Breath Support – How #2

February 5, 2013


Breathing?  Nothing to it!  Just in, out, repeat, right?

Generally, yes.  However, for singing we need a bit more control.

The breathing process I will describe here is operatic, designed for voices that need to fill a theater of 4,000 seats with full orchestra, unamplified.  A lot of breath energy is needed.  At the end (probably next time), I’ll talk about differences in breathing for what good opera singers call “microphonistas,” or those who operate in the opera world relying on amplification, as well as many theater, jazz, etc., singers.

I had planned to have this posting just about inhalation, but I find it hard to talk about “in” without some “out.”  I’ll see what I can do.

Okay – we have a lifted, loose, energetic posture, with room between the ribs and the pelvis.  When the lungs fill, everything around them is pushed out – the ribs will expand a bit, the stomach moves out and even the lower back will expand a little.  For the anatomically curious, the intercostal muscles (between the ribs –  what we munch on when we order spare ribs) help expand the rib cage, and the diaphragm muscle expands everything below the ribs.  This expands the lungs, drawing in a lot of air.  (For anatomical geeks like me, read Vennard)

The shoulders must not rise.  The only muscles that can pull up the shoulders are in the neck, which needs to stay loose.

Let’s talk diaphragm.  It’s a dome shaped muscle at the bottom of the rib cage, basically horizontal, that separates the heart and lungs above from the stomach and everything else below.  It is the major muscle of inhalation – when if flattens out it opens the lungs, sucking in air.  In the process, it pushes out everything below:  abdominal muscles, sides and back.  If you put your hands on your waist, thumbs forward, fingers toward the spine, bend over 90 degrees, and inhale, you will feel the back expand.

Some people talk a lot about back breathing.  As we saw above, the back will expand when you inhale correctly.  I sometimes will use this with new students – have them go through the exercise at 90˚ to feel the back expand, then have them try for the same expansion standing up.  It is useful to get a low breath and stop a heaving chest.  However, there are no muscles of exhalation in the lower back, which we will talk about more when we get to exhalation next time.

Likewise, the sides will expand a bit, but the bulk (personally, pun intended) of the work is done in front.  The abdominal muscles will distend, and it is helpful to think of the expansion all the way from the ribs to the pelvis.  My last teacher, Miss Ellen Repp, used to say, “I breathe so low, I can’t tell you.”

Breathing in this manner can be very relaxing.  Think of it – if you’re breathing with the shoulders raised, every inhalation produces tension.  Not so good for the beginning of a phrase.  However, if, at the end of the phrase, your ribcage is still open but your abdominals are pulled in, if you just let go of the abdominal muscles, your belly will drop and your lungs will fill, assisted by the diaphragm flattening out.

Try this – stretch out your arms to keep your ribcage up and open (and loose!), and exhale by pushing in your abdominals.  Really give them a squeeze!  Now, when your lungs are empty, drop your belly and get a good breath.  Relaxing, isn’t it?

Now that we have a good breath, next time I’ll talk about the use of the breath in singing.



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