Recently “The Vocalist” has posted a series of emails from its members about Breath Management during the singing exhale. Below is my response to these emails.
This discussion has listed the use of belts or links of chain around parts of the rib cage to insure an expansion of the small ribs at the bottom of the chest. This use assumes that if the lower ribs are expanded throughout the exhale during singing, the diaphragm will not ascend early in the exhale and, in so doing, removing the primary control the singer over his breath management.
Another way of creating this kind of activity is the use of an expandable bandage, similar to the ones prescribed for patients with cracked ribs. The bandage is wrapped firmly around the lower part of the chest and the singer attempts to maintain a sense of outward pressure against the elastic bandage, thus keeping the lower ribs in a more or less expanded position. This is much better arrangement than the belts or chains because it is elastic and therefore more in keeping with the elastic functions of the body.
Burton Coffin used this elastic bandage with students who had difficulties sensing or controlling their breath or, worse yet, had been taught to pull in the abdomen when singing and then releasing the abdomen down and outward when inhaling. However, Coffin warned against using this device for extended periods of time because it taught the singer to constantly push outward during singing and this is counterproductive.
In fact, fat singers tend to develop the outward push while singing; they are pushing against a different kind of “elastic bandage”. They are pushing outward against their large layer of fat. When and if they loose a lot of weight they no longer have the “fat bandage” and must relearn how to manage breath, this time the correct way.
What is the correct way? It is surprisingly simple. Take a deep breath without raising the sternum but with a good sense of balanced posture. Now notice that the lower ribs are expanded and that the epigastric area has a sense of fullness and might actually stick out in front a bit. This epigastric bulge is the result of the diaphragm tensing and pulling itself flat, much like a drum head. This action pushes the stomach and other organs downward and and outward in the epigastric area. If the singer is long waisted (check distance between the bottom of the lowest rib and the top of the pelvis – more that one and a half inches indicates a long waist) there is more downward space available for displaced stomach and organs and there will, therefore, be less outward bulge in the epigastric area.
Now maintain that sense of fullness in the epigastric area. To do this you will also sense that you must maintain some of the expansion of the lower ribs that occurred during the inhale. Do not exhale the air quickly; you do not use much air to maintain a sustained clear vocal tone. You will only use as much as you would to gently steam your eyeglasses for cleaning. In fact, that warm, moist breath for steaming glasses is exactly the amount and quality of breath you want to use for singing. And notice that when using this warm, moist breath your epigastric area retains its full feeling and your lower ribs remain in an outward position.
So, you have an example of a proper singing breath with the warm, moist breath. And you can check for this breath by placing your finger tips right at the lips while singing. If you feel a lot of air passing your lips you are using too much breath. You should only feel a warm, moist gentle breath. And as you begin to sing louder that breath flow will increase slightly but not to the degree that you would think necessary. Loud singing requires a firmer closure of the vocal folds which, in turn, produces a longer closure of the vocal folds during each cycle and that induces a greater breath pressure but very little increase in breath flow.
Lloyd W. Hanson