live in a world of the power lunch, the power walk and the 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 - power breathing.
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 recoil.
That We Breathe
The 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.
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 bellies 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 to cry.
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
All Hang Out
The other under-appreciated source of power, recoil, also relies
on the diaphragm. Most people incorrectly associate the words
breathe support with push. They tap their 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.
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.
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.
Combine 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:
Visit his website at: www.voicelesson.com
(reprinted with the kind permission of Singer