Stand Up Straight - Sing Better

Published: 15th February 2012
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It's time to perform in public, whether you're doing karaoke, singing in the church choir or fronting up as lead singer of a new band. You might have got things down perfectly when it comes to the techniques of singing itself, but even a golden voice can be ruined by bad posture and less than confident on stage presence.

Posture is important for singing. When you stand up straight, this allows you to breathe freely and easily, which is vital for good clear singing. Standing correctly also makes you look more confident and gives you more "stage presence" of the sort that an audience likes to see. This even applies if you're in a church choir and it's not all about you: if you stand tall and with confidence, you will help inspire others to join in the choruses much better than you would if you were hunched over and mousy.

So how do you stand properly for singing? It's easy: just stand up properly the way you've been taught. So you haven't been taught how to stand correctly? Again, it's easy. Imagine that you have a string attached to the top of your head that is pulling you upright. As this imaginary string pulls you erect, you should feel your spine straightening (while maintaining the gentle curve in the lower back) and your hips coming into alignment with your shoulders. Balance your weight evenly on the balls of both feet. Now take a deep breath - the sort of breath from the diaphragm that all singers should do - and raise your head. Now you're standing tall with confidence!

Your spine is nice and straight and you can breathe properly, but there's another thing to consider. This is something that many people ask when they first set out to sing and take singing lessons: what do you do with your hands? After all, you don't sing with your hands but they are very visible to an audience. Doing the wrong thing with your hands can make you look like a right idiot, but getting it right makes you really sparkle on stage.

If you have a songbook or a sheet of music that you have to hold, which is often the case if you are in a church choir or if you are taking part in Christmas carol singing around your neighbourhood, you don't have much to worry about. Just hold your music book or song sheet in both hands and hold it in front of you at about chest level where you can glance at it easily. Just make sure that you don't block the music coming out of your mouth by holding your hymn book or song sheet in front of your face - a very common mistake.

If you have a microphone to hold, things are a little easier. You have three options: microphone in both hands, microphone in left hand and microphone in right hand. All you have to do is make sure that the receiver part of the microphone is pointing directly at your mouth. The best method here is to swap among the three methods rather than freezing in one piece. Your free hand can just dangle and still look OK, but if you're more confident, you can start adding a few gestures - more on that later. One more thing, though - don't trip over the microphone cord!

But what about the person with nothing to hold? What about your hands? In some ways, it's easier to say what not to do with your hands. You should not stick your hands behind your back (makes you look shy), cross your arms across your chest (makes you look shy and blocks your breathing) or put your hands on your hips (makes you look aggressive if you're a woman and is downright bizarre in a guy). Another thing you are best to avoid doing with your hands is to hold them clasped in front of your chest like the Von Trapp children do at the big concert in the movie "The Sound of Music". This looks really prissy and old-fashioned in adults, although children can get away with it. Nor should you put your hands in the prayer posture - don't even do this in a church choir or while singing a gospel song, as it will look as if you're taking the mickey.

If you really don't know what do with your hands, don't do anything. Just let them dangle loosely at your sides. This isn't the most visually exciting, but if your singing voice is good enough, it's all you need. But you probably want to do more than this in front of an audience. The best thing to do is to turn your palms towards the audience while keeping them at hip or waist height, as this makes you look open and inviting.

As you become more confident, add gestures. You don't have to be Sarah Brightman and just about dance to the song you're singing, but a few hand gestures can help your performance and interpretation of the song. Make sure that they're appropriate to the song and to the words. The cliché of the soprano or the tenor standing with one hand on his/her heart and the other in the air may feel a bit silly at first, but can be included. Unles you're doing it as a joke, don't stay in this posture for too long - think of Mr Bean in "Mr Bean's Holiday" as he lip-synchs to "O Mio Bambino Caro". Other easy gestures can include beckoning (with the whole hand rather than a crooked finger), palm raised like a cop ordering traffic to stop, raising one or both hands, spreading both arms open wide, a slashing gesture from one side to the other or a raised fist. Instinct and the lyrics should guide you here. If you get into the music and let the emotions conveyed by the melody and words, you will find the right things to do with your hands coming naturally. But remember to stand up straight!


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