The big question: does fat help you sing better? Why so many operatic singers are obese? One of my first articles here wanted to address this issue, but I want to dive deeper and show you my opinion from energetic and physical perspectives. My take on the subject is: Fat does not make you a better singer – far from it!
Throughout history, we can see that the most famous opera singers were fat. Rather than any of that having to do with fat itself, it actually had to do with size. Bear in mind that in the old times, amphitheaters were built in open air, designed in a way that the acoustics would be the best, coupled with a mastered vocal technique (there were no microphones). For that, the bigger the singer (volume), the bigger the sound. Our body is the resonance box of our voice. As in a big instrument (tuba, double bass), the bigger the body, the greater the sound. Wide-framed (wide boned) people tend to eat more, naturally, “to fill in the spaces” inside the body (a bigger body will need more food). Indulgence heritage from the Roman times, when known singers and actors were hanging around the royal courts with the emperors, and the beauty canons of those times (voluptuous bodies associated with wealth) prevailed throughout history, along with the idea that opera is reserved for the upper classes. This nonsense – along with some other nonsense in classical music – kept going until recent times. Thank goodness, things have changed.
So, it is the shape and size of our frame (specially the bones nearer to the vocal cords, i.e. the head, neck and chest) that affect loudness. The cavities (spaces) inside our bones (the sinuses, the larynx, clavicle, jaw, mouth, ears) determine our resonance, and also the colour of our timbre. The power and intensity of our sound is given by the pressure of our breathing, which will be optimal the stronger our muscles are (i.e. lean, and not fatty). Obese people have a lot of fatty tissue surrounding the organs and also the muscles, making it difficult to have space to expand the diaphragm and ribs, and flex the thoracic muscles. It is true, though, that the continuous breathing practice of ribcage/diaphragm expansion, whether you are a wide-framed or narrow-framed person, expands the thoracic and abdominal muscles, and this may make the person look “fatter”, when in fact they are just “wider”. Do not confuse 🙂 (I must say in my favour that I have a big head, a big mouth and a wide frame :p)
Now, you might have heard that being ripped is not good for the singer because if you have a six-pack in your abdominal area, your muscles will be so tight that they won’t be flexible enough to expand your diaphragm as needed. This is not true. You see, the core region doesn’t comprise only of the rectus abdominus (the ‘six-pack’ area), it has other muscle complexes that counter-rest and balance that one: the glutes, pelvic floor, spine, rib cage and back muscles. As it happens with every exercise, if we work only one part of it and neglect another one, of course we will experience tightness leading to difficulty in breathing, that’s why we must do exercises that strengthen, lengthen and stretch all the parts. So the solution is pursuing a protocol that balances strength and movement in all directions.
“If you do lots of crunches on a regular basis but do not devote equal time and energy to the muscles governing spinal extension, rotation, and stabilization, it is indeed likely that you will develop chronic tension in your abs that yields undesirable consequences for your breathing. You will not be able to elicit the relaxation and expansion you need in your viscera in order to take a deep, low breath.” – Claudia Friedlander
I have always said that the Singer is an Athlete of the Voice. I normally sweat a lot when I am performing, regardless of whether or not I am dancing or moving. The amount of effort spent in the continuous production of the voice is huge, mostly when it’s a classical concert (because of the technique). The excitement of expressing emotions (dynamics, change of pitch, phrasing) and singing to an audience adds to burning calories 🙂 But I also sweat when I am practising at home. It is indeed a significant aerobic expenditure. According to studies, an average person can spend around 200kcal in a 1 hour concert, standing. If that is classical singing, it could double to 400kcal (depending on BMI). Endurance is required to sing for long, intense periods of time, because we require long amounts of air and muscle pressure, that’s why it is of utmost importance to stay oxygenated (hydrated). As a consequence of this aerobic activity, I can safely say that singing improves your cardiovascular health (it lowers your resting heart rate) and your lung capacity (something that normally decreases with age – not if you are a singer!).
I have the feeling that I keep on repeating myself in my articles 🙂 But I will say it again: everything we are and do at an emotional, spiritual and mental level, is reflected in our physical body. The voice couldn’t be less. In fact, our voice is the direct reflection of our emotional status. So when we take care of our body, it reflects on our emotions and it reflects on our voice, and vice versa. Our spiritual, mental and emotional ailments are stored in our cells, thus shaping our physical expression in all its manners: body shape, food preferences, life style choices, thoughts, speech and ways of body expression, etc.
A fat body is energetically clumsy. Fat wanders slowly through the blood stream: it takes about 40 hours for fats to be digested in our body, and this is mainly due to their insolubility in water. It is our slowest form of energy, and chemically, fats are complex, dense. Since this happens undoubtedly in our physical body, it affects our other bodies (the etheric, astral, mental, etc), thus slowing down our progress towards raising our consciousness. The leaner our body, the more prone for mental, emotional and spiritual agility it will become. The same way it slows down our movement, it impedes our capacity and flexibility for breathing, which is the basis for singing.
In resume, fat doesn’t help your singing in any way. Lead a balanced life style that comprises a healthy diet and an appropriate regime of strength/mobility exercises and you will have the machine to become a great singer 🙂
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