Mindful Mastery Mondays #5: Knees?!?

The more I teach, the more I marvel at the intricacy of the body and, specifically, the way in which the voice is influenced (for better or worse) by EVERY part of the body. Indeed, as my students know, when I refer to the “instrument”, I am truly referencing the entire body, from head to toe.

This week, I’d like to talk about the role your knees play in free and expressive singing. Yes, the knees! In fact, I’d like to ask you to do a little experiment… Standing, begin by putting one hand just below your belly button, and the other hand along the small of your back. With a little give (or release) in your knees, simply observe your breath. Hopefully, it’s abdominal and you can feel the low release of the abs on the inhalation into both hands. (Remember that, contrary to what People magazine might have you think, the abs wrap all the way around to the spine in back forming what is called the abdominal girdle.) Just observe that breath for a moment, and if you’re feeling fancy, sing a tricky passage from your repertoire.

Now, lock the knees back and repeat the experiment. You’ll notice immediately (under both hands) that the abs have to compensate and grip to hold you upright. While the breath may still be abdominal, it has been compromised and constrained by the new work the abs have taken on. Where, before, it was easy to feel the breath into the pelvic floor, now that feeling is absent. The lumbar spine (below your hand in back) undoubtedly stiffened and “held”. You may also have noticed that the passage you chose to sing was incrementally trickier and you experienced less control.

Simply put, when we lock the knees, we effectively turn our legs into a fixed pedestal for the torso. Not good! This immediately and negatively affects the breath and spine simultaneously, and depending on the singer, you will experience any number of compensatory tensions present throughout the body, none of which will be helpful to you as a singer!

So it should come as no surprise that my most frequently offered advice to singers is simply: “Release the knees and tell the story.”

Brannon McAllister