4 Chapter 4 – Engaging the Diaphragm During Inhalation and Exhalation

Here’s how it works. Give yourself a few weeks of practicing to get good at it, it takes a while to re-learn how to breathe. Using the exercises in Chapter 7 will help you practice.  Natural breathing usually isn’t very deep, and uses only the top of the lungs, which makes the shoulders rise. This is because you don’t need full breaths all the time, talking and moving around doesn’t require maximum respiratory function. People hold stress in the shoulders, across the chest, and around the neck and jaw, shutting down efforts of deep breathing and constricting the capacity for resonance. Another factor is that the brain is connected to the mouth, especially during concentration. Some people will stick out their tongue when concentrating on a task, and many folks tense up around their jaw when playing the guitar or fiddle or other instruments. To be a better singer, we must employ mind over matter, undoing the natural tension as it occurs, again and again until relaxation happens unconsciously due to diligent practice.

Breathing at rest

Part 1: Inhalation

Use singing posture and a focused, relaxed state of mind. Start by emptying the lungs, pushing all the air out. At a metered pace, draw air in through your nose or mouth, filling up the lungs from the bottom, pulling the diaphragm down, which pushes out the lower organs resulting in a poked out stomach. Allow the expansion to take place 360 degrees around the sides and back, stretching the ribs. As the air fills up the lungs, keep shoulders dropped and relaxed. Using a mirror to watch that the shoulders don’t rise will help. As the air reaches the top of your lungs, make sure your throat is open and your nasal passages are open. If this results in a yawn, that is a good sign that your throat and nose are open. At the top of the breath, don’t hold it, but allow air direction to simply turn around for the exhale.

Inhalation

Part 2:  Exhalation

Control your exhale by engaging your diaphragm, keeping the lungs low and stretched down for as long as possible. For practice, provide some sort of resistance to slow things down, such as keeping your lips pursed as if breathing out through a straw, or try holding a long note on an “oh” with no vibrato until the entire exhale peters out at the very end. Use a fixed rate of speed for the exhalation of air, to the very, very end. Placing your hands on your stomach below the diaphragm and pushing against your pooched out stomach can help keep the diaphragm engaged. When the exhale is complete, your stomach should be completely pushed in, the diaphragm will be raised to its highest position, the lungs completely empty. The vacuum of empty lungs can be used to suck in another full inhale with natural force, so link several of these deep breaths together for focused practice. Shoulders should not move up.

Exhalation

Working out the diaphragm is like doing sit-ups. At first you will not have consistent control, as the muscle is weak. Holding a long note on an exhale will be shaky, it will be an effort to keep the tone consistently sounding solid and regular. A long steady tone is the goal of practicing deep breathing away from singing songs.

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The Acoustic Singer ~ Breathing for Singing Copyright © 2014 by Cary Fridley Music. All Rights Reserved.

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