Jan 12 2011

Q&A - Correct Posture of the Chest/Sternum

First of all I would like to thank you for the effort and consideration you have given toward answering my questions.

It seems that correct breathing is a function of correct posture. More specifically, through careful studying of my own torso in front of body-length mirrors and experimentation, it seems that correct positioning of the chest, sternum, and correct innervation of the muscles (back, pelvis, abdominals) below it is necessary in order to sustain correct positioning. Under your Q/A section, your reference to “stay[ing] comfortably uplifted” seems to confirm this.

My theory is that the whole thoracic cavity must be raised (of course assuming that the initial posture was not optimal) in order to straighten the spine a bit, involving the back and front muscles. Unfortunately, I have difficulty doing this without either raising my shoulders, arching my back, or excessively flaring my ribs out.

I was wondering if you could clarify on this whole mechanism. Specifically, I was wondering if you could perhaps give guidance on how to achieve correct chest, sternum, ribcage positioning. It seems that with proper torso alignment there should be a sense of proper elasticity and gentle yet firm muscle activity below it. I have read and explored your advice which utilizes the floor as a posturing tool but in my particular case it doesn’t seem I respond too effectively too it.

I realize the difficulty of this particular request, because it probably involves invoking muscular action for inducing a physical sensation which I have not experienced before. Regardless, Thank you so much for your time.


You are welcome, and thank you for being a loyal reader and for your questions. They keep the site alive.

Everything you describe is very accurate. You show a good understanding of what we are after. There really isn’t much more to it. But I think you might just need some reassurance to clarify what is the correct way of achieving this condition.

Your first statement is absolutely correct. Correct breathing is a function of correct posture. That alone would make it very important. But posture also influences energy levels, stability of the structure, freedom of the larynx and openness of the resonators. We really need to realize that because our body is our instrument, posture is the most important aspect of vocal function. Because posture determines the condition of the instrument. If the condition is poor the singing will be poor.

I find it most helpful to not get too specific when dealing with the body. Specificity tends to cause interfering tensions and rigidity. We get a better result when we think in more general, over-all concepts. Like having a sense of lengthening and stretch through the torso rather than lifting this or that. We might be doing the same thing, but we do it in a different way.

What we need to keep in mind is the fact that the purpose is to create a positive condition in the body. Not just to put the body in a position. When we try to deliberately put the body into a “correct” posture we tend to get stiff and lose flexibility.

What we really want to do is recreate the energized physical condition that naturally results in singing. This relates to our emotional state. I’ve discussed before the concept of how singing might exist in our natural habitat. When we celebrate or are inspired and uplifted by something we might respond by singing. This is what we want to learn how to create whenever we want to sing.

These are the kinds of things I’m talking about when I say “instinctive response”. We have a physical response to an emotional stimulus. This is reflected in our posture and then in our voice. When we can learn how to access this part of our being singing becomes almost automatic and easy.

So our postural condition needs to be a result of a proper emotional condition. Otherwise it will be fatiguing and stiff. We can work on this by exploring the physical characteristics of positive emotional conditions like inspiration, enthusiasm, excitement, joy, celebration, and many more.

We can immediately identify some postural characteristics that don’t reflect these emotions. Collapsed, slouching, heavy, dropped, droopy. Anything going in a closing-off, downward direction.

What are some characteristics of the emotions we identified? Lifted, stretched, inspired, buoyant, energized, elastic, flexible, uplifted. Each person reading probably can come up with some of their own as well.

So again, the objective is not really to get each part of the torso in just the right spot and be “correct”. It is more that we want to create an effective emotional state in our body. This requires the use of the imagination more than the intellect.

So rather than trying to go down the check-list of correct posture, we need to create the physical state of uplifted inspiration. This should cause us to stretch the torso taller like we might if reaching over our heads. It also should include the feeling of stretch in the rib-cage so it feels open and vital.

The taller feeling from stretching the torso will “line-up” the air-way to create an open throat and take pressure from the sternum off the lungs. The open rib-cage will assist in suspending the breath in the inhale position so to not release the breath loosely though an exhale, while also putting the respiratory muscles in position to unconsciously compress the breath.

Something to watch out for when working on this, as with anything new to us, is to be open to anything. Don’t be too quick to write something off as wrong. We can only know what we have experienced before. The pitfall that goes along with that fact is we might experience something as wrong because it is so unfamiliar.

What I mean is when we experience something for the first time, it is obviously going to be unfamiliar. And when the body feels something unfamiliar it tends to reject it. Even when it is absolutely correct.

So avoid doing things that are obviously hurtful. But if you aren’t sure, then it is likely that it is at least in the range of possibility we are looking for. Remember we are looking for balance. And balance can never be found by just trying to accomplish perfect balance. We must explore the range of possibilities that lie on either side of the point of balance.

This is why I always ask people to not worry if they are “doing it right”. You have to do something to build up enough experience to determine if you are close to balanced. Gradually you will be able to tell, but not if you are always distracted by trying to do it right.

Deliberately do it “wrong” to find out what that feels like. This often teaches us more than our attempt to do it right. It also often makes it much more clear what we are trying to do.

So explore the “emotional” path to correct posture and see what you find out. Hopefully it opens up a new experience not only for your posture but your singing. Thank you.

  1. Just wanted to say to the previous closed post; Yes, he is beautiful, but like many singers out there, could use more training. Classical singers need training so they can stop sounding so FAKE and singers like JG need it so they can enhance the marvelous naturalness of their intuitive expression. It’s amazing how great a singer sounds when you are a middle aged woman with a HUGE crush on him.
    He he don’t mind if this post is deleted just wanted to sneak one in there.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I had to close comments on that post because the Josh fans were filling it up with comments that had nothing to do with the post. So no problem.

  3. That’s great. I just want to say how much I appreciate your blog, and how helpful it has been. Vocal technique is really the key to the free flow of voice – whatever the colour or shape of voice you have.

    That quote from Simoneau’s “Sing with what you have, not with what you wish you had” is going round in my head as I read your posts. If only people would sing from their heart, with correct technique so their voice sprang from their soul.

    Ron Murdock said “As I learned from Husler and Rodd-Marling, the singing instrument only exists when it is singing. Anatomically it must be a singing instrument because, so they argued, so little of the instrument is involved during ordinary speech. Speech is, therefore, an inferior use of the whole instrument.”

    Of course the following is my personal beliefs/interpretation but in my mind what was revelatory to me was the realisation that our creator created this voicebox and meant for us to sing with it! So ANYONE can do it. Your emphasis on proper vocalisation is so important so we can all use this instrument we were born with in the way it was intended to express what is in our hearts. Just like in Eden before the fall the world was perfect, our voices were created to express beauty and meaning perfectly, as as emotional stress and ‘sin’ come into the world, we struggle to express the pure and it gets mixed in with what is not pure.

    I am being very philosophical here but after years of thinking ‘this technique’ or ‘that technique’ is the key, I am realising what’s important. Your blog or David Jones’ won’t teach me to sing the way I want – that takes personal instruction and practice – but I believe the turning point is to get your philosophy right. Why do you want to sing? What emotional investment do you have to the style of singing you’ve been holding on to? Who are you trying to impress? What does singing mean to you? What does a good singer look like to you? Do you find it hard to accept yourself as you are?

    I remember once in a singing lesson a couple of years back I was in the zone and my teacher said to my partner who was sitting in the room with us “did you hear that? I think I just heard May’s voice. What she really sounds like”. It always struck me as a funny thing to say because I was always trying to be ‘chrissie hynde’ or ‘patti page’ but now I get it. There is a pure voice inside all of us waiting to get out, whether we are opera or popera or rock singers – and it is almost a spiritual search to find it.

    Some people are not spiritual or searchers so maybe they don’t want to find their ‘real’ voice – they are happy with imitation and imperfection, as it can be painful to explore beyond the superficial. Many of us find denial a comfortable place. We don’t want to look too deeply at ourselves or the meaning of it all.

    But if we will look a little closer, be a little bit more honest, the rewards will be there!

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