Breath support

Breath support is the foundation of our singing. I chose to write about it because it connects the topics of the two latest articles breathing and voice registers and will make your singing easier.

Why do I need breath support? 

„When it comes to building a house, getting the foundation right is the most important part. Without it, the building will not stand (at least not for long). In the same way, breath support is the foundation of singing. It’s from this support that our sound maintains stability“

Arden Kaywin

The correct breath support gives you more possibilities to actively control your airflow, volume, sound intensity, and pitch. Furthermore, it means more power, more range, more projection, and presence in your singing, so it is a topic you definitely want to work on!

The first step towards breath support is to get aware of your breathing. When you are aware of it let’s move on to breath support.

Breathing is a passive reflex, so we don’t really need to think about it, right? 

True, you breathe all day long, every day without thinking about it, but as soon as you sing – more power is needed. Your abdominal muscles can serve this extra power, so you need to actively engage them during expiration, which results in abdominal breathing. If you start working on breath support without breathing abdominally it’s like learning how to write without knowing the letters! So you should definitely spend time investigating the different breathing types before you work on breath support! 

✒️ RULE. In order to get good breath support, you need to have active abdominal respiration.

What is respiration? 

Respiration is the movement of air into (inspiration) and out of (expiration) the lungs.

Inspiration

When we breathe in abdominally, our diaphragm flattens and the air we inhale fills the lower part of our lungs. The muscles between our ribs, called intercostal muscles, contract and widen the chest wall during inspiration.The chest wall encloses the thoracic cavity (chest cavity). 

💡FACT. The thoracic cavity is the 2nd biggest hollow space in our Body. To name just some, it contains the heart, the lungs, and the esophagus (the tube in which food goes from mouth to stomach). The biggest hollow space in our body is the abdominal cavity. These two cavities are separated by the diaphragm.

Expiration

Expiration happens, as soon as our diaphragm relaxes. It moves up and sort of pushes the air in our lungs towards the bronchi and up the trachea. The lungs that were stretched because of the air inside, now return to their resting position (elastic recoil). The air now arrives in the trachea and is presented under some pressure up to the vocal folds (located in the larynx). The opening between the vocal folds is called glottis, which is why we call the air pressure underneath the vocal folds „Sub-glottic pressure“. Expiration is passive while we sleep but as soon as we talk or sing it gets active.

📖 TERM. External and internal oblique muscles are the abdominal muscles.They perform a variety of different functions including flexing/bending the torso forward and sideways, rotating the torso to both the right and left, and helping to provide stability to the hips and lower back.  

When you apply the respiration explained above you can monitor the air pressure flowing against your vocal folds. Depending on the pitch and volume of a note, different amounts of air pressure are needed! The higher and louder the note the more subglottic pressure we have to apply. Furthermore, subglottic pressure is responsible for a constant sound intensity (volume), which is crucial to becoming a good singer.

You want to be able to decide if the tone is loud, soft, high, low, steady, and not jittering! It is basically all about adjusting your subglottic pressure to the sound you are aiming for, but just to let you know: this is precision work that happens very fast and can not really be done consciously. What you can practice consciously though, is the coordination between the breathing muscles (muscles in the larynx, oral cavities, and pharynx).

The ability to sustain a steady subglottic pressure or to vary it at will results from accurate voluntary control of the inspiratory and expiratory muscles. In vocal pedagogy, this is called ‘breath control’ and/or ‘support’.

Literature references

Web

Esophagus – Merriam Webster

Elastic Recoil – The Free dictionary by Farlex

2 Common Misconceptions About Breath Support for Singing – Arden Kaywin

Easy way to develop great breath support – Madelein Harvey

Books

(SmC) Your Voice: An Inside View (second ed.), Scott McCoy, Inside View Press 2012

(JC) Singing and Teaching Singing (second ed.), Janice L. Chapman, Plural Publishing
2012

(DSV) Dynamics of the Singing Voice (fifth edition), M Bunch Dayme,
SpringerWienNewYork

Handbook of the Singing Voice, Maribeth Dayme 1998
Siniging from the inside out – Ineke van Doorn

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