Basics of Inhalation
When you inhale several events happen at once:
- The diaphragm contracts and pushes your viscera out of the way. This causes the lungs to expand downward and in so doing, creates a vacuum in the lungs that allows air to come rushing in.
- Several sets of muscles including the intercostals and the levator costarum cause the ribs to swing slightly up and outwards.
- Space is created in the throat through a widened pharynx and fully abducted vocal folds (they move apart from one another to alow air in).
Here’s a video that explains breathing very nicely:
Move your Ribs!
There is nothing inherently wrong with the sternum and ribs moving when you inhale. The problem arises if one only moves the ribs without getting a full downward expansion. Then the tone can sound shallow. Also, if any neck tension is visible, then that must be dealt with. However, to achieve that by locking the ribs just deprives a singer of all the capacity they otherwise might have.
Manuel Garcia describes inhaling like this in The Art of Singing Part 1:
In order to inhale freely, hold the chest erect, the shoulders back without stiffness, and the chest free. Lower the diaphragm without jerking, raise the chest by a slow and regular movement, and set the hollow of the stomach. From the moment when you begin these two movements the lungs will dilate until they are filled with air.
This double procedure, on which I insist, enlarges the envelope of the lungs first at the base, then by the circumference, and allows the lungs to complete all their expansion and to receive all the air which they can contain. To advise the abdominal breathing exclusively would be to voluntarily reduce by one half the element of strength most indispensable to the singer, the breath.
Last winter, I watched one of the first round of the Metropolitan Opera Nation Council Auditions in Philadelphia. The contestants were really execellent singers from Curtis and AVA, but the one thing, to my eyes, that made those who went to the next round better was their inhalation. I could see the area around their sternum expand outward and stay out when they breathed. I do not know if the judges were looking for that explicitly or if their breathing just made for better singing. But it was almost guaranteed 100% that those who did this action like Garcia described kept singing in the competition.
Ways to Practice
- Practice inhaling while allowing the ribs and belly to expand at an even rate. This does take some time to master, but it is a necessary coordination.
- Strengthen the ribs by inhaling and holding your breath. Do this by not closing the glottis (like you would if you were holding weights) but instead by keeping the ribs expanded and letting the air just exists in this expanded empty space.
- Bend over, release your neck, and breath into your back so that you feel your rib cage clearly expand. Again, be sure that you also expand around your belly.
I hope these ideas on inhalation help. If you have any ideas of your own, I would love to hear them.