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Breathing" - Mark Baxter
Power lunch. Power walk. Power nap. Hey,
as long as were making ourselves feel powerful
by renaming natural activities, allow me to introduce
my superturbo, patent-pending breathing technique
for singers. To be honest, there's nothing new about
power breathing. Every baby on the planet has the
technique down. Power breathing is what allows infants
to scream for hours on end. Obviously, newborns
dont have a lot of muscle strength. So where
does all that energy come from? They instinctively
harness two universal properties: air pressure and
air around us is pressurized and self-stabilizing.
When the pressure decreases anywhere, surrounding
air will move in to fill the void. This is the motor
which drives the weather, and why the weatherman
is always talking about areas of high and low pressure.
On a smaller scale, when you open a new jar of pickles,
youll hear a suction sound as the seal is
broken. Pickles are vacuum packed, which means the
air pressure inside the jar is much lower than outside.
Unscrew the lid and air is drawn in. The same thing
happens when we inhale. When your lungs are expanded,
the air pressure inside drops. Outside air then
rushes in to equalize the imbalance. Whats
important to remember is that air doesnt make
your lungs expand -- muscles do.
diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle which sits directly
under your lungs. When it descends, the area inside
your lungs increases. There are also muscles between
your ribs, which spread the cage, and muscles in
the neck and shoulders, which can lift your chest.
Any of these muscles can enlarge your lung space
to create an inhale. Of all these options, the diaphragm
is best positioned. We are often too tight in the
stomach area, though, and dont give it room
to drop. Infants are not tight down there and take
full advantage of the diaphragms ability to
pull in air. Notice how their bellys swell
like little Buddhas just before letting go of a
wail. Its a simple principal: the more air
you take in, the more pressure youll have
expanded, your lungs are like two balloons. The
air pressure inside an inflated balloon is greater
than outside the balloon. Everybody knows that the
pressure will come out -- with force -- by simply
releasing the balloon, but we fail to apply this
universal law to singing. At the beginning of each
phrase, we use abdominal muscles to drive the air
out of our lungs. Not only is this as unnecessary
as squeezing a balloon to empty it, but it causes
all kinds of trouble. Singing requires a specific
amount of pressure; too much force triggers your
throat to hold back air like fingers clamping down
on the neck of a balloon. Control is lost.
other under-appreciated source of power, recoil,
also relies on the diaphragm. Most people incorrectly
associate the words "breathe support"
with push. They tap there tummy and say, "Sing
from here. Right?" Well, thats half right.
To better understand how the whole thing ties together,
lets get creative with anatomy. Its
been said that the body is a temple but I think
it more resembles a tenement. Imagine your body
as a building that has one studio apartment on each
level. Lets call the first floor the "legs"
of your structure. The second floor represents your
abdominal cavity and the third level is the thoracic
cavity (if you want to get fancy, you can call your
head the penthouse). It doesnt take very long
when you live in a building like this to appreciate
that one persons floor is another persons
ceiling. This rule is the same in your body. The
diaphragm is both the floor to the lungs (thoracic
cavity) and the ceiling to the abdomen. Move this
divider up and down, and it enlarges one cavity
while compressing the other.
your diaphragm descends, it pushes on everything
inside your abdominal cavity. Since this "room"
is jam packed with furnishings like a stomach, liver
and intestines, everything gets shoved towards the
walls. This is why your tummy sticks out when you
inhale correctly. Its not filling with air
down there, its just a response to the ceiling
coming down. Compressing your abdominal cavity doesnt
take much effort, as long as its walls are relaxed.
Sucking in your tummy when you inhale locks everything
in place, so the diaphragm cant come down.
The result is a shallow breath that doesnt
pack much punch. We learn from infants crying that
creating a big inhale is important. Even more important,
though, is not pushing once youre fully loaded.
Youve already worked for the energy; all you
have to do is release.
automatic reaction to compression is recoil. If
you push down on a spring and then quickly release
it will jump back to its original form. The more
force you use to compress, the more force you get
back on recoil. Push down on the spring again but
this time slowly raise your hand. The spring returns
at the hands speed. This is a controlled release.
Notice that, to control the motion, your hand only
needs to push downward; theres no need to
pull up on a spring. The same is true for your diaphragm.
Once the abdominal cavity is compressed, it wants
to spring back. As if it was holding back the recoil
of a spring, your diaphragm should continue to apply
and downward pressure to regulate the air pressure
passing through your larynx. In other words, it
"supports " your voice by making sure
that the vocal folds arent overwhelmed.
the spring-back action of your abdominal cavity
with the momentum of high pressure from fully inflated
lungs and youll have vocal power to spare.
Notice that both of these power sources are passive,
the work was done during the inhale. If you need
more thrust, your abs are always there to add. I
know it feels as if you need to push with your abs
in order to make your voice powerful. Just remember
that this desire is a reaction to half-inflated
lungs. Stretching your body will help; start your
warm-up routine with some reaches and side-stretches.
Reserve abdominal push as a last resort, not a first
line of strength. It takes a while to re-train the
body to release the abs on every inhale, but the
pay-off will be a voice thats truly bouncing
off the walls -- just like when you were a baby.
Baxter is a vocal therapist who offers private
and video lessons. To contact him, call: (800)659-6002.
Visit his website at: www.voicelesson.com
with the kind permission of Mark