The Importance of Posture and Relaxation for Good Voice Production
Most people are not generally aware that speaking involves the whole body. If we are to learn to speak effectively and confidently, we firstly need to be sure to eliminate two of the voices most powerful enemies. These are:
1. bad posture
In order to ensure that our voices are being produced in the most efficient and effective way, the first thing to consider is our posture. You will find it easier to follow what Im going to say about posture standing in front of a full length mirror.
For your voice to work efficiently and effortlessly, your air stream needs to have a clear, unrestricted passage through the vocal tract. If your stance or posture are even slightly wrong this passage will be restricted and you will be making unnecessarily hard work of producing your voice, since extra effort will be needed to try to overcome the restriction.
First, look at your stance. Your feet should be placed directly beneath your hipbones. This means slightly apart – about the same width apart as your shoulders. If you place them together, as if standing to attention, you will tend to sway when you are speaking. If they are too far apart you will eventually become uncomfortable and tend to shift the weight over onto one hip. When people do this they also tend to fold their arms. All this gives an impression to your audience that you dont really want to speak to them at all and that youd really rather be somewhere else. This may be true, but there are times when honesty is not the best policy!
Next, think about your spine
You should certainly not be slumped over at the shoulders, as this will restrict your breathing, but neither should you be holding your shoulders back and thrusting your chest out. This causes an unnatural hollow in your spine and encourages clavicular breathing, when you to try to breath with your upper chest and shoulders. It is impossible to use the full capacity of your ribcage in this position. If you stand in this position and try to speak, you will find that your voice is breathy and weak. So no standing with your shoulders back and your chest out - and I dont care what your PE teacher said at school!
To ensure that your spine is in its correct alignment, imagine that there is a golden thread attached to the top of your head, towards the back and that some unseen force above you is pulling it upwards. This will ensure that your spine is fully extended so that your head is not slumped into your shoulders. Your arms should be hanging as loosely as possible. Their natural position is hanging slightly forward from the shoulders.
Standing in the correct way means using gravity rather than fighting against it. Standing with too wide or too narrow a stance or with the spine badly aligned means that extra muscles are habitually being used to keep you upright against the forces of gravity. In the diagram, you will see that the head is up with the eyes looking straight ahead and the ears, the point of the shoulder, the highest point of the hip, the knee, and the front of the ankle are all in alignment with each other. Check now in the mirror, to see if your posture is correct.
Having sorted out your posture, you need to ensure that there is no negative tension in the body. Negative tension is the result of nervousness or stress and needs to be eliminated for good voice production. If you are tense, the first place it will show is in your shoulders, neck and jaw, all of which need to be loose and free in order to produce a good voice and clear diction. Try the following exercises. But please do make sure that you accommodate any physical condition you may have such as a bad back or joint problems. Only do what you know you are physically capable of doing.
Standing in the centred position already described, raise your arms above your head. Now we are going to deliberately tense all our muscle groups so that you can learn to recognise consciously when they have tensed up by themselves. So well start with the toes. Curl them under. Now tighten up all the muscles in your feet, then the lower legs, thighs, tummy and buttocks. Now tighten up in the midriff area, the back, the shoulders and the arms. Make your hands into tight fists. Screw up your entire face and close your eyes tightly. Stay in this position for a few seconds. Uncomfortable, isnt it? This is how you dont want to feel when you are speaking. So now release the face muscles and drop the jaw open. Unclench those fists and stretch out your fingers. Next drop your arms, but keep the shoulders and chest tense. Now release the tension in your shoulders, neck, chest and back. Now release the tummy and buttocks, thighs, lower legs and feet. Uncurl the toes and give them a good wiggle. Now shake out the arms and legs till they feel really loose. How do you feel now? De-tensed, I hope! This is how you need to feel in order to speak confidently with a well produced voice.
Shoulders, Neck and Jaw
In order to ensure that the shoulder, neck and jaw area in particular remain free, try the following:
Still standing in your centred position, lift the shoulders right up to the ears and then allow them to drop with their own weight back into position. Make sure you do let them drop and dont actually place them back in position as your muscles will then immediately tense up again. Circle your shoulders gently three times forward and then three times back. Always do all these exercises gently. This is not "keep fit". Hold your right arm out to the front with the palm facing downwards. Gently swing it up and over in an arc until you end up with your arm out in front of you again, but with the palm facing up. Swing it down and back and over, ending with the palm facing back down again. Do this several times with each arm.
To loosen up the neck, stand in your centred position, turn your head until your chin is above your right shoulder. Gently drop it down till it touches your chest and continue to roll it across the chest to the other shoulder and lift the head up again so that is facing in the opposite direction to the one it started in. Repeat in the other direction. Do this several times. If youre a bit stiff in that area you may hear bumps and clicks. Dont worry, just make sure you are doing the exercise gently. This stiffness will improve the more you do this exercise.
Remember, always treat the jaw gently. Its a very vulnerable joint if its misused.
First, I want you to imagine that you are chewing a particularly sticky toffee. Really work the jaw and the tongue in a chewing motion. Make sure you are using a circular motion. Never swing the jaw from side to side. You are likely to hear a nasty click and end up with a dislocation.
Next, I want you to yawn, and have a good stretch whilst youre at it, just as you would if youd just got out of bed.
Stand with your feet together. Bend your knees and start circling them round, keeping your feet still, first in one direction, then the other. Now take the circling motion up to the hips and circle them – first one way and then the other, then up to the torso and shoulders. With knees slightly bent, undulate the spine, like a snake. This does take a bit of practice.
NB: You should not attempt the following exercise if you suffer from high blood pressure or glaucoma.
Stand with the feet slightly apart and the knees slightly bent. Flop the upper part of your body forward and down, so that your arms and head are hanging loosely downward, with the top of your head pointing towards the floor. Gently swing your upper body from side to side. When ready to come up again, slowly start to unroll the spine from its base, so that the shoulders and head come up last. Imagine each vertebra sitting back on top of the one below as you come up. Make sure that your arms remain hanging loose and dont place your shoulders back into position as you come up. Instead just swing your shoulder girdle and upper body round from side to side and you will find that they fall back into place naturally without having to re-tense the muscles.
You should now be fully de-tensed and ready to do your voice warm up.