Singing Posture

Singing Posture

Why is the singing posture so important?

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The good posture of the singer is extremely important and defining for beautiful and healthy singing. It is also related to healthy and effective breathing. Breathing and how we use the air flow in the singing process define what the tone quality will be. So, it’s very important to work on our singing posture in case we want to be professional singers.

When we get into any posture, no matter if we stand, sit or lay, there are always muscles in our body that support it. If the posture is correct, the right muscle groups are activated, the spine is straight and supports the body, the diaphragm can function effectively and help fill the lungs with air, the trachea is freed so that air can pass through without obstructing its path when inhaling and exhaling, the muscles of the face are relaxed, as well as the larynx, chest, neck and shoulders.

However, if our posture is incorrect, the wrong muscle groups are activated and the support is on the wrong place.
All this negatively affects our singing and also leads to fatigue, loss of voice quality, as well as health problems with the vocal cords in time. It also prevents you from expanding your vocal range and making smooth transition between vocal registers. In this case we can’t use the full potential of our voice no matter what style of music we perform.

Is posture the same in different musical styles?

Good singing posture is the most important component no matter what musical style we perform. As singers we have to always look for a freely and flawless singing process and work hard to achieve it. We must know that we can always become better singers, we can improve our breathing, sound quality, sing more healthy, keep our voice fresh and be in a great singing shape for as long as possible.  

Of course, every musical style has its own specifics and in order to sound authentically and fit in it, we have to change many things, such as: the way we use the air flow, the position of the larynx, the way we use our muscles and our vocal resonators, etc. 

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The classical singing requires different placement than the one used in pop and jazz or Bulgarian folk singing for example. Classical singers are focused on their head register and this requires them to find the best placement to perform the style with ease. For the classical singing’s placement the well known Bulgarian vocal educator and composer Georgi Zlatev – Cherkin (1905 – 1977) says:

“In the process of training, the level of the larynx is gradually fixed in a certain optimal working level, corresponding to the character and individual natural qualities of the voice. Of primary importance in balancing all vocals throughout the voice range is precisely the determination of the exact level of the larynx during work, because the quality of the emission depends on it. From a technical point of view, this is perhaps the most difficult moment, since the position of the larynx in singing is not identical to that of speaking.”

The vocal placement that Georgi Zlatev – Cherkin describes is the most common one, but nowadays there are lots of teachers and singers who experiment and use a different one such as singing with a neutral larynx position, etc.

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Pop and jazz singers look for a vocal placement the same as the speaking voice. This requires relaxed and neutral larynx position. Most vocal teachers today divide the registers used in pop and jazz singing into three main ones: chest, middle and head (includes falsetto in males).

In Bulgarian folk singing, most of the singers use a completely different sound extraction and focus primarily on their chest register. But because there are no certain rules in this musical style, we can also hear some singers using mainly their head register and not using the chest one at all.

Folk singers used to believe they were born with their specific vocal sound, placement and sound extraction. Depending on their posture in life, they used a specific sound extraction, characteristic only for them, and later, when they became professional singers, everyone recognized them by their specific way of singing and ornamentation. 

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Nowadays, some of the teachers and singers still singing and teaching complying with this method . The only problem with it is that many of the singers perform this style having very poor singing posture and this leads to many health problems and loss of voice over time. However, there are also many performers and teachers who are interested in other popular styles, borrow from them and pay more attention to their singing posture and breathing. This leads to a much healthier singing process and development of the vocal placement in Bulgarian folk singing in a positive direction. 

The best thing we can do in case to find the best posture and sing healthy no matter what musical style we perform, is to understand how the human voice actually works in different musical styles and go deep into the anatomy of the voice. This will help us better understand posture and why it is so important in singing. This will help us stay healthy and maintain the best qualities of our voice over the years. 

What are the common reasons we have bad posture nowadays?

Unfortunately, in the digital world we all live in, bad posture has become commonplace. There are many reasons for this, but I will pay attention to the most common ones. Very often in our daily lives, for a number of reasons, we get used to stay in certain ways and build bad habits over time.

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For example one of the reasons we have similar problems today is because we all use smartphones or tablets and stay in front of the screen everyday for a long time. When we do so, we slowly change our posture and don’t even realize it. This is because the phone makes us look down all the time and tires the supporting body muscles. We don’t let them rest when they need to and overload them. Any physical activity is also absent. All this forces the body to change the muscles who support it with other ones to withstand the fatigue and strain. Doing this every day for a long period of time and not paying attention to it, little by little leads to poor posture. 

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Another common problem is prolonged standing behind a desk at work or at school and the lack of physical activity. Sometimes this can tire our back and it’s important for us to get up, move around, and stretch at regular intervals. Very often this movement is missing when we have a lot of work or have to stay for many hours at school. This makes some muscles lazy and makes them relax for rest, the wrong muscles start supporting the body and eventually we end up with a bad posture. Similar problem can also be caused by prolonged standing in an uncomfortable chair or sitting at a desk that is too low or too high. It is important that the desk is at a comfortable level for us so we can look ahead with a straight head and spine.

How to know if we have a bad posture?

Good posture is an important part of our long-term health. No matter if we’re singers or not, we have to always pay attention to it. Unfortunately sometimes we don’t know if our posture is bad or not because we are so much used to live with it. So, if we often feel pain somewhere our your body or notice that we have a recurring headache, it’s a very good idea to visit аn orthopedist or a kinesitherapist who can help us to find out if the reason for this is our bad posture. As a singer we can also find a good vocal couch who will notice it right away and help us improve it with some exercises and hard work over time. 

The main components of correct singing posture are:

  • Head facing straight forward
  • Shoulders relaxed – down and back
  • Larynx and pharynx are relaxed
  • Chest is in high position and relaxed
  • Diaphragm is relaxed, abdomen flat
  • Spine is straight
  • Feet slightly apart
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We must periodically check these components while standing or sitting on a chair and pay attention if any tension has appeared in our body. We can also test them when we try to lean our back against the wall and see if we feel comfortable staying that way or if we need to change a lot in our body to do so. It’s also important to notice if we have some vocal problems after singing or lose the quality of our voice after a concert. If we do so, we definitely need to work on improving our singing posture.

Maintaining a good posture nowadays is sometimes a challenge but it’s important to realize how important it is for our health and good singing. Only when we do so, we can become a great, confident and professional singers. 

Creation of Bulgarian Folk Song

Creation of Bulgarian Folk Song

How is the Bulgarian folk song created?

Photo credit: Martin Midolesov

A folk song has many years, even centuries of existence. It lives in the awareness of thousands of folk singers, each of whom performs it in a special and different way, depending on their current mood and thoughts. Folk songs are subject to gradual and constant changes and their forms were not the result of separate creative acts, but are created gradually, arising from one another. 

What do the writers and folklorists think about it?

The German fiction writer Theodor Storm (1817-1888) wrote the following about folk songs:

“No one composes them. They arise spontaneously. They fall from the air. They fly over the earth here and there, like spring cobwebs, and the people sing them at the same time, in thousands of places. We find in these songs our deepest thoughts and sufferings, as if we all contributed to their creation.”

According to the Bulgarian musicologist and folklorist Stoyan Dzhudzhev (1902-1998), each folk song has its own individual author – a folk singer, but he stays forever anonymous to the general public.

Academic Nikolai Kaufman (1925 – 2018) says:

 “Folk song is created in two ways – by individual singers and collectively. The creativity in the first way is far more widespread than in the second.”

Acad. Kaufman tells about a case he witnessed:

“Girls from the small village of Vievo in the Central Rhodopes, gathered on their sedyanka (a place where people gather to meet, dance, sing and find love) and decided to make a song about their friend, who recently died in an accident. One of the singers began to create the verses, another added, a third added some more verses and the song took shape. Interestingly, the creation of the song was not prepared and planned in advance. Created spontaneously, the song came to life and announced the sedyanka.”

Photo credit: Martin Midolesov

About individual and collective creativity of folk songs, he also says:

“There is no qualitative difference between songs created by individual singers and collective songs. Both are subject to constant change and enrichment.”

In his book “Bulgarian Folklore”, the Bulgarian literary historian, critic and folklorist Petar Dinekov (1910 – 1992) says:

“Folk songs created without an author do not exist. Behind every folk song lies the author’s will. Authorship is manifested both in the initial creation of the work by individuals, more talented people, and in its polishing and further improvement.”

From all these opinions of prominent writers and folklorists, we can conclude that the folk song did not have an author, but there were still some more talented folk singers who were the engine for its creation and development in the future.

Today, we can hardly say that the folk song has no author.  Thanks to the development of institutions and technologies, all the authors that create in the field of folk music can receive the necessary respect for their creations. 

Why do we have so many different lyrics and melodies of the same song?

It is difficult to find the first and original lyrics and melody of a song, as they are constantly changing and continue to change over time. 

Photo credit: Martin Midolesov

In his book “Musicographically Essays and Studies”, the Bulgarian musicologist and folklorist Stoyan Dzhudzhev says:

“No one is able to ensure the immutability of a folk song, to protect it from changes, alterations, corrections, alterations or deformations, during its long existence.”

he also says:

“Many singers with limited musical abilities, especially children, make mistakes in learning a new song because they learn it by imitation and by ear. The memory often betrays them, and they have neither the time nor the opportunity to do systematic exercises and compare with the original. In this way, they deform it, preserving only its approximate outlines.”

“But even when the song is performed by highly gifted folk singers who are able to reproduce it in the most accurate detail, their personal taste and their aesthetic views often interfere, prompting them to do some retouching, some conscious changes, adjustments or alterations to the music or lyrics. ”

“The sum of the changes in the folk song, the corrections and the additions results in a new version, which often differs so much from the original that we perceive it as a new song.”

What did the folk song go through until it reached the books?

During the era of feudalism, writing appeared, but ordinary people were  not allowed to use it and the book played almost no role in the life of the village.

In her book “Bulgarian Folk Song”, Bulgarian folklorist and ethnographer Tsvetana Romanska (1914 – 1969) tells that in the First and Second Bulgarian feudal state, literature, with rare exceptions, was a treasure available only to the ruling classes. 

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The writers at that time, clergymen by vocation, weren’t interested in gathering and exploring the Bulgarian folk songs. Even more, because the folk songs preserved many remnants of the ancient pagan worldview of the people, and also expressed critical attitude towards the ruling classes and their democratic views, the ruling classes showed a negative attitude towards folklore and called the songs “devilish ” and also persecuted them as heretical. This attitude was also typical of other European countries at that time. Even in some of them it was much more extreme than in our country and led to a complete ban on singing folk songs and their eradication in some areas. With the fall of Bulgaria under Ottoman rule, there were no significant changes in the attitude towards folk poetry and folk songs, which continue to flourish among the people. Tsvetana Romanska talks about the discovery of travel notes and diaries of foreigners who passed through the Bulgarian lands from the 16th century onwards. They tell about the folk songs they heard while traveling around Bulgaria.

Especially valuable is the report of M. Bezolt (from the retinue of the Austrian ambassador Heinrich von Liechtenstein) from 1584, who reported that the population in the area of the “Iron Gate”, between Ihtiman and Vetren, sang a song about his hero Krali Marko. There are so many such examples that show us that although the written word was not developed, the Bulgarians sang and created their songs in every period of their lives.

In modern times, when general literacy is growing and writing is becoming more and more part of people’s daily lives, things are changing. This also applies to the new contemporary folklore, where any newly created work can be recorded and distributed further through the printed word.

However, when the song is invented and immediately recorded, the element of its collective development in the future is lost.

Peter Dinekov says:

“Only through oral distribution can the opportunity for co-creation be given, which leads to artistic refinement and also refinement of the song.”

But, on the other hand – if the song is not recorded immediately, there is a possibility that it will be forgotten and will not be remembered.

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Many of the old Bulgarian folk songs have not been recorded and are now impossible to find.  Fortunately, there are many people who have made and continue to make incredible efforts to preserve this national treasure and so that we can all enjoy today and pass it on to future generations, so it is not forgotten.

In his book, Peter Dinekov calls the 19th century – The Century of Folklore. In this century there is a huge collecting activity, both in Bulgaria and around the world. The creations of the people are evaluated, a scientific discipline is created – “folklore”. The work of the Brothers Grimm, who at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century began to collect and record German folklore, played an important role.

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One of the first Bulgarians in the 19th century who made efforts to preserve our national treasure were the Miladinov Brothers . They are also called “The Guardians of Bulgarian Folklore“.

Over time, thanks to people like Vasil and Elena Stoin, and many others who have made great efforts to preserve our folk music, it is spreading more and more. Today, it’s stepping on world music stages and can be heard by people all over the world.

Photo credit: Martin Midolesov

Folklore is a treasure and contains exceptional historical content, reflects key periods in the life of Bulgarians and with joint efforts we have preserved it until today. That is why, it is necessary to respect it as Bulgarians and make efforts so that it is not forgotten in the future and continues to be our hallmark.



Origin of Bulgarian Folklore

Origin of Bulgarian Folklore

How do the Bulgarian folk songs originate?

Photo credit: Martin Midolesov

The Bulgarian folk songs originate as an internal necessity for their creators to give an expression of their life, experiences and thoughts. Folk songs are sung on sad and happy days – on big holidays, during work, on wedding days, as well as during sad and difficult periods of Bulgarain’ s life – when folk songs are created to strengthen national self-consciousness and to keep the Bulgarian’s spirit. Bulgarian folk songs, created many centuries ago, reflect important historical events, contain elements of folk mythology, religion, beliefs and legends. Folklore has been and is like a mirror of the life of Bulgarians in every period of their existence. 

What do the Bulgarian musicologists and folklorists think?

To answer this question, let’s take a brief look at the story and the origin of the Bulgarian folklore and see why the songs sound the way we hear them today. 

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In his book the famous and prominent musicologist, folklorist and composer academician Nikolay Kaufman (1925 – 2018), tells about the earliest inhabitants of the Balkans – the Thracian-Illyrian tribes. We don’t know almost anything about their music, but we’ve all heard about the famous legend about the Thracian – Orpheus, which gives us information about the inhabitants of the Bulgarian lands. In the 5th century of our era, gradually came the  slavs, who initially settled around the Danube River and who together with the proto-Bulgarians who came from the Volga, founded the Bulgarian state, officially recognized by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine in 681. The language of the proto-Bulgarians was replaced by the Slavic’s, which shows us that most probably the Proto-Bulgarians were not numerous. However, they held important positions in the organization of the state and their influence was particularly big and had an impact on life and culture. The Slavic tribe, mixed with the proto-Bulgarians and the existing Thracian-Illyrians, gradually formed a single ethnic group. The acceptance of the Christianity in 864, and a little later the Cyrillic script, also contributed to the unification of the various tribes. 

I find very interesting the studies of Peter Dinekov (Bulgarian literary historian, critic and folklorist who lived in the period 1910 – 1992). In his book “Bulgarian Folklore”, he identifies the following main periods in Bulgarian folklore: 

1. The earliest information about Bulgarian folklore in the 8th and 9th centuries.

According to Peter Dinekov, the acceptance of the Christianity in 9th century contributed to erasing the differences between the religious and ethnic views of the Slavs and the Proto-Bulgarians. There are almost no linguistic remains and elements of material culture of the proto-Bulgarians, as well as of folklore. For the earliest information about the folklore of the Slavs, we can learn both by historical data and from the preserved ancient features in folk songs, legends, proverbs, spells, rites, etc. We have direct instructions for remnants of Slavic pagan mythology. A striking example is the name of the Slavic goddess “Lada”. It is found in some choruses of folk songs (“Oh, Lado, Lado, young girl”; “Oh, Lado, Lado, goddess”), in the so-called “Ladino horo”, the custom “Laduvane” and others.

2. Bulgarian folklore from the 10th to the first half of the 14th century. 

We don’t have any written folk songs from that period either. For the existing folk songs at that period, talks primarily the representatives of the official church. The church extremely influenced the song creation, its lyrics and stories. Petar Dinekov refers to the penetration of “spielmans” (German folk singers) in the Bulgarian and Serbian lands in the 10th and 12th centuries. This testifies to the creation of epic traditions and songs related to historical events in this period.

3. Bulgarian folklore from the second half of the 16th to the 17th century.

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This period covers the Ottoman invasions of the Balkan Peninsula and the first centuries of Ottoman slavery until the creation of the Hajduk (defender of the nation) movement. In this period we do not have any written folk songs, but we have later written songs that describe this difficult period in the life of Bulgarians. The number of songs dedicated to Ottoman violence is particularly high: the abduction of slaves, the conversion to Islam, the robbery of young children and their becoming to janissaries and the cruelty over population. Such songs were composed until the Liberation of Bulgaria (1878). During this period many mythical images were used in folk art, hyperbole played a huge role, it was used mainly to describe the physical strength and heroic deeds of the Bulgarians in this difficult period.

4. Bulgarian folklore in the 18th – 19th century.

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The fantastic themes are gradually giving way to a more sober view of life, which is manifested in the hajduk folk songs that appear in the period of the decline of Ottoman power. The songs about the hajduks are the clearest expression of the resistance of the people and the faith in the future. The main role in them is played by the hajduk-avenger, freedom fighter, patriot – the positive hero of the era. In these songs all the creative power of the people is manifested. The hajduk movement began in the 17th century, but it developed mainly in the 18th and the first half of the 19th century. 

5. Contemporary Bulgarian folklore in the 20th century.

This period includes folk songs created during the anti-fascist struggles of our people and the guerrilla movement during World War II (1939-1945). In the field of folklore there is a revival and we discover new songs, legends and proverbs. Many changes have taken place and entire genres have disappeared, but its spread continues. Genres related to outdated religious worldviews, such as mythical songs, are disappearing at the earliest. Those works that have a lively attitude to the vital public interests of the people are preserved and developed in the new environment.

I’d like to also add point – 6, which describes our modernity in the 21st century:

6. The Bulgarian folklore today – in the 21st century.

Photo credit: Martin Midolesov

The folklore today sounds different and with an aftertaste of the 21st century. A century that is filled with a lot of easily accessible information, which inevitably has an impact on Bulgarian folklore. I believe that this constant change is a completely natural process, just as Petar Dinekov describes in his book. In each of these periods, which we have considered, folklore has been constantly changing, which is why we find it in a very different form today. Today’s young people use technology, mix it with different musical styles, modernize it, put it on the world stage, alongside popular musical styles, and this is definitely a cause for pride. All this increases its interest and thus it can not be forgotten, it can only be preserved and enriched by each succeeding generation.

What is Throat Singing?

What is Throat Singing?

Where does the concept of throat singing comes from?

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Maybe you’ve heard some people call Bulgarian Folk Singing “throat singing”. There is also “throat singing”, which some of you may have heard about, which is typical of many nations, it’s also used nowadays and originates from Mongolia. I’d like to briefly tell you more about it and then, you’ll better understand where the concept “throat singing” comes from. Long time ago the people lived in harmony with nature and they wanted to connect with it and its sounds. They started to use their voice to imitate different sounds they hear in nature. Later, to do this, they also started to use instruments. This is how the Mongolian throat singing originated.  Not only is the throat singing a singing style but it’s also an instrument for a meditation. It encourages unity with nature, selflooking and relaxation. After listening to throat singing a lot of people start to feel a powerful flow of energy, inspiration and self peace. This type of singing is an integral part of the ritual of Tibetan worship. The Mongolian throat singing is also called overtone singing, because besides the main tone, using the right technique, we can sing and amplify the overtones, which always sound at the same time as the main tone. Using this technique, we can sing two tones simultaneously. There are many different types of throat singing, including such without overtone singing.

But why the Bulgarian Folk Singing is also called that way? You’ll understand in the next few sentenses. 

What are the similarities and differences between Bulgarian and Mongolian throat singing? 

A few years ago, I had the great opportunity to meet an incredible throat singer from Mongolia – Zolzaya Bolbaatar. He is not that famous there but has been teaching all his life. It was really interesting for me to talk to him and ask him my questions about throat singing. When I asked him, if he has ever had a vocal injures and health problems with his vocal cords after singing, because I’d heard this type of singing isn’t so good for the voice, he answered me: 

“When I feel my voice isn’t healthy I cure it with singing. So everything falls into place.”

Photo credit: Alexandar Lazarov

During our conversation, he explained to me that in Mongolian throat singing, the control isn’t coming from the diaphragm, as in popular musical styles but mainly from the larynx muscles. That creates a very throaty sound and that’s the reason this type of singing is called that way. The mainly used register in this type of singing is the chest register. Here comes the similarities with the Bulgarian folk singing, as the control of the sound is coming from the larynx muscles and the main used register is the chest one. The sound of both styles is throaty and loud and the singing is unhealthy. The “clavicle breathing” used in both singing styles creates tension in the larynx and face muscles. It makes the singing process unhealthy. Actually the differences between the two types of singing comes mainly from the way the resonators are used. 

Is there a way to sing healthier and to keep our voice save using these both techniques? 

Some time ago I had the pleasure to meet, virtually with  Anna Maria-Hefele (german throat (overtone) singer). During our conversation I understood that her technique differs from Zolzoya’s, which I already mentioned above. In Anna’s singing she tries to relax the larynx muscles and apply classical music techniques, which creates a lot more healthy singing process.

Made by: Zornitsa Teneva

If you want to learn more about this incredible type of singing, I recommend you to contact  Anna. Of course, in Bulgarian Folk Singing style there are also ways to sing healthier and to use proper posture and to breath correctly. Very important thing when we try to do it is using our ears and try to sing the way it sounds good, without loosing the authenticity of the musical style. That’s not an easy thing, but it is very important to find the balance between them in order to sound like a professional Bulgarian Folk Singer, to sing for a long time and preserve the qualities of your voice over time. It’s wonderful that we have so many information nowadays and we can learn a lot from other musical styles, try to sing the Bulgarian Folk Singing more healthy, beautifully and without loosing its authenticity. This gives us the chance to sound better, to have more power and endurance, to understand how the human voice actually works and how to keep it always healthy and be in a good vocal shape. 

Never stop looking for ways to sing more freely and to keep your voice healthy and beautiful over time!