2One of the cornerstones of learning to sing is knowing how to breathe correctly and learn to control your breathing so that it is used to optimum effect when you sing. When we are born our breathing is naturally correct, babies can breathe, yell and scream with optimum effect because they use their lungs without conscious thought. As we grow older, some people become lazy in their habits only using the upper part of the lungs, taking a shallow breath instead of a normal one. To understand how correct breathing and breath control works, first you need to understand the process that it uses to operate.
3Surrounding your lungs is a muscle system called the diaphragm which is attached to the lower ribs on the sides, bottom and to the back acting as an inhalation device. When you breathe in the muscle lowers displacing the stomach and intestines. When you breathe out the diaphragm helps to manage the muscles around the lungs (abdominal muscles) control how quickly the breath is exhaled. If you breathe out quickly, the diaphragm does nothing but when you breathe out very slowly the diaphragm resists the action of the abdominal muscles. A singer learns to use this muscle system to control the breath as it is being exhaled.
4A SIMPLE EXERCISEHold a finger close to your lips and breathe out slowly, the breath should be warm and moist and you should notice the action of the diaphragm as you exhale. This is the correct amount of breath used when singing normally. A singer does not need to 'force' or 'push' air through the vocal chords to produce a good strong sound, doing so creates too much pressure against the chords, preventing them from operating correctly which can cause damage to the voice. The stomach area should move naturally inward toward the end of the breath, the stomach should not be 'sucked in' as it prevents the diaphragm from working effectively. Instead the abdominal area should remain expanded to the level it was when you inhaled and allowed to gradually decrease naturally at the end of the breath.This where the 'control' comes into play - the singer expands the lungs by inhaling and 'controls' the amount of air expelled when singing a note by allowing the muscle support system to remain expanded - this doesn't mean the stomach is pushed out, rather that it is blown up like a balloon when the air goes in and the singer slows down the natural rate at which it goes down. In most people the breathing is shallow and only the top half of the lungs are used - breathing correctly uses the whole of the lungs so that more air is available, the singer then uses the natural action of the muscles (diaphragm and abdominals) surrounding the lungs to control the amount of air that is exhaled when singing a note.
5Good breath support during singing and speech requires, good posture, abdominal breathing and breathing during natural pauses. Breathing and correct support does not require great physical strength - although having toned abdominal muscles helps, even a child can learn how to breath and support their voice correctly. Remember....the diaphragm doesn't exhale for you - just helps to control the amount of air exhaled.
6Healthy Vocal FoldsVoice is produced by vibration of the vocal folds. The vocal folds are a pair of pliable shelves of tissue that stretch across the top of the trachea . They are enclosed within the thyroid cartilage, which is the hard structure that forms the mass in the neck known as the Adam’s apple. The vocal folds, together with the muscles and cartilages that support them, are known as the larynx . The larynx is a valve to protect the airway and lungs. Thus, it is positioned where the airway and the esophagus separate. The vocal folds open to allow breathing and close during swallowing to prevent food from entering into the lungs and during voicing.
7SoundIn order to produce voice, the lungs blow air against vocal folds that are closed, but more loosely than they would be during swallowing. Air pushes through the very small space between them and in so doing, makes the covering of the vocal folds, known as the mucosa, vibrate.This occurs by means of a phenomenon known as the venturi effect. As air passes through a constriction (or venturi), it speeds up and creates a suction in its wake. This suction draws in the pliable mucosa from each vocal fold, which meets in the middle only to be pushed aside by more air from the lungs. This cycle creates a repeating vibration. When this occurs regularly it is the sign of good voice production.
8LOUDNESSThe volume of sound is principally a result of the pressure of the air that is blown past the vocal folds. A more forceful expulsion of air from the lungs raises this pressure. Of course, the vocal folds must increase tension to maintain the near-closure that is needed for the venturi effect. If they do not, the increased air pressure will simply blow them aside and interrupt vibration. This tensing of the vocal folds usually happens instinctively, without conscious effort. People with vocal fold paralysis or other types of vocal fold weakness are often unable to do this, and frequently complain of an inability to increase the volume of their voice.
9Click the picture to see and hear how the vocal folds make sound! PitchClick the picture to see and hear how the vocal folds make sound!The frequency of the mucosal wave determines the pitch of the voice. In addition to opening and closing, the vocal folds are able to lengthen and shorten, and this forms an important means of increasing vocal fold tension. Just as tuning a guitar string will adjust its pitch, so will changing tension on the vocal folds. In the case of vocal folds, however, tension must be altered symmetrically. A person performs this activity rapidly and precisely, and many times over the course of a short conversation.
10TAKING CARE OF YOUR VOICE… Drink water: Keeping your body well hydrated by drinking plenty of water each day (6-8 glasses) is essential to maintaining a healthy voice. The vocal cords vibrate extremely fast even with the most simple sound production; remaining hydrated through water consumption optimizes the throat’s mucous production, aiding vocal cord lubrication. Avoid such beverages such as alcohol and caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea, soda). Do not smoke: It is well known that smoking leads to lung or throat cancer. Primary and secondhand smoke that is breathed in passes by the vocal cords causing significant irritation and swelling of the vocal cords. This will permanently change voice quality, nature, and capabilities.
11Do not abuse or misuse your voice: Your voice is not indestructible Do not abuse or misuse your voice: Your voice is not indestructible. In every day communication, be sure to avoid habitual yelling, screaming, or cheering. Try not to talk loudly in locations with significant background noise or noisy environments. Be aware of your background noise—when it becomes noisy, significant increases in voice volume occur naturally, causing harm to your voice. If you feel like your throat is dry, tired, or your voice is becoming hoarse, stop talking.
12Minimize throat clearing: Clearing your throat can be compared to slapping or slamming the vocal cords together. Consequently, excessive throat clearing can cause vocal cord injury and subsequent hoarseness. An alternative to voice clearing is taking a small sip of water or simply swallowing to clear the secretions from the throat and alleviate the need for throat clearing or coughing. The most common reason for excessive throat clearing is an unrecognized medical condition causing one to clear their throat too much. Moderate voice use when sick: Reduce your vocal demands as much as possible when your voice is hoarse due to excessive use or an upper respiratory infection (cold). Singers should exhibit extra caution if one’s speaking voice is hoarse because permanent and serious injury to the vocal cords are more likely when the vocal cords are swollen or irritated. It is important to “listen to what your voice is telling you.”
13HAPPY SINGING AND JUST KEEP GOIN’ ON! Your voice is an extremely valuable resource and is the most commonly used form of communication. Our voices are invaluable for both our social interaction as well as for most people’s occupation. Proper care and use of your voice will give you the best chance for having a healthy voice for your entire lifetime.HAPPY SINGING AND JUST KEEP GOIN’ ON!