You constantly hear voice teachers telling their students to “use [their] support muscles” or “support [their] tone,” or even just “support!” But what does that mean exactly, and how do you find your support muscles? Support in singing means that you need to stabilize your body in such a way that you can control your airflow, along with your small vocal muscles, without deflating or over-pushing.
What Does Support Even Mean?
As an experiment, try writing your name on a piece of paper with your elbow propped on the table. Easy, right? Now try writing it with your entire arm suspended, so only the tip of the pencil is touching the piece of paper. What do you notice? If you’re like most people, the writing is sloppier, lighter, and larger. Why is this? It’s because you need to stabilize large muscles in order to have better control of the smaller ones. It’s the same with vocal support. If you create stability using some of those larger muscles, like the ones surrounding your spine (all the way through your neck) and ribcage, it’ll allow more control of everything, from your breath to your inner-workings of your larynx.
5 Ways to Find Your Support Muscles
Now that we’ve briefly discussed what support is, let’s look at some easy way find your support muscles. For all of these, make sure to not suck in your stomach, because keeping your ribcage open is important for a free tone.
1. Sit Against a Wall
Sit against a wall in an imaginary chair. Not only will your spine be straight and stable, allowing your ribcage to easily expand, but your abdominopelvic muscles will kick into gear.
2. Do a Plank
Photo credit: Rance Costa
This one is best if you’re in pretty good shape, because otherwise the difficulty of the maneuver will most likely cause tension in unwanted areas, like your face and throat. But if you’re comfortable in this position, the stability you create will make breath control fairly natural.
3. Do a Squat
Make sure your feet are wide enough so that you’re in a stable stance. Keep your arms outstretched in front of you to facilitate rib expansion.
4. Lie on Your Back
Lie on your back with your feet planted on the floor, and put some sort of object that’s easy to balance, like a book, on your abdomen. Inhale and allow the object to move upward, toward the ceiling (being careful to not force in too much air, because that will just create tension). As you sing or do a slow exhale, keep the book up and don’t let it drop.
5. Put Your Hands on your Ribcage
Put your hands on your ribcage, and let everything expand outward. Keeping your ribs expanded and your stomach unclenched, hiss, “ssss, ssss, ssss” not allowing yourself to deflate.