Good Posture – Why?

The nineteenth century treatises all set great store on a good posture for singers:

Nava ‘The noble attitude.’
Lamperti ‘The position of a soldier.’
Lablache ‘Inflating and swelling the chest to the limit, making sure to compress the abdomen.’
Viardot – Garcia ‘Holding [the body] erect, a little arched backwards, the head slightly elevated, the eyes looking straight forward, the feet placed somewhat in the second position, the weight on the backward foot.’
Manuel Garcia ‘The head [should] be erect, the shoulders thrown backward without stiffness, and the chest expanded first at its base.’

All paint a vivid picture of an upright athletic figure poised for action. Why? Because it looks good? No!  Because standing thus starts the physical processes for singing well; and maintaining such a posture enables the voice to be supported and the breath to be controlled.

If the upper chest is elevated this automatically frees the lower ribs, enabling maximum freedom and outward movement when inhaling. The drawing in of the lower abdomen and loins creates a firm support for the floor of the lung cavity – the diaphragm, as well as a muscular column for the upper chest to rest on.

All the muscles concerned with the action of exhaling are now in an unimpeded position. If the erect high upper chest attitude is maintained as long as possible during the action of singing, an unexpected benefit occurs: the muscles of inhaling are not allowed to cease to function during exhaling but act as natural antagonists to the muscles of breathing out.

This creates the ‘vocal struggle’ – lotta vocale of the nineteenth century theorists – the appoggio of the breath of the Italian school. The outgoing compressed breath is resisted by the inbreathing musculature and a controlled stream of breath at the larynx is possible. In the Italian tradition the breath is leant – appoggiato – against the front wall of the chest in an upward direction, but not vertically upwards against the larynx.

The benefits that naturally flow from the ‘noble posture’ make one wonder why other methods of breathing are ever entertained. In any case, no other method engenders such an easy and natural control and has the added advantage of making the performer look good!

© 2003, Neil Howlett