Yesterday at my weekly voice lesson, I made the kind of misjudgment I hear all the time from my students and from health professionals.
My teacher, Donna, had asked me to sing an exercise containing an octave leap up to a note rather high in my range. When I sang it, the high note wobbled around crazily. It felt to me as though my vocal muscles were simply not strong enough to maintain the proper degree of tension to support that note. I expressed this opinion to Donna, and she disputed it, judging that the real problem was lack of coordination, not lack of strength.
Subsequent exercises, which brought about an improvement in my muscular coordination, bore out Donna’s hypothesis. I was in just a few minutes able to sing notes even higher than the poorly coordinated high note I’d attempted earlier.
When my muscles are not well coordinated, the resulting conflict creates the illusion of weakness. My muscles aren’t inherently weak, though; they just cannot operate effectively in the way I was trying to use them. When the proper coordination comes about, I am suddenly able to accomplish easily what previously felt impossible.
A similar situation happens frequently with people’s posture. The muscles of their body struggle against a poor coordination, leaving them sore and tired. Like me, they misjudge the situation, figuring that if their muscles were strong enough, they would be able to sit and stand more erect. Even doctors are misled, and as a result, often prescribe physical therapy to strengthen the supposedly weak muscles contributing to their patients’ poor posture.
In an Alexander lesson, I can in most cases bring about an improved coordination in the student’s musculature in a few minutes, leaving them sitting or standing in a balanced state, enjoying an easy uprightness. I have actually never encountered anyone whose muscles were too weak to support them properly, given the right coordination.
When we act on our misjudgments, when we perform exercises to strengthen muscles we think are too weak, we stand to hurt ourselves in at least two ways: 1) by over-strengthening some muscles, we further throw off the balance of musculature that we need, and 2) we ignore the poor coordination that is actually at the root of our problems, meaning we will never solve them.
When our bodies (including our voices) are well coordinated, we can easily accomplish amazing feats with the strength we already possess. If your body is not serving you in the way you would like, consider that improvement will more likely come from learning more efficient coordination, not from strengthening.