By maintaining the feeling of inhalation while you’re exhaling, you can protect your vocal folds and maintain a beautiful tone. This is often called breath support, the vocal contest, or “la lotta vocale”.
Imagine doing a bench press and then actively pulling the barbell back toward your chest. You would crush yourself if the weight were heavy enough, and so you would fight against the movement just enough to protect yourself.
It’s the same with singing. Once you take a breath that’s good for singing long phrases, your entire breathing mechanism is expanded like a balloon. If it collapsed, it could put enormous pressure on your vocal folds since they would be the primary resistance to the outflow of air.
Just for practice, try taking a full breath and then making a loud sound while pushing all the air out with your abdominal muscles and not resisting at all with your ribs or diaphragm. That’s a yell, which is generally considered un-beautiful (uncontrolled and extreme dynamic shifts with unsteady pitch) and dangerous.
Reflexes are King
Moreover, there are reflexes accompanying breathing. They are designed to assist the various functions that our throat provides. You must use them for vocal balance.
Extreme 1: Yawn
Place a finger on your Adam’s apple. Take a nice yawn and see what your Adam’s apple does. It should tilt downwards. If you spoke, your voice will have a low and warm though muffled quality.
Extreme 2: Pushed Exhalation
Alternatively, blow out all the air from your lungs. Yes, all of it. What you should notice is that your Adam’s apple will rise up and your voice will take on a squeezed quality.
Middle Path: Open Inhalation
Those are two extremes, but now take a full and silent breath and you should see your Adam’s apple descend slightly. This opens the throat enough to make the tone warm and pleasant but without muffling the sound.
Maintenance of Inhalation Reflex
This slightly lowered position is a nice place for singing. But how do you maintain it? By pretending that you’re still inhaling even though you’re not.
Keep the Ribs Wide
There are a couple ways to do this. You can put your hands on your ribs and make sure they do not collapse while you exhale. Try it now. Take a full breath and really get your ribs wide and then begin exhaling without letting your ribs fall at all.
Hold Your Breath
Sometimes you need to trick your brain to get what you want. So, take a full and expansive breath and then hold it. Try doing it without closing your vocal folds. You’ll feel the warm air from your lungs bobbing up and down in your throat. It’s a very small but pleasant sensation.
Now, remember that feeling. Take a full and expansive breath and then exhale on a hiss. Pretend that you are still holding your breath and put all the effort into your torso.
Once you feel good about that, then take a full and expansive breath, pretend that you are holding your breath, and sing a pitch in an easy area of your voice. Try this a couple times on short notes and then try a longer note and see if you can maintain the feeling.
Be careful while you practice breathing:
- Let your tongue stay forward. I cannot emphasize this enough because pulling your tongue backwards is a tough habit to break. Try and relax the tongue forward as you inhale.
- Breathe silently. By inhaling silently, you are allowing the air to enter your lungs unobstructed. Watch out for gasping sounds and try to maintain a feeling of openness.
- Stay alert.
Watch out for “breath hypnosis”. Notice your posture and your head position relative to your neck and shoulders. Watch your muscles in your neck, throat, and torso (especially your lower back).
Be patient but persistent.
What are your thoughts on breathing? What techniques do you use? Do you agree with what I’ve written or do you have another way? Please share with a comments.