much effort when they could use a much more economical way of producing sound – this usually results in a much bigger sound too!
The ability to organise your body purposefully allows you to get better at deciding how you are going to sound and when. This is a tool that will not only help you become much better at singing and finding your own sound, it will also enhance your creativity and keep your voice healthy.
So I recently completed my first two weeks of intensive Awareness Through Movement® sessions. The results? It’s too early to tell and describe any major differences at this stage, however, what I did notice when singing after my sessions is that my voice entered more easily what we know as the low-pressure system, which from my experience so far I would say is the most important of the benefits of the Feldenkrais® method for singers. If you are not familiar with the terminology, very simply put, we tend to sing in a high-pressure system that is not ideal for our voice. During the initial phase of the training, which involves getting in touch with how our body is feeling on that day, and doing body and voice warm-ups, we gently bring our body into the low-pressure system that allows us to sing more efficiently.
In other words, this week I found that it was much easier to get into a ‘singing mode’ for my sessions. This probably has something to do with the fact that in my experience with the sessions, a lot of breath was released. During the ATM sessions, you are constantly reminded to breathe throughout the entire movement, which is something that we often just don’t do.
After a while during the sessions, I felt as if my whole body was breathing – and our breath is the fuel of our voice!
Through my experience, the Feldenkrais® method has been a very enjoyable experience, and I can see the value that it has for singers, both beginner and advanced. For example, I can see how it can help beginners that struggle with breathing for singing or those who have significant posture patterns that affect their voice as a whole.
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