This is an excerpt from Lisa Popeil’s new book: Sing at the Top of Your Game. Lisa is one of the most respected and accomplished vocal coaches in the world. In her book she shares her wisdom on singing technique and making it in the Music Industry.
After 50 years of voice study, I’ve worked through almost every challenge imaginable with my voice. Problems, unanswered questions, tears, pleading, experimentation, discovery, clarification, and finally mastery.
The process can feel like you’ve climbed Mt. Everest, but what a view when you get to the top!
There are three boring but important jobs to master to help you achieve the technical skills so many singers crave: Posture, Support and Breathing. Before you try anything else, first make sure that these three actions are perfectly and consistently done. When done correctly, you will look and sound more professional right away.
Your vocal mechanism is a biological machine which begins at your feet and goes to the top of your head. When you create an ideal posture, EVERYTHING works better. For best results, find a full-length mirror in order to observe this first task on your singing to-do list. Let’s begin:
1- Standing at a slight angle to the mirror, place your feet so that your big toes are directly below your hip bones (not your hips). Your toes should be slightly turned out.
2 – Knees should be soft. Not locked back, not super bent.
3 – Place thumb on navel with fingers like a paw (not splayed) just below. This is your lower belly. Make sure this area is soft.
4 – Move hand up to upper belly (between your navel and the base of your sternum (your breastbone). Make sure this area is soft.
5 – Create an imaginary hook with your fingers. Lift your chest very high, then place “hook” below your sternum in the center. Now slightly relax your chest so that it’s resting on your “hook”. Your chest should now be comfortably high but not over lifted. Keep your chest in this floating, high position for breathing and singing.
6 – Your shoulders should be relaxed; don’t pull them down and don’t pull them back. Imagine that your shoulders are like an expensive wood hanger, for most people, slightly curved, not straight like a cheap, metal hanger.
7 – Expand your back and side ribs by breathing through your nose and willing your ribs to widen slightly. Now keep your side and back ribs in this position for breathing and singing. (I call this slight expansion “singers’ ribs”.) Your front ribs and back ribs should be equally expanded for singing.
8 – Take your fingers and touch the top of your spine below where your neck begins. Gently pull up on the back of your neck and when you get to the base of your skull, lightly turn your head left and right to make sure your neck is loose. Make sure your head is directly on top of your body, not pulled forward.
9 – Imagine that you’re hanging from the crown of your head by a thread from the ceiling. This will result in a long, loose neck so your voice box won’t be pulled or yanked out of position.
10 – VERY IMPORTANT: In the mirror, with your body at a slight angle to the mirror, make sure that your shoulders are DIRECTLY ABOVE and in line with your hips. Don’t lean back with your upper torso. (The reason is that, when leaning backward, your abdomen will tighten and not be available for the all-important tasks of SUPPORT – coming next!)
11- One final posture tip: be a tree!
Imagine someone trying to push you over by pushing steadily on one of your hips. In fact, get someone to try this with you – it’s a very interesting sensation. Your job is to resist them with just enough strength in your feet, legs and hips to feel strong. This grounding stance will increase your vocal control and power.
Lisa Popeil is one of LA’s top voice coaches with over 40 years of professional teaching experience. As a singer, she’s performed and recorded with Frank Zappa and ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic and her album ‘Lisa Popeil’ was a Billboard ‘Top Album Pick’. Lisa has an MFA in Voice, is the creator of the Voiceworks® Method, and is regularly featured in leading music magazines, journals, books and conferences.