Monday, June 10, 2019

How to stand and sing without getting backache

I always encourage my singers to stand. It’s the most effective body position for singing.

However, some older singers or those with back problems can be resistant. Is it possible to stand and sing without getting backache?

Of course, if somebody needs to sit down and sing due to impaired mobility or injury, then they can. But even singers who sit to rehearse, find it useful to stand when performing.

And it’s not just older singers who have back problems! Many people complain that their back starts to hurt after standing for any length of time.

how to avoid back pain in rehearsals and workshops

There is such a wide range of causes of back pain that no one solution will apply to everyone. But here are a few tips that might help alleviate backache when standing to sing.

  • don’t skip the warm up – any decent choirmaster or singing workshop leader will take you through a series of vocal and physical exercises before you begin to sing. It’s important not to skip these. The physical exercises will help to release any tensions that have built up over the day. Tension is the worst culprit for causing back pain.
  • keep moving – the worst thing you can do is to lock your knees and stay fixed to the spot. Locking your knees immediately puts strain on the lower back. And staying still for any length of time is not what our bodies are designed for. Stand with loose knees when singing (see Hip wiggling and knee bending) and engage your body so it moves slightly with the music. Not only will it keep your body loose, but it can help with your timing. You can ‘dance’ slightly on the spot and even walk around a bit during rehearsals.
  • stretch from time to time – cats do it and so should we. Every time a cat gets up it stretches its body out. We forget to do that most of the time. Every now and then during rehearsal reach both arms up like sweeping angels wings or roll down through your spine or simply stretch out any part that you feel is getting stiff. Of course, don’t do this when you’re supposed to be focused on your singing!
  • focus on the music – the more you focus on the music and the singing, the more your attention will be taken away from any aches and pains. And if you are truly ‘in’ the music, your body will become involved in subtle ways which will automatically reduce tension. I had an elderly many attend one of my workshops who had recently pulled a muscle. He was sceptical about standing for the whole day, but he did. He told me at the end that he felt much freer and looser and his pain hadn’t bothered him at all.
  • relax! – it’s when tension creeps into the body that muscles tighten and pain begins. Check in with yourself regularly during rehearsal to see if tension is creeping in. If a song is challenging we often lose sight of how our anxiety and concentration are affecting our bodies. As well as stretching from time to time, make sure you regularly take releasing breaths and cultivate a “letting go” feeling.
  • learn to hold your music folder lightly – if your choir holds folders of sheet music or lyrics whilst singing, it’s very easy for tension to creep into the back. Practice holding your folder in as easy a way as possible. Don’t raise your shoulders, engage your core muscles rather than getting your back to do the work. One way to practice this is to stand by a table that is just below your elbow height. Put your folder on the table and go to pick it up very slowly. As soon as you notice any tension creeping in anywhere in your body, put the folder down and try again. You will eventually be able to lift your folder into the correct position and hold it there with no effort at all. It does take time though, so be patient.

what to do in performance?

Of course, you can’t simply wander around or start dancing or do a big stretch in the middle of a performance! So what can you do to avoid backache during a concert?

You can adapt most of the advice above:

  • keep your knees loose at all times,
  • learn to hold your music folder lightly,
  • check in regularly to make sure no tension has crept in,
  • don’t stay fixed to the spot but move very slightly with the music (this should not be visible to the audience – unless your director encourages it of course),
  • take long, releasing breaths between songs to let go of any tension,
  • stretch during the interval, in private if necessary.

I hope you find some useful ideas here. Do let me know if you have any other hints for avoiding backache when standing to sing.

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Chris Rowbury




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