lock/unlock/flop

This is a new thing I’ve begun doing with my youngest singers.  They think it’s fun.  I tell them, “lock!” and they lock all their muscles tight, pulling their shoulders up and holding their legs together and tensing their faces.  Then I said “flop!” and they make their muscles soft, letting their backs and shoulders droop their arms dangle, their mouths hang open.

The first time they did this, of course, many kids threw themselves to the ground with the drama of an opera diva.  So we had to set some restrictions: when they flop, they stay on their feet, but relax their muscles while standing.

And then I usually say “lock” again.  That gets them to a place where I can say “unlock.”  They ease many muscles while remaining tall and uplifted.

This was a shortcut I started using when I realized that I want the kids to have freedom in their bodies, but also that they need to learn stillness.  I don’t want them locked in the uptight soldier-at-attention posture that is so antithetical to healthy singing (and healthy being), but I really, really need them to be still.  I found after a couple of months that the kids who were eager to follow instructions, who were ready to do what I asked them to, interpreted “stillness” as locked up and frozen.  On the other hand, some kids weren’t accessing any stillness at all.  So I taught them to lock and flop, then how to unlock.  I use it to talk about their voices, too: sometimes they push too hard and sometimes their voices are heavy and lazy with no energized breath support.  I can tell them their voices are locked or flopped, and they know what to do about it in a whole-body way that engages their imaginations and internal sensing.

It totally works as a short hand for the relaxed, free, disciplined “posture.”  Alignment.

Posture is not a great word, as any Alexander Technique teacher will tell you, because of its connotations of locking and tension.  But these kids are so young, they’ve heard the word “posture” more from me than anywhere else, in the context of “performance posture: standing on your own two feet with your hands relaxed at your sides, body unlocked, eyes front, mouth closed, ears open.”  And to any kids who feel the need to follow instructions in an  obviously compliant way–to please, to show they are cooperating–who may lock up and widen their eyes to beseech me for my approval, I can say “unlock,” and they know that the ideal isn’t over-the-top frozen clenching, but freer ease.

So.  Lock/unlock/flop.  a thing I figured out that worked to help teach young kids about bouyant, energetic stillness.

It’s good for singing, and it’s good for them in their lives to know how to unlock, to practice sensing their own tension and letting it go.  The more they can learn to maintain their own integrity without locking into one position, the more flexible and resilient they can be.  And that’s a kind of strength that can allow them to be great singers and healthy, productive citizens.

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