As a doctoral student, I devoured every book on vocal pedagogy I could get my hands on. However contrasting their approaches were for cultivating skill in breathing, vocal production, and articulation, they all emphasized good alignment as foundational for the development of technique. Some offered extensive physiological descriptions of the healthy spine and others detailed illustrations, but none offered much advice for achieving this crucial aspect of the singer’s instrument. These texts left me with the impression that in order to sing well, I should hold myself in a way that would meet their descriptions and resemble their illustrations. At three or four stations along the treasure hunt clues are accompanied by sweets and treats.
The concept of an ideal spinal position for singing makes sense when you relate vocal anatomy to musical instruments, nearly all of which are built around a stable base that supports moving parts and vibrating structures. Wind and brass instruments consist of tubes to which valves, rings, pads, and fingers can be appended to vary pitch, and stringed instruments are equipped with wooden necks that serve as stable structures to which strings can be affixed. For singers, the spine is the foundational structure that supports all of the moving parts that facilitate breathing, as well as activities of the larynx, articulators, and resonators.
Unlike the stable structures that form the bodies of other instruments, however, our spines are extraordinarily mobile. Even in repose, our vertebrae remain in continual flux by virtue of their participation in the movements of respiration. Alignment is inherently dynamic and therefore cannot be defined as an ideal position for singers to emulate.
What our vocal instruments require are spines free of postural distortions, dynamically stabilized rather than rigidly held, so that we can activate the internal moving parts and vibrating structures that contribute to singing while remaining externally free to dramatically embody our roles. Whether engaged in highly active operatic staging or the relative stillness of recital, singers must continually restabilize their bodies to support the mechanics of breath management, laryngeal activity, and articulation while accommodating movements of the limbs. The ability to stabilize not only the spine but also the core and major joints is essential for integrating the internal activities of singing with the demands of external movement.
While focusing on anatomy is sport-specific to singing, the imperative to cultivate a well-aligned, dynamically stable spine is something we share with athletes of all stripes. A stable spine supports the explosive arm movements needed to pitch or hit a baseball, the strokes and kicks that propel swimmers through the water, and the specialized breath management and laryngeal coordination that classical singers cultivate in order to fill an immense concert hall with our voices. We stand to benefit just as significantly as other athletes do from the techniques developed over decades of sports science research for assessing and optimizing alignment.