Can You Feel It? – Kinesthetic Awareness In Singing
If you’ve had singing lessons before you probably know a stack of exercises – like exercises for your breath – some that help you get high notes – some to increase stamina and flexibility.
The effectiveness of all of those exercises can be improved by using one simple (and rarely taught) concept.
It’s called Kinesthetic Awareness (or body awareness or proprioception).
It’s been a critical part of my teaching for the last 15 years and I’m really excited to share it with you today.
I’d like to talk to you first about how NOT to practice – then how to practice – a quick explanation of kinesthetic awareness – and then how to integrate kinesthetic awareness into your singing TODAY.
HOW NOT TO PRACTICE
1. Set up your practice area.
2. Run through your exercises. Just do them once or twice each then move on as quickly as possible.
3. Sing some of your songs.
To be honest, this kind of practice is better than nothing. But only just.
If I had a client who was practicing like that I would suggest to them that they just sing some songs instead. Be engaged and enjoy singing. Have some fun. The angst that that they are getting from doing exercises is not worth the limited benefits they’re getting from forcing themselves.
WHY EXERCISES ARE IMPORTANT AND BEING PRESENT WHEN YOU PRACTICE
Singing involves very specific control of mostly small muscles. You can’t see these muscles and in everyday life you don’t have to control them that carefully either.
When you do a singing exercise (which could be a silly noise or a particular way of breathing) you are isolating those muscles and learning to control them more accurately – in ways that will benefit your singing voice.
Like developing any skill – you need to pay careful attention to how you develop your vocal skills too. Imagine an archer trying to improve by just shooting arrows off into the air? Of course she doesn’t! She stands in front of the target, breathes deeply, then is completely focussed when she fires of the arrow. And because of this she improves.
Exercises are exactly the same. They need to be approached in a relaxed way, with good breathing and focus, and you need to be present (not thinking about other things, not racing through them) as you do them.
WHAT IS KINESTHETIC AWARENESS?
So our archer (let’s stay with her because she is so excellent at practicing) has some advantages over us. For one thing she knows when she succeeds because she hits the target. She can work on her technique by adjusting her stance or lifting her arm differently. Then as she adjusts her stance or lifts her arm it has an immediate impact on her success. She misses the target and she is inspired to try a new technique or carefully adjust what she just practiced or she hits the target and is pleased with herself and that makes her want to hit the target again.
She has it so easy compared to us.
We make silly noises and we’re not sure exactly why we’re doing them (because there is no target to hit) and we can’t see our singing muscles (so it’s very difficult to make slight adjustments and measure how they impact on the outcome that we’re confused about anyway).
So we stand in our practice room and go over and over our exercises in a way that is like firing random arrows off into the air and if we improve it’s really more dumb luck than anything skilled or clever and if we don’t improve it’s because we’re just “not destined to be a singer”.
But here comes kinesthetic awareness to the rescue!
I did a quick google and found kinesthetic awareness defined as “awareness of body parts and the relationship of those parts to one another and the environment”. That’s a pretty good definition. So basically kinesthetic awareness is the awareness of where your body is in space and how the different parts of your body are interacting with each other. Athletes and musicians, surgeons and martial artists have excellent kinesthetic awareness. The martial artist knows exactly where every part of his body is at every moment. The surgeon knows exactly where her hand is relative to the scalpel at every moment.
KINESTHETIC AWARENESS AND YOU (THE SINGER)
As singers we want to develop kinesthetic awareness of our singing instrument. This means that as we go for that high note we can feel the tongue or throat tensing and relax it. We can feel that we need to engage more support or that we’re bringing our head forward or sticking our jaw out (we don’t want either of those things!)
Also, when you have great kinesthetic awareness you can notice how it feels when you’re singing AMAZINGLY. The you can replicate that function tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that. (This is one of the coolest things about having great kinesthetic awareness).
And finally, focussing on kinesthetic awareness makes exercises way more interesting.
DEVELOPING KINESTHETIC AWARENESS
The first part of developing your kinesthetic awareness is to realise that it exists! Accept that in the same way you can get more skillful with your hands by being aware of your hand’s muscles and paying attention to how you use them, in the same way you can also greatly increase the skill of how you use your voice.
There are some great exercises that help you to develop your kinesthetic awareness but the first thing that you can do (all by yourself) is simply notice where you physically feel your voice. As you sing a high note do you feel it more behind your nose or in your chest or throat. Then notice the muscles that surround that sensation. Does your throat get tight as you get higher? Can you go all the way to the top of your range with it staying soft and unflexed? What’s your tongue up to? If you work your support muscles does it make it smoother? What happens if you go slow? Fast? Curly?
Suddenly, if you looking at it through the lens of kinesthetic awareness, a simple siren cam become the most interesting exercise in the world.
I like to say that “Learning to sing is like learning to play the guitar – except the guitar is in pieces, you’re in a pitch black room and you don’t know what a guitar looks like.” Simple exercises, performed in a present, focussed way is where we singers begin to assemble our instruments. So many of the answers that we seek – how to be more in tune – how to sing louder – longer – higher – lie in kinesthetic awareness.
The sooner you start the sooner you’ll be singing.
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