There are as many explanations about breathing and supporting for singing as there are singers! Each person has their own interpretation of it, or of someone else’s interpretation, either coming from scientific sources, old school concepts, imagination, creativity, videos, etc. Maybe some singers don’t even think about it that much.
With the help of scientific research some old terms have been dissected, explained and demystified, but also sometimes it runs the risk of complicating it too much to an unpractical point.
I have heard from different teachers, different ideas and some of them totally opposite, which is interesting and scary at the same time!
So what I would like to present in this first post of the 2019, although far from a dissection of the breath process for singing, which I might do in a different post, is another interesting connection that I cooked up this past week which also involves breath and support. It works for me in the sense that it makes it easier for my body to engage in a healthy vocal onset with a reoccurring relaxed and somewhat neutral larynx position, and good breath supply. I am using the word supply instead of support, as in fuel, focusing on fluidity as opposed to forceful engagement.
I am only scratching the surface on these concepts, as my writings always intend to be a reflection, a creative process on vocal analysis within the alchemical construct of my studio. My goal is to always bring spirituality back into vocal analysis and its possible bridge to science.
The complexities surrounding the connections of the diaphragm, the main muscle for breathing, would blow your mind away as it has drove me on an endless thread of difficult to pronounce anatomical terms from which I want to run away. But, as my chiropractor says, everything in the body is connected to…EVERYTHING. The thoracic diaphragm is no different and has links all throughout the body, from the 5th cranial nerve, to the phrenic nerve, passing the floor of the mouth and bellow it all the way down to the pelvic floor. So let’s talk about the jaw and the pelvic floor and why I am putting these together as the “Jaw-Pelvic Magic”.
First of all, breathing is an automatic action. We all breathe during our sleep or if unconscious. Nonetheless WE CAN control our breath if we want. The Inhale is the foundation of singing. Singing itself is breathing out with a good supply of well managed air translated into sound through the vocal cords and filtered in the resonance space, but the first and most important thing is how we are preparing this supply, i.e., how we are inhaling.
Just remember that breathing-in should be simple, BUT, bringing awareness to it might help us get a better breath supply for singing. Imagine that you can take a breath that really allows your diaphragm to drop to where it can drop the most so you can get the most amount of air to begin with. Well, this can be achieved if you simple practice to ALLOW the breath to come in by 1) relaxing your jaw at the hinge and 2) lowering your pelvic floor way deep down….yes down there! We have something called the pelvic diaphragm. When our breathing diaphragm (thoracic diaphragm) descends so that our lungs can suck the air in and expand, the pelvic floor descends too, due to a response to change in intra-abdominal pressure. Various studies have shown that the pelvic diaphragm affects the respiratory muscle! Remember how the thoracic diaphragm has all these links in the body? Well, think about it, if you do a really tight Kegel and try to take a deep inhale at the same time, it will be very difficult, if not impossible. Hence, if you allow yourself to open the pelvic floor, you will set yourself for a better vocal-body onset. I am calling vocal-body onset the way your body is opening up to prepare for the onset of sound. The first secret to amazing singing is to keep a beautiful open column of energy/channel for your sound to come out, hopefully uninterrupted by any squeezing of muscles around the throat trying to close it.
On the other end, when we breathe out, the diaphragm relaxes coming back up. If we are just relaxing, this is pretty much a passive activity. BUT, for example, if we are exercising or vocalizing (talking or singing), then we have controlled exhalation in which case the ABDOMINAL MUSCLES come into play pushing the air out by contracting (remember that at this point the diaphragm is not engaged!! It is relaxing). In opera singing this activity can be exquisitely fine-tuned – food for thought for another blog post.
In the meantime, as our thoracic diaphragm is coming up slowly, so is our pelvic diaphragm, and on the next inhale, let’s keep in mind to 1) drop the jaw from the hinge and 2) drop the pelvic floor. I would also add to this a lift in your eyes to help lift the soft palate and a reassurance that your tongue is relaxed and not pushing into the back of your mouth (if you look slightly surprised or as if you were delighted you will achieve this body opening faster). In the next post I will go more deeply into these components and also talk about the intercostal action and the breath supply mechanism as I see it.
Going back to the Jaw-Pelvic Magic, let’s reflect on the root and throat chakra connection. Have you noticed that when your fears creep in, your voice automatically weakens? The root chakra is the foundation of all the other chakras. Keep this is mind when you are singing. If you are tight or weak around your root chakra that will affect the rest of your body and, of course, your voice. For now try playing with these concepts and I believe you will start to feel a better connection between root chakra and throat chakra which will bring more wholeness into your singing.
Happy new connections!