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Newbie Question 2: Support really means holding back?

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TimR
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Doing searches on other topics has found enough on breath support to confuse me.

As a long time brass player with many decades on trombone and a bit on tuba and euphonium, I may be thinking about support differently than singers do.

Brass players mainly take a big relaxed breath with chest up and head and neck carefully aligned. We sneer at anyone who "supports from the diaphragm" because we know the diaphragm can only act to inhale. <g> Exhaling is done with the natural elasticity of the lungs/ribcage and if necessary some additional push from abdominal (but not diaphragm) muscles. We try not to exhale beyond the resting neutral point. Air pressure is strong enough to overpower the relatively weak lip muscles. There is much mythology about air speed, pressure, volume, and temperature particularly in the hard to access high tessitura. But a very steady controlled air stream is acknowledged to be critical.

I've measured pressure drop and found about 13 inches of water drop from mouth to ambient, with 12 inches occurring between mouth and end of mouthpiece and the last 1 inch in the 9 feet of trombone tubing. I assume most of that resistance is in the aperture between almost closed lips. Of course (fortunately) I have no way to measure pressure drop between lung and mouth.

I've been told by a number of choir directors to "support from the diaphragm." Since you can't feel your diaphragm, we either ignore it or tighten the abs. But reading through some old posts here, maybe while singing the diaphragm IS actively holding air back? And if so, any tension in abs or intercostals will have to be compensated with additional diaphragm activation? Obviously the air flow is metered and controlled somewhere in the flow path. With the mouth open, it's somewhere behind the lips.

I know my question isn't really clear, sorry. Better search terms or a link might be helpful. My approach to breathing while singing has been just to keep good posture, stay as relaxed as possible, and plan ahead for good places to fill the tank.

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When you say the air is metered in the flow path behind the lips you are correct, At the vocal folds thats what will help you regulate the flow. So singing with good technique,(fold closure, airflow, vowel formation) is all encompassing. Most of my brass playing friends are great singers as well, cause they use that flow of air correctly. You don't want to stop the flow, it will interrupt the legato line of singing.

You said "But a very steady controlled air stream is acknowledged to be critical." and you sir are correct:)

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as you've said you don't really support from the diaphragm. what people mean by that is slowing the diaphragm from coming up after inhaling, but its done indirectly. as for holding back the air, technically you are if you compare it to a sigh where all the air rushes out. but as said above you want constant airflow.

this is what i do though im still a beginner working on it, but i have gotten better at it. inhale by expanding the area between navel and sternum outwards, the back on opposite side outwards, and the lower ribs out to the side. then blow a constant stream of air while trying to hold out the expansion. then if i want to sing with more power or louder, i try harder to keep out the expansion. the important things are though that you want cord closure but you dont want to constrict and completely close off your throat to help hold back the air, and that the expansion around the waist constantly moves in.

at least thats my understanding so far.

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as you've said you don't really support from the diaphragm. what people mean by that is slowing the diaphragm from coming up after inhaling, but its done indirectly. .

It seems to me very misleading to say support from the diaphragm. How most people interpret that is to mean tighten the abdominal muscles. If they do that, air will want to rush out faster, unless you hold it back somewhere.

You probably don't want to hold it back with the throat! But I guess you can resist with the diaphragm. Since it's not under conscious control, the way to do that is try to inhale. While singing out.

Most people don't know where their lungs OR diaphragm is. I highly recommend the BodyWorld exhibit if it ever comes near you.

http://www.bodyworlds.com/en/exhibitions/current_exhibitions.html

Maybe I'll ask this question again on a brass forum.

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How most people interpret that is to mean tighten the abdominal muscles. If they do that, air will want to rush out faster

if your referring to the abdominal muscles right around the navel then yea i suppose it will unless your use excessive tension in the throat that you don't want. but if you tighten the area a bit above the navel (solar plexus) the air won't rush out faster. though i dont think you want to tighten as like flexing. but you certainly want that area engaged.

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when you support in a way i have come to use, (not everyone is a proponent of this) you are actively opposing the return of the diaphragm. when this ability to do so is developed, you gain a very strong control over exhalation.

you can back off the flow as well...but that's a whole other ball of wax.

depends a lot on what you have to sing.

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I have discussed this a bit further with some brass players. While not all agree, I think the mechanisms are the same, but the mental picture is different. Brass players think of supplying air, while singers think of retaining air. Both functions must occur simultaneously.

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The pressure needed to vibrate the lips in brass players are higher compared to the pressure needed to vibrate the vocal folds in singers. This means that brass players employ the force of the exhalation muscles a lot more than singers, hence the "supply of air" - they literally blow. Because singers don't need as much pressure and they also risk forcing (too much pressure and flow) they employ a lot more of the checking action (braking) supplied by the inhalation mechanism - hence "holding back".

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The pressure needed to vibrate the lips in brass players are higher compared to the pressure needed to vibrate the vocal folds in singers. This means that brass players employ the force of the exhalation muscles a lot more than singers, hence the "supply of air" - they literally blow. Because singers don't need as much pressure and they also risk forcing (too much pressure and flow) they employ a lot more of the checking action (braking) supplied by the inhalation mechanism - hence "holding back".

The pressure needed to vibrate the lips in "lip trills" is much more than what is actually required for the vocal cords - yet singers still do them :)

How does one effectively train the "break pedal" lol!

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doesn't that include the solar plexus too? cause if i let out a bunch of air as in a sigh then half way through engage that area the breath slows and i can sustain a note.

i believe the solar plexus/epigastrum expansion is a result of the diaphragm contracting

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after looking up on google its during normal breathing it wont be engaged during exhaling, but it will stay somewhat contracted when the breath is slowed. but i don't think you can directly contract the diaphragm, only indirectly by engaging the muscles surrounding it which then engages the diaphragm. but i suppose the details isn't too important.

anyways, so it correct to say if you contract the solar plexus the air will rush out whereas trying to hold out the expansion of the lower ribs(of contraction of them?) is the brakes, and support would be some sort of balance between contraction of solar plexus and engaging of the lower ribs?

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after looking up on google its during normal breathing it wont be engaged during exhaling, but it will stay somewhat contracted when the breath is slowed. but i don't think you can directly contract the diaphragm, only indirectly by engaging the muscles surrounding it which then engages the diaphragm. but i suppose the details isn't too important.

anyways, so it correct to say if you contract the solar plexus the air will rush out whereas trying to hold out the expansion of the lower ribs(of contraction of them?) is the brakes, and support would be some sort of balance between contraction of solar plexus and engaging of the lower ribs?

In normal expiration it's simply the relaxation of the muscles used for inspiration (diapraghm and external intercostals).

It's not correct to say contraction of the solar plexus because it's not a muscle. Internal and innermost intercostals are what contract the rib cage, then you have abdominals and other muscles working in forced expiration.

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That is why I would rather warm with the "v" sound than lip trills. Sink or swim. You have to meter your air from the start and it is closer to what you need for singing. In my amateur opinion, the back pressure from the labial stoppage of lip trills is almost a crutch.

But others swear that it works for them and it probably does. Many successful and enduring singers have used lip trills for warm-up. So, my way is not right for everyone but it seems to work for me.

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My thinking on breath support is "motion, when necessary, in the abs." That means, sometimes a motion is necessary, sometimes not so much. And it should be in the abdomen area of the body, which is short hand for all muscles below the ribs. Point being, if your breathing mechanism operates from below, the chest remains expanded and "noble" without you forcing it to do so. A noble chest is a side effect of good breath management, not the cause of it. I am not going to name all the muscles and act like I can control each one.

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Point being, if your breathing mechanism operates from below, the chest remains expanded and "noble" without you forcing it to do so. A noble chest is a side effect of good breath management, not the cause of it. I am not going to name all the muscles and act like I can control each one.

I'm not sure the chest remains noble without effort.

(side comment Brass player's exercise for noble chest: stand erect, hands at sides, head in neutral position. Rotate hands until palms face forwards. Move arms back slightly. Chest will rise into correct position.)

When the lungs are filled, the natural elasticity of the rib cage will expel air. The intercostals and associated muscles are being stretched to fill the lungs. I think that if not resisted, the chest must contract as the lungs empty. It may not be obvious that we are actively keeping that chest up but I think we are.

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