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Do higher notes require more breath support?

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neugie92
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More breath support, less breathiness. That's where it gets a bit confusing.

seth, unless you were shooting for a stylistic effect, you really don't want to sing anything with breathiness. up high, you don't want breathiness or excessive pressure. but what you do need is connected folds and very little air going through those folds.

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Try this... put a hand in front of your mouth and sing, first, a very airy high note. Notice how weak and difficult the note is. Now sing a powerful high note, and if you're doing it right, you will notice the air is gone. That's because in airy singing, the vocal cords are far apart and touching just at the edges, allowing excess air to escape, while in powerful singing they are close together and touching along most of their length, with very little air being wasted.

Now imagine what would happen if you were singing both airy and powerful. Your vocal cords would be parting, and then closing, hundreds of times per second, creating a large amount of friction as your vocal cords slam together. Then you either: a) involve the neck muscles to force your vocal cords together, or B) let them separate and break into falsetto.

That's where support comes in. I've left the "breath" off since it's rather misleading... in reality you aren't supporting the breath at all, but hindering it by reducing the amount of air your vocal cords need to manage. When the unwanted air is gone, you can relax the unwanted neck muscles, giving your cords the required space to stretch for higher notes. Of course you still need to train those higher notes, but support (combined with twang) will make accessing them far easier.

The process of support is hard to grasp and harder to master, but I'll try explaining it (bare with me). Basically, the diaphragm is the center of your breathing. When you inhale, it stretches down and outwards, creating a bulge at the solar plexus (just above the belly button). When you exhale, it relaxes back into its resting position. Support is all about keeping the diaphragm in this stretched, "inhale" position, and maintaining the bulge at the solar plexus. If the bulge disappears, the diaphragm has relaxed and there is no more support.

This is a lot easier said than done, as the diaphragm cannot be controlled directly: it must be manipulated by keeping your lower ribs flexed, preventing the diaphragm from returning to its relaxed position. What's more, the longer you hold it into position, and the more air you are resisting, the harder your diaphragm will fight to relax. This is when you involve the abdominal and intercostal muscles... specifically the abs at the front, the lumbar region (parallel to the abs, but on your back), and the latissmus dorsi ("back wings", just under your shoulder blades). As you pull in the abs and lumbar region, and tighten the back wings, the lower ribs will be "locked in" for as long as these motions occur. The key is to simply keep these motions going... if they stop, the rib cage, and thereby the diaphragm, will be allowed to relax, and there will be no more support.

So the term "support" actually means supporting the rib cage in its fight to keep the diaphragm under control. I guess "rib cage support" didn't have the same ring to it. Anyway, support is hard physical work, and you'll quickly realise you cannot do it for an entire song. That's why you save support for when you need it (the end of long phrases, difficult notes, difficult passages). The most important thing is to practice, and learn exactly when you need to engage support... if the bulge has disappeared then the support is gone. Start the lyric over, and engage support just before that point, to make sure the bulge stays in place.

In short:

The lower rib cage must stay expanded at all times. If it is not, "support" it.

I hope none of this is wrong. :) If it is, please correct me.

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Spectrum, that description really hit the mark with me. In a wierd moment of synchronicity it somehow eloquently sums up a bunch of research I've been doin of late into breathing 'as seen by various teachers' from the classic to the modern. Good post pal :)

Few questions tho- How obvious is the 'lean' into strong support ? When I begin to half-consciously push down and back (a mental rather than physical metaphor if ya see what I mean), I often find myself overextending and runnin outta power. Is this common when grappling with support for the first time ? I must admit I love the feeling of umm 'throat release' that accompanies the sensation of focussed breath support, perhaps I'm using it too much if such a thing is possible.

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Try this... put a hand in front of your mouth and sing, first, a very airy high note. Notice how weak and difficult the note is. Now sing a powerful high note, and if you're doing it right, you will notice the air is gone. That's because in airy singing, the vocal cords are far apart and touching just at the edges, allowing excess air to escape, while in powerful singing they are close together and touching along most of their length, with very little air being wasted.

Now imagine what would happen if you were singing both airy and powerful. Your vocal cords would be parting, and then closing, hundreds of times per second, creating a large amount of friction as your vocal cords slam together. Then you either: a) involve the neck muscles to force your vocal cords together, or B) let them separate and break into falsetto.

That's where support comes in. I've left the "breath" off since it's rather misleading... in reality you aren't supporting the breath at all, but hindering it by reducing the amount of air your vocal cords need to manage. When the unwanted air is gone, you can relax the unwanted neck muscles, giving your cords the required space to stretch for higher notes. Of course you still need to train those higher notes, but support (combined with twang) will make accessing them far easier.

The process of support is hard to grasp and harder to master, but I'll try explaining it (bare with me). Basically, the diaphragm is the center of your breathing. When you inhale, it stretches down and outwards, creating a bulge at the solar plexus (just above the belly button). When you exhale, it relaxes back into its resting position. Support is all about keeping the diaphragm in this stretched, "inhale" position, and maintaining the bulge at the solar plexus. If the bulge disappears, the diaphragm has relaxed and there is no more support.

This is a lot easier said than done, as the diaphragm cannot be controlled directly: it must be manipulated by keeping your lower ribs flexed, preventing the diaphragm from returning to its relaxed position. What's more, the longer you hold it into position, and the more air you are resisting, the harder your diaphragm will fight to relax. This is when you involve the abdominal and intercostal muscles... specifically the abs at the front, the lumbar region (parallel to the abs, but on your back), and the latissmus dorsi ("back wings", just under your shoulder blades). As you pull in the abs and lumbar region, and tighten the back wings, the lower ribs will be "locked in" for as long as these motions occur. The key is to simply keep these motions going... if they stop, the rib cage, and thereby the diaphragm, will be allowed to relax, and there will be no more support.

So the term "support" actually means supporting the rib cage in its fight to keep the diaphragm under control. I guess "rib cage support" didn't have the same ring to it. Anyway, support is hard physical work, and you'll quickly realise you cannot do it for an entire song. That's why you save support for when you need it (the end of long phrases, difficult notes, difficult passages). The most important thing is to practice, and learn exactly when you need to engage support... if the bulge has disappeared then the support is gone. Start the lyric over, and engage support just before that point, to make sure the bulge stays in place.

In short:

The lower rib cage must stay expanded at all times. If it is not, "support" it.

I hope none of this is wrong. :) If it is, please correct me.

I hope this isnt a dumb question but im not exactly sure what expanding the rib cage means. I mean when i breathe my stomach fills up (like im pretenidng to be pregnant) is that waht your getting at. the rib cage seems like bones to me and not sure exactly how to expand them.

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I hope this isnt a dumb question but im not exactly sure what expanding the rib cage means. I mean when i breathe my stomach fills up (like im pretenidng to be pregnant) is that waht your getting at. the rib cage seems like bones to me and not sure exactly how to expand them.

The ribcage is very sturdy but the ribs do move. The intercostal muscles are located between the ribs and help expand the chest cavity during breathing. Furthermore, the lowest two pairs of the ribcage are called the "floating ribs" because they attach only to the vertebrae of the spine and do not attach to the sternum at the front; this means they can move a lot more than the other ribs. Generally speaking, forcing this expansion of the ribcage is frowned upon because it introduces unnecessary tension, especially in the neck. However, it is quite common for a singer to be instructed to expand the lower ribs to help control the diaphragm and all that good stuff like Spectrum said.

Try this. Place your hands on your lower ribs and squeeze them quite tightly (don't hurt yourself) and then breath in. You'll notice that they do indeed expand out to the sides, and if not then they should be. One exercise is to do this, and then sing a scale or a lyric while trying to keep that outward feeling. As always, don't force anything and let it come with practice :)

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The ribcage is very sturdy but the ribs do move. The intercostal muscles are located between the ribs and help expand the chest cavity during breathing. Furthermore, the lowest two pairs of the ribcage are called the "floating ribs" because they attach only to the vertebrae of the spine and do not attach to the sternum at the front; this means they can move a lot more than the other ribs. Generally speaking, forcing this expansion of the ribcage is frowned upon because it introduces unnecessary tension, especially in the neck. However, it is quite common for a singer to be instructed to expand the lower ribs to help control the diaphragm and all that good stuff like Spectrum said.

Try this. Place your hands on your lower ribs and squeeze them quite tightly (don't hurt yourself) and then breath in. You'll notice that they do indeed expand out to the sides, and if not then they should be. One exercise is to do this, and then sing a scale or a lyric while trying to keep that outward feeling. As always, don't force anything and let it come with practice :)

so consciously focus on keeping your ribs expanded to the sides and your "stomach" out like your pregnant when you are singing a phrase?

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so consciously focus on keeping your ribs expanded to the sides and your "stomach" out like your pregnant when you are singing a phrase?

Basically yes. Keep in mind that you shouldn't need to "force" your stomach outwards. For me, it's more important to feel that expansion to the sides and even to the back. Some people hear that you should breathe into your stomach and so they actually force the stomach out. I think this is at least harmful for the voice, and most probably not good for the body either :D

I found this guy's approach to breathing to be quite helpful:

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Mr. Bounce is right, "belly breathing" isn't good for the voice because you may hyper extend your supporting muscles and then cause strain to the vocal folds when you sing.

My question for Spectrum is, is the breath support you are explaining called Appoggio? And if so, to keep the rib cage expanded it's not just standing up straight right? Like in a military man stance? I.e. shoulders back rib cage expanded etc. Or to keep the ribcage expanded do you have to breathe into the ribs first and then breathe into the epigastric area and then the lumbar and the back while the ribs are still expanded? My teacher told me that the ribs should never collapse while you are singing but that I should try to keep them expanded while I support with my upper abdominal area/lumbar/and back.

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sorry im not very aware of human physiology thats why im a guitar player lol. when you say ribs expanded do you mean like the sides of your abdomen like in your oblique area bc when i take a breath i defintley feel that area expand outwards

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