Breath Support – How #4

February 27, 2013

As you have probably guessed from Breath #2, I’m a believer in abdominal breathing. There is some expansion of the rib cage and lower back when you inhale, but there just aren’t the muscles there to get the air out again and support a singing tone.

First, to recap:

• The ribs are lifted and loose, and the shoulders are relaxed. If you’re wearing your deltoids as earrings, all is not as it should be!
• Lots of room between the ribs and the pelvis.
• Nothing is locked. We’re talking Opera – you must be able to move!

The diaphragm flattens out, expanding the lungs to bring in the air, and pushing out everything beneath the ribcage.

And now, Exhalation:
The abdominal muscles are the major muscles of exhalation. Yes, the intercostals can squeeze the ribcage, but not much, and without a lot of control. When you pull in the abdominals, the lower abdomen acts like a piston, pushing up on the diaphragm and expelling the breath.

Try this: Take a loose, low breath as I have described, using the diaphragm to fill the lungs and push out the abdominal muscles. Then, from about your belt buckle, make like you’re blowing out a candle. Not too hard, but you can get the air to move pretty quickly, while keeping your throat, jaw, tongue, etc., loose. It may take a few tries to keep it all loose, but this is important!

This action should use all of the abdominal muscles, all the way to the pelvis. Although she was not overly shy, Miss Repp would say, “I breathe so low, I can’t tell you.”

Now, just using the abdominals would cause the lungs to empty pretty quickly, and without a lot of control. This control is imposed by using the diaphragm as well as the abdominals to control the airflow. It must not be a tightening of the throat, or hoping the vocal cords can control it.

Now, try this: Take another nice, low breath, then tighten your abdominals and your diaphragm at the same time, so that no air escapes. Keep your neck loose and don’t try to stop the air with your vocal cords. I’ve fixed many damaged voices, and don’t want to cause any!

Do it again, but first put your fingers just below your sternum. When you tighten the abdominal muscles and diaphragm, that part just below the sternum, called the epigastrium, will push out. There are no muscles right there, and so nothing to resist the push of the abdominals. (This is where you push for the Heimlich Maneuver)

So, using the ‘dynamic tension’ between these two sets of muscles (with a nod to Charles Atlas), you can control the airflow to a very fine degree.

Here’s an exercise: Take a nice low breath. Engage the abdominals and diaphragm, then make a long, light, smooth “ssss” while trying to keep everything from the neck up loose and easy. If you do this without engaging the abdominals and diaphragm, you will probably hear your heartbeat in the hiss. This will really show you the control you have, and the control you may need to work toward.

In conclusion:
• Keep the posture up, open and loose
• Use the diaphragm to expand everything between the ribs and the pelvis unopposed for inhalation
• Use the abdominals to get the air to flow through the voice, controlled by the diaphragm

Using the diaphragm and abdominal muscles to control the breathing in this way will allow the rest of the vocal apparatus to relax and do its work – creating beautiful, expressive singing.

In a future posting, I will talk about when there are problems in the way. Not just bad habits, but injured abdominals, asthma, pregnancy, etc.

But next time, I think I’ll talk about repertoire.

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