Singing is a chain reaction in the body. The vocal cords don’t work in isolation; airflow is responsible for bringing the cords together, and for keeping them in motion.
What many singers don’t realize is that the joints of the lower body (ankles, knees, hips) have a large impact on vocal support. If you are better able to feel the floor under your feet, your core muscles release more quickly and fully, allowing breath to flow more evenly through your voice.
You can do a simple self-test to see how grounded you currently are; stand on your right leg with your arms at your side, and close your eyes. Repeat on your left leg. You should be able to hold this position steadily for one minute on each leg with your eyes closed; if you are falling out of this pose before a minute is up, you have some work to do on your lower body stability.
Before you do the joint mobility exercises in this article, choose a phrase of music that you can use as an assessment; it’s important to know if a certain physical drill is working for you, and your voice is the best way to determine this. The protocol for this assessment is going to be three steps:
- Sing the phrase
- Perform the mobility drill
- Reassess by singing the phrase again immediately – if it felt easier or sounded better, it’s a good drill for your body.
When you’re picking a phrase to sing, choose something that is about a 6 on a difficulty scale of 10. In other words, select a part of a song that is challenging, but that won’t exhaust you if you sing it several times in a row. Once you’ve got your phrase picked out, try these three lower body drills and see how your voice responds. The idea here is to do the drill, and then release the position and sing in your normal posture (i.e. you don’t need to hold these positions while you sing.)
Stand with a tall spine and your feet hips-width apart, toes pointing directly forward (Figure 1). Put your right foot out in front of you; most of the weight should be on your BACK (left) leg. Slowly roll your ankle towards the outside by picking up your big toe and keeping the outer edge of your foot on the ground (Figure 2). If you’re doing this correctly, you should feel a stretch on the outside of your ankle. Do 3-4 reps and then re-sing your assessment phrase. Then try the same process with the left leg forward.
Stand with a good tall posture and lock your knees. Maintaining this tall posture, begin to draw a circle with your knees in a clockwise direction (Figure 3). Circle all the way around until your knees are again locked. Be careful that your knees are leading the movement – your feet / ankles will move, but the driver should be the knees. After doing 3-4 circles clockwise, stop and re-sing your assessment phrase. Then repeat the process with the circles going counterclockwise (starting the movement to your left).
Hold on to a wall with your left hand and put your right leg straight out in front of you. Turn your right leg in and out from the hip (Figure 4). Try to figure out which direction feels more challenging (internal or external rotation). Once you’ve determined which type of rotation is “stickier”, maintain that direction while you SLOWLY draw a circle with your hip. You should be trying to move from the hip socket (head of your thigh bone), not your whole pelvis. After 3-4 circles in one direction, reverse the direction. Then re-test your assessment singing phrase. Repeat the process on your left leg, holding a wall with your right hand for stability.
Andrew Byrne is a voice teacher, vocal coach, composer, performer and music director. He was twice named one of the “Favorite Vocal Coaches” in NYC Backstage Reader’s Choice Awards, and is also a frequent contributor to their experts column. Andrew Byrne Voice Studio is a company, based in New York, that specializes in training professional musical theater performers to reach their peak vocal performance level.