At one time or another, all performers have heard a piece of music and thought, “I need to sing that song!” Maybe the lyric hits home, maybe the melody is unforgettable, or perhaps the sheer technical prowess of the singer is an inspiration. Who hasn’t belted along with Idina Menzel, or matched high notes with Steven Pasquale? If you’re able to hit the notes of a big song and are wondering whether its ready to make its way from your apartment into the audition room, there is an easy way to find out: Record a video of yourself singing the song; just like a football player who views game tape to analyze a play. I encourage you to watch yourself back and look at your body when you are performing the most challenging phrases. Here are some physical markers to determine if it’s time to unveil your new power tune.
1. Head/face/neck. Your ears should be over your shoulders, and your chin should be level, and not jutting out; many of us sing with our head too far forward in relationship to our spine. You should not see wrinkles in your forehead, and your eyebrows should not be pushing upwards. Your jaw should look relaxed, and the tip of your tongue should be on your lower front teeth. If you’re turning red or seeing veins throbbing in your neck, it’s a warning sign; you’re using too much pressure.
2. Eyes. This is a big one that many people forget about. Simply put, our eyes guide our movement. If your eyes are squinting, your throat will be squeezed. Go ahead and try it; when you tighten your eye sockets, you will feel a constriction around your voice as well. It’s also not cool to get stuck in a hard stare. If your eyes are locked in “deer in the headlights” panic, your breath will stop moving. When you’re approaching a money note, try looking at something else and change your visual focus. Looking up tends to help a lot of singers at moments like this.
3. Torso. If you see your chest collapsing and/or your shoulders rounding forward and creeping up toward your ears, your body is in a startle reflex, and your listeners are going to tense up with you. (See my other article here.) Your collarbones should look open and broad, and you should not see any sudden contraction in the muscles of your ribcage/abdomen on the initiation of a phrase. If you push air aggressively, the throat responds by closing and fatiguing quickly. The motion for support should look smooth and controlled, with no percussive quality.
4. Lower body. The feet should be roughly in parallel (not excessively turned out), the knees should be soft, and the pelvis should not be tipped forward (i.e. sway-back). The butt should not be clenched, and you should see an expanding movement below the belt on inhalation. If you don’t see your belt line opening when you are inhaling, you are not letting your diaphragm fully descend, and your sound will weaken over the course of the song.
If you see areas of your body that need improving, focus on these in your practice for a week or two, and then reassess yourself by taping the song again. If all systems are go, bring the song into your next audition and wow ’em!
Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts!