I read a great article talking about the importance of singers relying on feeling over hearing when it comes to performing well.
Author Arden Kaywin says,
But there is another kind of listening: listening to your body.
Listening in this way means being present to the sensations your body—your instrument—in any given moment. It’s focused in on our internal experience, rather than out.
Your job as a singer is to pay attention to the sensation of good singing, not the sound of it. Every time you have that specific sensation in your body (in your support, in your resonance), you will know it’s the good sound merely by the way it feels. You won’t even have to hear it.
In this way, your awareness shifts from being an outward-focused experience overwhelmed by attachments to expectations and outcomes to a more internal experience rooted in the present moment of the body. When singers shift their mindset from listening to the sounds they’re making to “listening” to the feelings and sensations in their body when they sing, it’s the first step to reaching their full singing potential.
When you sing, don’t go on autopilot. Get present to the sensations in your body. Witness what you feel in the lower muscles of support, in the ribs, in your neck, jaw, tongue, and soft palate. Start listening to your body. Observe what it’s doing (or not doing) without judgment. Learn to be a witness to what’s happening.
I wanted to holler a good solid AMEN! After reading that. This is, in essence what I do when a singer comes to me.
You knew there was a but coming, right? We don’t just need to address our desire to listen with our ears, but also to move out of the thinking mind.
It is easy to write and tell singers they should become embodied, feeling the body and noticing the sensations and quite another thing to actually be able to do that.
Many of the more advanced singers that I see are more attuned to how things feel in their face and throat, but the rest of the body is a black hole. In almost every session when I ask someone ‘how does that feel’ after they’ve moved and sung, the response is ‘I don’t know’. I usually follow that up with ‘ok, let’s sing it again and at the end just tell me what you notice.’
Becoming embodied, where we put the whole body together with the voice is a big task.
Somatic Psychologist Theresa Silow says “The body is not a thing we have, but an experience we are.” I would add the voice to that as well. The voice is not a thing we have, but an experience we are.
Younger singers often have little sense of their body – especially teens who have just gone through puberty and the corresponding growth spurts that leave them feeling like they are living in a foreign nation.
There is often a lack of vocabulary because we have a lack of connection to our bodies. We are not raised in a culture that promotes awareness of our emotions and our bodies in ways that open the door to sensing. We have a long history in the Western world through our culture, religion and philosophy that has lead us to be disembodied.
Think back, when you were a child and had an emotional reaction, did anyone ever ask “where do you feel that emotion in your body?” Probably not. Rather, you were probably told “you’re fine…knock it off…stop crying…shhhhh” or something similar.
Many times when we experience pain in our body we disconnect from that place as a protective mechanism. For example, that means when your low back hurts, it can be harder to sense it. That means when you try to move it’s hard to connect with that part of your body.
Trauma is another element that can cause us to disconnect or dissociate from our body. Like physical pain, emotional pain can cause us to close ourselves off from our physical form. Reconnecting to our body after trauma takes time and a gentle approach.
There are also strong cultural messages delivered to us about our bodies, and I find many of us have nearly combative relationships with their physical form. The messaging we receive about the lack of enough-ness of our bodies is deafening and shuts down the ability to actually LIVE in our instruments in a way that we can feel them.
Getting embodied means connecting into our bodies, feeling them, and experiencing the range of sensations, emotions and states that we can inhabit.
When we get into our body it changes everything about our performances and allows us to experience our whole body as our instrument.
The best way I know to work towards embodiment is to move. Movement, in the right doses, at the right pace, worked on in an environment where we feel safe, is the most powerful tool we have to feel our body and develop body awareness.