Breath as Inspiration
Various things can happen with the body which cause difficulty in inhalation:-
- Breath can be too high in the upper chest causing the voice to be hard and driven.
- The solar plexus and belly can sometimes be too pushed out (i.e. too much ‘breath in the stomach’ distending it and not enough in the back) this makes it very difficult to use the breath to any good effect and causes inadequate cord closure, breathy sound and huskiness.
- The shoulders can be held too rigid and too far back causing the back to narrow and making it difficult for the back to open naturally and pushing the wind pipe and head forward causing noisy breath being gulped in through tense lips over a tense tongue and lower jaw.
- The breath is taken in a way which disturbs the larynx and pulls down the head. Usually accompanied by a tight jaw.
Breathing, like so much of singing, is in normal life a reflex action. We breathe twenty-four hours a day and the majority of us don’t take that much notice of it.
If the body stays open at the finish of the last breath then the body will fill with air. Nature abhors the vacuum in the open body and fills it with air quicker and more efficiently than any amount of trying to concentrate on taking a big breath will do. One third of the secret of breathing is in knowing how to use your breath and another third is to continually think about what you are doing with your body as you work – think of the efficiency of the vessel and how it feels to you every moment, not about the breath, which is a reflex action. (The other third is at the end of this article.) It is a question of putting the frame of the body in such a sense of ease with itself that the lungs within it are stimulated automatically to work at optimum efficiency. To do this, it is useful to acquire a sense of balanced posture so that the centre of gravity feels low, in the pelvis and going down the legs (Please refer to the article on ‘balance and imbalance’ in this website) When working properly there is no need to suck and gulp breath in. In inhalation, nothing must disturb the free larynx and poise of the body.
- Where should my breath go first when I breathe?
- Into the bottom of the diaphragm. Breath is at its most efficient when breath is attempted on an already open upper body in balance on a buoyant upright free spine. You will feel the abdomen move out with the liver and lights being massaged aside. There is also a little movement at eh back in the lower lumber spine. It means that the lungs of their own accord are free to extend down as they fill with air thus massaging the liver, intestines etc aside. This increases your energy. The abdomen is your power source. I say this because from there the breath can fill opening the upper body.
- Where does it go next?
- Immediately after this the ribs expand starting with the lower floating ribs. There should be expansion at the back and not very much at all in the front, the chest should not move unduly as it should already have been open and buoyant. The shoulders should not rise.
Suggested method to begin to feel this:-
Bend your elbows out to the side and but you hands round your ribs. Thumbs at the front is better as then you have more fingers at the back to feel with. Lift you chest moderately high without pulling the stomach in rigidly at all. Here comes the tricky bit! Bend your knees during your inhaling breath and lean your upper body forward a little.
- Should my tongue and lips do something when I breathe.
- The lower lip should be very relaxed; not baring the lower teeth as this creates strain under the chin. The tip of the tongue should be relaxed behind the lower teeth with the next part of the tongue buoyant lifted wide and free in the mouth. The upper body should be buoyant otherwise the head would be constantly pulled down. It is helpful to remember that the spine finishes under the ear and under the back of the head and the jaw are gently engaged with this upper vertebrae.
Suggested method to get a feel for this:-
Stand up in balance (look at article on ‘balance and imbalance’ for this) and first say this sound “jooooooong” with a look of happy surprise.
Let the nostrils slightly flare, round your top lip forward in an “oooo”. Make sure you are standing tall. Put you finger on your chin and push back your jaw a little so that the gullet underneath feels wide. The middle of your tongue should feel quite high and free in your mouth when you say the “oooo” and the tongue tip just behind the bottom teeth. The bottom lip must cover the bottom teeth in a relaxed way, you can use a finger to help you if you need to. Then with this same shape mouth let breath flow in over the top of your tongue and it should connect with the muscles deep in your abdomen and back and sides. Stand tall in balance. Practice taking in some air in with just the mouth and then the rest with the nose and then breathe out through the nose with the finger still pushing back the chin a little. This is a very important start to vocal freedom as this exercise helps to feel what an open throat feels like. It is very difficult to breath well with a tight throat.
The other third
- I feel that as I sing a phrase I tighten and as a song goes on I get tighter and tighter and it is harder to breathe and use my breath.
- Remember that the whole point of breathing is that you have something to say. Let us imagine that you are really excited to say something to explain how you feel. You think of the nature and essence of what you want to say, take a breath, and as you start to say the first few words of the first sentence you are already preparing yourself to form the next sentence and so on. This is how we communicate. If it were not this way there would be great gaps before we thought of the next thing to say, doubts would creep in and we would forget what we wanted to say most probably!
In other words, in the nature of the breath, you take is the seed which grows into the sentence you wish to say and you can leave it to grow while you think of the next sentence. If it is some thing you are saying that you really care about then each breath is fertilized with your will and imagination growing out of the sentence before. Music is no less organic and when we sing we need to be very busy forming ideas with every part of us. Your ideas are what you inhale – in your intake of breath is your inspiration, it is everything about who you are at each moment of sound.
Singing is three things:
- your head - your conscious educated understanding of what you are doing
- your heart - your reflex and spontaneous reaction
- your gut - your feeling and emotion
You are a great artist when you can inspire all three to work together.
Good luck with your vocal journey