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Musings on Mechanics
Make Your Unstable Life Work for You

by Claudia Friedlander

Try this simple balance exercise, either barefoot or wearing a good pair of exercise shoes:

Stand with good alignment, your knees gently flexed, toes pointing straight forward, and your weight distributed evenly between your legs. Now come to a balance on one leg by slowly raising the other leg off the floor, bending the knee of the raised leg so that your knee is level with your hip. Maintain this position for 15 seconds, refraining from locking the knee of the supporting leg and continuing to breathe. Then, slowly lower your leg and repeat the balance on the other side.

As you balance, what do you observe in the hip, knee, and ankle of the supporting leg?

Whether you find this exercise easy or difficult, what I’d like you to notice is that the activity of balancing is dynamic. “Balance is thought of as a static process, such as when a person stands rigid and stationary,” explains Dr. Michael Clark, CEO of the National Academy of Sports Medicine. “In reality, balance is a highly integrated and dynamic process that involves multiple neurological pathways and requires constant sensory afferent feedback from all of the mechanoreceptors.”

Even if you have terrific balance and appear to be incredibly still, you’ll notice continuous, incremental adjustments in your hip, knee, and ankle making it possible for you to sustain this position over time.
Now choose a sustained passage from your repertoire that you find particularly challenging. Slowly return to this one-leg balance position and sing through the passage while maintaining the pose. If you’re able to maintain your balance, you may find this sustained passage is easier to sing while standing on one leg than it was when both of your feet were firmly planted on the ground.

The challenge of balancing on one leg puts your neuromuscular system on high alert. As a consequence, all motor activity that you engage in while performing this balance will benefit from the continuous neuromuscular engagement required to keep you upright—there are no leftover resources to create the stopping, starting, and gripping that make sustained passages difficult.

Like balancing, singing is a continuous doing rather than a holding. The more you try to lock up your joints and maintain a rigid position, the more likely you are to topple over. Likewise, the more you think in terms of “holding” pitches rather than continuing to create them, the more difficult they are to sustain. In both the gym and in the studio, it’s important to engage in exercises that promote stability through continuous movement, freeing you literally and figuratively from the need to hold on.

Balance and stabilization training yields many benefits for singers, both direct and indirect:

• It enhances overall kinesthetic awareness, improving your progress in aspects of vocal technique that demand subtle adjustments to parts of your vocal anatomy that are impossible to sense directly.

• It promotes optimal alignment, enabling free laryngeal movement, improved resonance, and fuller, better-coordinated breathing.

• It facilitates graceful stage movement and makes it easier to sing while moving around.

• It stabilizes your joints so that you can safely engage in cardio and strength training regimens that boost your stamina.

• It teaches your neuromuscular system to create stability through continuous movement in your body in a way that informs all of your activities, including singing.

Singers embarking on a fitness program should, therefore, begin with a regimen of stabilization training. In fact, so should everyone else. Performing exercises in an appropriately unstable environment resolves muscle imbalances; improves the core musculature; prevents injury by preparing muscles, tendons, and joints for the demands of exercise; and enhances overall neuromuscular function. Challenging your ability to keep your balance and maintain good posture throughout a variety of movements prepares your body and your nervous system to perform movements requiring greater strength and fine motor coordination.

By contrast, the highly stable weight-lifting machines crowding most gym floors may reinforce muscular imbalances, encourage poor form, and allow your dominant side to do most of the work. While these machines can be a useful component in a comprehensive long-term fitness program, they won’t help you develop the foundation of strength and coordination that you need and they often exacerbate alignment and core weakness issues.

The Quadruped Opposite Arm/Leg Raise is a good example of an exercise that challenges your balance while creating core stability. Begin with your hands and knees on a mat, then slowly lift your left arm and reach forward while lifting your right leg and extending it back. Balance in this position for a slow count of four. Then return to your starting position and repeat with the right arm and left leg.

Stability balls can add a stabilization component to traditional strength-training movements like push-ups.

Unstable surfaces like the Bosu add a balance challenge to any exercise.

Yoga is a phenomenal means of balance and stabilization training. The sustained stretch, reach, and balance challenges of yoga provide the experience of continually creating and deepening each pose rather than holding a posture. Continuing to breathe as your body explores and responds to a pose can also show you a great deal about how sustained singing can be a buoyant and energized movement rather than an act of holding.

Professional athletes find stabilization exercises crucial for sports-specific and endurance training, which are naturally also very important for singing. If you’ve already established a baseline of fitness and need a workout you can take with you on the road, Beachbody’s P90X2 balance-intensive program is ideal.

“The reason many home fitness programs haven’t been great for endurance athletes is gravity,” fitness education expert Steve Edwards explains on “The programs focus primarily on muscle building because it’s the quickest way to lose weight and change your body composition . . . . While body composition change is also a component of P90X2, this change comes as a by-product of P90X2’s physiological target areas and focus: improvements in strength, speed, balance, and mobility.”

Secure vocal technique is characterized by stable, consistent tone production on any pitch and at any volume level. This requires superb coordination and balance of everything that contributes to singing. But until you’ve developed this, you’re subject to a fierce temptation to stabilize the voice by holding and stiffening things—pushing the larynx down, holding the soft palate up, over-adducting the vocal folds, tightening around the position of a pitch or vowel while sustaining it, and so on.

Like physical stability, true vocal stability is the result of continuous directed movement. The way to achieve this is to expose the instabilities in your technique so that you can improve overall balance rather than mask the instabilities by gripping. Physical balance and stabilization training not only improves alignment and movement but also confers the neuromuscular control necessary to develop dynamic stability in your singing.

Claudia Friedlander is a voice teacher and certified personal trainer with a studio in New York. Find her on the Web at

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