Today’s singing students need to put their ears back over their shoulders, respected vocal coach says.

A new phenomenon called “text neck” has reared its head recently, and the field of voice has not been exempt. The term, which refers to the position of the neck, craned over a gadget or smartphone, has been shown to cause stress on the cervical spine, which can cause headaches and neck pain, compromise breathing, and lead to early spinal wear and tear. A singer’s posture, fundamental to the correct and free production of sound, is therefore significantly inhibited when displaying “text neck”. Young singers are particular offenders, spending an unprecedented amount of time hunched over electronic devices.

Writing for the website Musical Theatre Resources, Christianne Roll, a singer and head of the Musical Theatre Program at Florida Southern College, describes how singers, up until a few years ago, could easily correct their posture with simple instructions such as “stand up straight” and “shoulders back”. With proper alignment, she writes, overall singing ability improved. More recently, however, these suggestions are no longer as effective, with a singer’s head remaining in an incorrect forward position. She claims that only by recommending students “put your ears back over your shoulders” were singers able to adjust their posture and improve their production of sound, finding a new “ease” and “pitch accuracy”.

Roll’s experience with her young students encouraged her to look into this baffling new phenomenon. She was in luck–research into “text neck” was taking off, with publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Guardian publishing the effects of smartphone induced posture.

Dr Kenneth Hansaj, the American surgeon spearheading the findings, concluded that as the neck bent forward and down, the weight on the cervical spine began to increase: at a 15-degree angle, this weight was approximately 27 pounds, and at 60 degrees it reached 60 pounds. Dr Hansaj labelled “text neck” an “epidemic”, asserting “the problem is really profound in young people”.

With this information, writes Roll, her colleague S. Thomas Scott presented his research into male singers and “text neck” during the Voice Foundation Symposium, held in Philadelphia in June 2016. Scott found that when his subjects’ heads were in proper alignment, rather than “text neck” position, they reported a “better ease of production” and an improvement in overall resonance. His findings corresponded neatly with Roll’s own experience, reaffirming the importance of correct posture for singers.

So what to do in order to combat the dreaded “text neck”? Dr Hansaj’s suggestions are all practical: limit screen time, take breaks, and close your eyes every 20 minutes if given the chance. Singers, take note.