(How to get the power without the push)
lunch. Power walk. Power nap.
as long as weíre 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 donít have a lot of muscle
strength. So where does all that energy come from? They instinctively
harness two universal properties: air pressure and recoil.
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, youíll
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. Whatís important to remember is that
air doesnít 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 donít
give it room to drop. Infants are not tight down there and take
full advantage of the diaphragmís ability to pull in air. Notice
how their bellyís swell like little Buddhas just before letting
go of a wail. Itís a simple principal: the more air you take
in, the more pressure youíll 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
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, thatís half right. To better understand
how the whole thing ties together, letís get creative with anatomy.
Itís 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. Letís 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 doesnít take very long when you live in a building like this
to appreciate that one personís floor is another personís 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. Itís not filling with air down there, itís just a
response to the ceiling coming down. Compressing your abdominal
cavity doesnít take much effort, as long as its walls are relaxed.
Sucking in your tummy when you inhale locks everything in place,
so the diaphragm canít come down. The result is a shallow breath
that doesnít pack much punch. We learn from infants crying that
creating a big inhale is important. Even more important, though,
is not pushing once youíre fully loaded. Youíve 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 handís speed. This
is a controlled release. Notice that, to control the motion,
your hand only needs to push downward; thereís 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 arenít
the spring-back action of your abdominal cavity with the momentum
of high pressure from fully inflated lungs and youíll 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 thatís 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