Written in 2015 by Rebecca Lam Kania
Singing is a gift. The ability to make sound dance and tell a story from a teeny, tiny place in the body…what a wonder, truly! Beyond making beautiful music, there are less obvious gifts in a singing practice that can be applied to benefit life in general. Here, we explore a few of them.
Singing requires you to be aware of your breath. Singers must practice a balanced, unconstricted breath in rhythm to the tempo of the repertoire. This can be perceived as a type of meditative practice. The focus on breath in singing is not unlike the focus on breath in meditation and yoga practices.
The next time you practice your songs or vocal exercises, pay a little extra attention to your breath. Observe how you are inhaling and then as you are singing, observe how the exhale escapes you. A relaxed, diaphragmatic breath will relieve stress, encourage full oxygen exchange, and foster mind and muscle relaxation that will stay with you post-practice.
When was the last time you sat down to simply listen? If you are a singer, it probably wasn’t too long ago. Furthermore, a good singer listens more thoroughly than the average listener. We hear the rhythm section. We hear the harmony in the piano and guitar. We hear the tone and vowel shapes of the singer singing next to us so our voice can blend with theirs.
To sing in tune and in time with music, you must open your ears and truly listen. You have to listen so deeply that when you finally open your mouth to sing, your voice becomes a part of the music.
This all-embracing style of listening can also connect us better to the people around us. Instead of running through a to-do list in our head while we are having a conversation (I’m definitely guilty of this!), we could let go of our agendas and simply, listen.
First and foremost, the voice itself must be in a functional balance.
The voice is unique because it is inside of us. A singer must engage their body in a specific way to function as an instrument. Like a luthier to a guitar or violin, singers must coordinate their voice to play with evenness, resonance, and durability. Internally, this has to happen before the music does.
Once an internal balance is established, a singer can then move on to develop the external factors with ease. At this stage, a singer can broaden their musicality, enabling them to play well with others and sing in a band or with a choir.
This is true in life as well. Our internal selves must be taken care of in order for us to “play well with others.” An unbalanced psychological, emotional, spiritual, and physical self creates turbulent relationships, health problems…the list goes on. This is a profound lesson that could be studied for a lifetime.
To be an effective singer, one must be an effective communicator. We tell stories through song. To communicate stories successfully, a singer must explore their psychological, emotional, and spiritual connection to their repertoire. They must connect clearly to their message so they can express it freely on stage. Each phrase and stanza has meaning that must be defined internally to be shared externally. This requires self-discovery in the singer. This builds wisdom.
Discovering and acknowledging your emotions is extremely therapeutic. It brings light to shame, enabling us to empathize better with ourselves and others.
Voices are like fingerprints. Every voice is unique and distinct. At a certain point in a singer’s development, they must learn what their voice is and isn’t. This has to do with defining boundaries.
An alto will never sing like a soprano, a tenor, never like a bass. One soprano’s loud will differ from another soprano’s loud. To sing authentically, a singer must claim their natural limitations and celebrate them. When a singer respects and honours their unique voice, they will develop a natural, unmanipulated balance. Singing with a natural, manipulated, and balanced voice can encourage living a natural, unmanipulated, and balanced life.
In yoga class, the instructors often teach lessons to be learned “on and off the mat.” Similar lessons–or gifts–can be found in the practice of singing. So, warm up that voice and express your soul freely!