LIBRARY - Reference(s)

What Every Singer Needs to Know About the Body

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AT Focus: 
Alexander Technique
280 x 220 mm.
ISBN 1597563242 / 978-1597563246
Mouritz Bibliography
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Publisher Description: 
How well do you know your body? Well, the Òhere's how" and Òwhat's what" of your vocal instrument - your entire body, not just the larynx - are contained succinctly, clearly, and simply in this practical new book. What Every Singer Needs to Know About the Body gives singers and their teachers a Body Mapping resource - from anatomy and physiology to body awareness - that helps them discover and correct misconceptions about the way their bodies are built and the way they function. In doing so, it provides maps with detailed descriptions of the structures and movement used in breathing, phonation, resonance, articulation and gesture - illuminated with numerous illustrations and supported by many exploratory exercises. Because the structures and movements inherent in the vocal instrument are the same for every singer, they apply equally to every kind of singing. Differences in style result from differences in the choice of movement. Understanding and mapping the structures and movements used in singing provides the technical foundation for all singers. The purpose of this book is to provide singers with that foundation. This book does not espouse a single method or attempt to teach singing techniques. Rather, it describes the movements of singing with accuracy and detail so that singers may experiment on their own and communicate with each other more effectively. This has never been done before and it is a substantial contribution to music education in general and the education of singers in particular. In one author's words, ÒThis book is needed because singers deserve to know the truth about their bodies. There are many pedagogy books that present the anatomy and physiology without helping singers find its practical application. There are books that take a holistic approach without sufficient anatomical and physiological detail. What Every Singer Needs to Know About the Body will strike a balance, giving singers the information they need and the tools to embody it so that they can use the whole body for creative vocal expression. It will de-mystify the process of singing, opening up a world of artistic choice."
  • Introduction Barbara Conable.
  • How to Use this Book Melissa Malde.
  • Inclusive Attention MaryJean Allen.
  • The Core of the Body: Mapping the Six Places of Balance MaryJean Allen
  • The Singer's Breath: Mapping the Structures of Breathing Melissa Malde.
  • Creating a Singing Sound:Mapping the Structures of Phonation Melissa Malde.
  • Resonating the Voice: Mapping the Structures of Vocal Resonance Melissa Malde.
  • Singing as Communication: Mapping the Structures of Articulation Kurt-Alexander Zeller
  • Physical Expression for Singers: Mapping the Structures of Gesture Kurt-Alexander Zeller.
  • Appendix I Eliminating Performance Anxiety Barbara Conable.
  • Appendix II Scientific Basis of Body Mapping T. Richard Nichols, Ph.D.
  • Appendix III Select Bibliography. Index


This is the third publication to come out of the Body Mapping work established by Barbara Conable, devoted to the performing arts. Previous publications have been for musicians and dancers, and now here comes one for singers. It is a handsome book in a large format and its seven chapters are shared among three authors. Allen introduces Body Mapping and general anatomy in Chapters 1 and 2. Malde deals with breathing, 'Creating a Singing Sound' and 'Resonating the Voice' in chapters 3-5. The last two chapters, 'Singing as Communication' and 'Physical Expression for Singers' are by Zeller.

Conable also book-ends the whole publication with an introduction and a fascinating and perceptive essay on performance anxiety in an appendix. Her pithy introduction sets out the ground the book intends to cover, painting a rather disturbing portrait of the plight of singers and their teachers.

Even before Chapter 1 began, though, under the heading 'How to Use this Book', my breath was taken away at the end of Malde's fourth paragraph: ". . . you may run into information that is so strange to you that you think it must be wrong. Trust us. This means you have work to do." This patronising statement might have led me to close the book immediately if I hadn't agreed to write a review of it.

The main premise of this book is that by gaining a more accurate mental map of the structures of the body you can improve the functioning of those structures and hence improve your singing. Consequently there is a lot of anatomy, with nearly 100 diagrams, 74 of them by David Gorman (from The Body Moveable 4th ed, 2002 etc. - we are told this underneath every single one of them with monotonous regularity - was there no other way of acknowledging his contribution?). The majority of the rest of them are by Conable.

With one exception I have no issue with the diagrams, but I do question the assertion on page 27 that the head balances centrally on top of the spine. I cannot agree with this or the following page's diagram which tries to show that the occipital condyles lie equidistant between the front and back of the skull. I have painstakingly measured the two human skulls in my possession and every available example and diagram I can find, and the argument just does not hold water. The centre of gravity of the head is actually in front of the atlanto-occipital joint, giving it the dynamism which makes the ‘head forwards and up' direction such a powerful and potent tool for change and growth.

In Chapter 3, I cheered when Malde told about the workings of the diaphragm, and that the air enters the middle of the lungs (not from the bottom up), though the action of the internal intercostals was fudged (they are active in inspiration). On page 65 she states "The neck muscles play no role in breathing for singing. Period." What about the scalenes?

Chapter 4 does an admirable job of reducing the mind-boggling complexities of the workings of the larynx into 30 pages.

I found the last two chapters of Kurt-Alexander Zeller's the most compelling on many levels: warm, informative, articulate, displaying a wealth of experience and respecting his reader - I could read his prose all day long.

There is only one overt reference to the Alexander Technique and that is in MaryJean Allen's acknowledgement, but its influence is to be found throughout.

"This book is designed to help singers, voice teachers, choral conductors and vocal coaches". So it says on page 1. I pretty much do all those things, and it does have some useful things in it which I will turn to again and again - in fact I already have. Inspiring and maddening by turns, does this book make me sing better? I'm working on it.

2010 © Patrick Gundry-White. Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2010-2014. All rights reserved.