Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Using Hands For Singing and Speaking

Your voice needs your whole physical and emotional being to sing or speak best. Today I'd like to focus on the use of hands - without which our voice is missing out.

The first time I actually noticed the importance of singing with my hands was many years ago when an unenlightened recording engineer told a group of us singing background to keep our hands perfectly still so we wouldn't move a fraction of an inch from the mic. I noticed it shut me down vocally. I lost range, tone color and control. Since then I've dug into why.

Your hands are connected to your arms, which are connected to your spine which is connected to your ribcage which is connected to the edges of your diaphragm. What we do or don't do with hands can affect the diaphragm, which is the organ that is responsible for balance of breath support & control, which is at least in part responsible for nearly everything you can think of that's important to the voice.

But to work most efficiently, the diaphragm needs help. First of all, we shouldn't feel our voices 'coming from there'... instead, we need low pelvic floor power that should help open, not tighten the ribcage. Then, we can use our hands! Try the following:
  • 1. Hang your hands limply at your sides. Notice the relative lowness of the ribcage. Now simply rotate your hands, palm away from thighs. This alone should cause your ribcage to expand.
  • Again with hands hanging loosely, try ever so slightly moving hands back so you can lightly press the back of your hands or your thumbs behind your thighs for a hard note. This can help you keep your ribcage open even in choir or group situations where you are required to keep hands 'still'. (Not my cup of tea!)
  • Bring your hands up waist high. Now move your elbows back. That also should open your ribcage.
  • Press your fingertips into each other lightly, and notice you can stabilize the opening of your ribcage. This represents what your guitar, piano or microphone can do if you use your hands in ways that open your ribcage.
  • Try being overly communicative and really talk with your hands. Don't push people away with your hand language, invite them in, express passion, bring your hand way out from your side, above your head... but whatever you do, make what you to do open your ribcage. You can then tweak your hand movements so they communicate but don't distract from what your voice is doing. (It's an art, not a science, people... experiment! :)
  • And lastly, notice what great singers and speakers do with their hands. Different ways of using hands work better for different people, different settings and different musical genres. Some styles use larger hand movements, some are quite subtle. But if the voice is working well, the hands are NOT hanging limply dragging the ribcage down. Experiment and use what works for you to open your ribcage. Oh, and it should help open your throat, too, if you're doing it right.
What works for you?

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  • At April 17, 2013 at 9:22 PM , Blogger gentleshepherd said...

    Wow, this is good to know! Usually I am singing while playing guitar-- so can't choose much about how to use my hands. But I do have a song I'm working on that is accompanied by a pianist, and can experiment with these ideas for that one :)

  • At April 18, 2013 at 2:05 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Oh Diane, you definitely use your hands for singing when playing guitar. If you do it right, your playing hands will cause you to straighten your back. You don't want to cause tension in your wrist or fingers, but a subtle intention to brace your ribcage open is all it will take to make your playing hands work for your voice.

    This is so true, sometimes guitar players who sing well while playing on stage find it hard to sing in the studio. Check this post out if you haven't read it yet... http://blog.judyrodman.com/2010/01/why-studio-singing-is-hard-for-guitar.html

  • At April 23, 2013 at 9:26 AM , Blogger gentleshepherd said...

    That's an interesting story on your other post. It seems like whatever way I'm used to singing, if I end up doing it different when performing, I feel lost-- must be the muscle memory thing. For example, if I usually practice a song standing up, if I have to sing it sitting down I won't be as confident. Right now am working on a piano-voice song, and will have an accompanist but at home I sing while playing. So I need to make a recording of just the piano part, to practice with, otherwise I'll probably feel like I don't know what to do unless I'm playing the piano with it.

    Judy, I appreciate knowing about how the hand position can make a difference-- now when I stand to sing with the congregation at church, I've been thinking about putting my hands with palms back, and it does make a difference in posture and in singing :)

  • At April 23, 2013 at 10:22 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Diane... very good insight, girl... yes, you need to practice the way you'll actually be performing. When I give vocal lessons, the first thing I ask when I want them to perform for me is what do they want to practice for. Will they be singing in the studio or live on stage, with instrument or without, with music stand or mic in hand, sitting or standing, with music or acapella, etc. ALSO: The actual nature of the venue matters, too, when it comes to the type of hand and body language. Hint... that'll be next post:)

  • At May 6, 2013 at 1:50 PM , Anonymous Matt Stevens said...

    Hey Mrs. Judy! The best one for me was the palms up by the waist with elbows back. I could feel the ribcage open up more and seemed to give me more confidence with notes I normally struggle with. I did find that at first there was too much confidence lol. Basically over shooting notes BUT with practice I'm sure I could learn how to tame it. With me not being able to move as fluidly as I used to with back issues and early arthritis this technique definitely helps.

  • At May 6, 2013 at 2:33 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Too cool, Matt... so glad you could use this!


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