To sing with body and soul, you have to sing with the body in mind.
Hello, I’m Emily Greenleaf, a singer, pianist, composer, writer, and sometime accordion player. I teach healthy movement techniques to musicians, both singers and instrumentalists, using the Franklin Method® as my primary movement modality.
We sing and play music with the whole body. Making music requires a tremendous amount of physical coordination and mental focus. When it all works, it can bring great joy, both to us and our audiences. But when something isn’t working – something hurts or doesn’t move easily; when you have a technical challenge you can’t seem to ease your way around – those days are bleak. For the working musician, they can also be financially devastating.
If you are experiencing technical challenges; if you feel like you need to sing or play with less tension, but have no idea of how to get there; if you feel like you want to learn how to connect more to your own body when you perform; if your body is aging and you want to learn how to develop durable, enjoyable movement skills for the coming decades, I can help you.
I come from a long line of tense people. If you were to wander through a portrait gallery of my ancestors, you’d see a lot of clenched jaws and stiff necks. I dutifully learned these movement patterns as a child, and they have provided me with my biggest challenges, both as a singer and pianist. I ended up quitting piano when I was sixteen because my back hurt so much when I practiced. None of my teachers knew how to help me.
When I switched to voice, my tension issues didn’t go away. They simmered along, until, at the ripe old age of 35, I could no longer lift my left arm above the height of my shoulder. I was in constant pain, and it affected every aspect of my life, including my profession.
I knew I wasn’t alone with my tension issues – I saw them every day in my voice studio. But I also knew, from my own experiences as a student that telling someone to “Just relax!” is about as effective as saying: “Your eyes are blue, now sing that aria again.”
So I finally decided to learn about anatomy and movement, both to heal my own body, and to become a better teacher. Along the way, I have completely redeveloped my approach to vocal technique.
And I have to say, singing with the whole body feels really great.
There are many movement education modalities (methods) out there. Over the years, I’ve tried many of them, including various forms of Yoga, Feldenkreis, Alexander Technique, Aston Patterning, Laban Movement, Brain Gym, and the Franklin Method. I’ve learned something from all of them! However, the one I’ve found most transformative, that has given me the clearest and most useable information, has been the Franklin Method. I started studying with Eric Franklin, the method’s progenitor in 2010. I am a certified Franklin Method Educator, and this is my primary movement modality for working with clients.
What I like about the Franklin Method
A Dynamic Approach to Posture
Even when we’re still, we move. We have to breathe, for one thing. As soon as we do, our rib cages move, the spine responds, and our weight shifts to keep us balanced. As a singer, I had been taught “correct” posture as a static ideal. In the practice room, it always fell apart for me the moment I had to breathe, or when I would turn to look at the mirror to see if the tip of my shoulder was really over my hip. In the Franklin Method we approach alignment not as a posture or fixed position, but as a way of moving. This dynamic alignment will work just as well when you’re walking across the stage as when you’re standing in one place.
A Sensory Approach to Learning Movement
We are all bound by our senses, and much of the training for any musician is learning how improve our perception: of time, pitch, and dynamics; of dissonance and consonance; of language. When you learn to also feel these things in your body — well, that’s when you get to the place where you’re not just playing or singing the music, you are the music. In the Franklin Method, the student learns movement from within his or her own sensory experience. You start with what you can feel and perceive, and we help you develop skills to feel more and more.
Sometimes, you just gotta look at the bones (and muscles, and fascia, and organs), see how they’re shaped and how that shape translates into movement. Got a tense jaw? Take a look at some bone models. Learn the shape of the joint, and how it moves so you can work with it in an informed way. You only get one body in this life, so you may as well become its expert driver.
Tools to Help You Transform Your Mind
To change the way you move, you have to change your mind, both your physical self-awareness and how you imagine your body and movement. One of the most powerful aspects of the Franklin Method is its use of mental imagery to get the mind on board with this process of change.
Musicians use mental imagery all of the time. If I tell you to imagine you’re holding a baby in your arms and trying to get it to go to sleep, you’ll probably sing differently than if I tell you to sing as if you’re trying to get the attention of someone across the street, who’s separated from you by four lanes of traffic. Each scene, created in your mind, will change the sound you make in very different ways. You’ve just used one form of mental imagery.
In the Franklin Method, mental imagery takes many forms. We might look carefully at the position of a joint in the body and how it moves, then visualize that movement in our minds. We might create a metaphor, such as imagining the head as a helium-filled balloon, with the spine being the string below it. We might change the words we use to describe a movement. For example, if I shrug my shoulders and say to myself: “This is going to hurt!” my experience will be very different than if I say: “This movement will be smooth and easy.”
Developing imagery skills enables you to transform movement patterns you’ve practiced your entire life, and helps you get your mind on board with the whole-body experience, which is why I say: