Investigating the role of Pilates in the posture and vocal production of singers
This research examines the role of the Pilates method as an adjunct practice for the singers, particularly those working in the musical theatre genre, hereafter referred to as singers. Singers experience considerable physical and mental demands during training for and execution of their professional tasks. The combination of singing, dancing and acting, described as the “triple-threat”, requires substantial postural control and physiological vigour to meet demands akin to those required of elite athletes. Adjunct practices supporting singers should aim to address their unique postural and physiological needs.
The Pilates method is a mind-body practice conceived and developed by Joseph Hubertus Pilates in the 20th century. When based in New York City, German-born J.H. Pilates (1883-1967) trained many high-profile singers in his 8th St gym from the 1930s until his death. The Pilates method is a holistic system with six underpinning principles: concentration, control, centering, breathing, precision, and flowing movement, that aims to improve postural control and the overall physical and mental well-being of participants. The extensive Pilates method repertoire includes matwork exercises and those performed on specialised Pilates-equipment (Pilates ERT).
Data collected included audio-visual recordings, measurements, observations, and participants interviews. Quantitative data were extensively calibrated; qualitative data were thematically analysed and coded. Thirty-two performing artists (N= 32) completed a group-based Stage One Pilates matwork programme consisting of 24 sessions over 12-weeks. Nine (N= 9) participants were randomly recruited from the Stage One participants who continued for a further 24 sessions in a one-to-one based Stage Two Pilates ERT programme over 12-weeks. Participants were assessed for postural presentation, musculoskeletal control, and were recorded performing three singing tasks before (Pre-Test) and after (Post-Test) participation in the Pilates programmes.
The findings identified that postural presentation was positively impacted in 91% of Stage One participants. Improvements were observed in sagittal spinal alignment, particularly in the head and neck region, pelvic alignment, core stabilisation, lateral pelvic control and spinal flexibility. Stage Two also positively impacted overall postural presentation. Similarly, overall vocal production parameters were positively impacted from the Stage One Pilates matwork and Stage Two Pilates ERT. Observed vocal parameter improvements included gains in breath control and harmonic spectrum amplitude after Stage Two, whereas Stage One gains were observed in the harmonic spectrum amplitudes. Vibrato extent, rate & regularity gains were observed in both Stage One and Two outcomes.
All participants reported a strong sense of improvement in overall well-being. Other findings included a reduction in performance and general anxiety, improved focus and control vocally and an increased sense of happiness, self-trust and autonomy. Flow and control were words most associated with the participants’ performance experiences following participation in the programmes.
The findings demonstrate that Pilates matwork and Pilates ERT represent modalities that can positively impact the postural control and vocal production of singers. Furthermore, the Pilates method provides singers with a conducive environment to improve parameters of well-being that may assist them with managing the challenges of a life in the arts.