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Many teachers, including myself, prefer to call how a singer uses the lower body to regulate airflow based on his or her immediate vocal demands ' breath management ', which suggests a deliberate and successful coordination or skillful directing of attention and energy toward the work of breathing.

Receiving Performance Arts: Music Cognition and Audience Studies

There are two important aspects of breath management: 1 regulating the amount of air that is pushed past the vocal folds, including the pace at which the air is allowed out of the lungs, and 2 ensuring that the stream of air is steady. As I will explain below, in the section entitled Appoggio, the most efficient way of supporting the tone or managing the breath is by allowing the diaphragm to rise slowly, using the muscles of inhalation, so that a mininal and steady stream of air can be allowed past the vibrating folds.

Support works by contracting the abdominal muscles, creating higher pressure in the abdomen and thorax, allowing the diaphragm's relaxation and upward rise to be more carefully controlled.

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There is less control in relaxing a muscle than there is in contracting it, so support gives performers a means of controlling their sound, or phonation. Today, there are two main schools of teaching about the breath, although there are many different approaches: 1 'supporting' the breath by compressing the abdomen during phonation i. The extent to which action of the ribs is encouraged varies within most techniques, although most teachers, including myself, recommend that the upper torso, especially the shoulder girdle, be as relaxed as possible even during the most extreme vocal demands.

Ultimately, a singer wants access to all the "breath resources" available without jeopardizing the ability to freely produce sound, that is without unnecessary tension. Probably the most commonly used term in vocal pedagogy and amateur singing circles is ' breathing from the diaphragm '.

The implication is that the diaphragm itself controls airflow and supports the tone of the singing voice, and the assumption is that we can learn to actively control the diaphragm's movements. Take note, however, that during singing, the diaphragm is not consciously engaged as a means for pulling in new breath, nor is it used to drive air upward for the expulsion of breath.

Also, the diaphragm itself is actually passive during singing, which occurs during the exhalation phase of breathing, and we do not exert active control over its movements. In breath management for singing, we learn to actively control the muscles that interact with the diaphragm and that support its actions. These anatomical truths make the term 'diaphragmatic breathing' a little bit misleading, or at the very least, a misnomer.

The expression may allow too much emphasis to be placed on the diaphragm, an organ that we cannot consciously control, when it is really the muscles of the torso that we must develop and learn to control during singing. However, if we were to use the term ' muscular breathing ' instead, we would probably find many singers attempting to push their voices out of their bodies with too much muscular force, as is taught and practiced in ' belly breathing '. Also, the diaphragm is involved in all breathing, whether correct, efficient and effectively regulated or not, again making use of the expression 'diaphragmatic breathing' almost superfluous.

For these reasons, singers and teachers might be better served by using the terms 'breath management' or 'appoggio', which is a technique whereby singers slow the rise of the diaphragm by actively controlling the back and abdominal muscles that act upon it , instead. In any case, the diaphragm, in cooperation with the intercostals back and abdominal muscles, is generally considered to be the chief organ of breathing. The movement of the diaphragm sets off a chain of reactions that occur in the lungs, larynx and mouth or nose.

Again, it is really the muscles that support the diaphragm's work - the intercostals being involved primarily in inhalation and the abdominal muscles in exhalation - that are the focus of a singer's training in effective breath management. Therefore, 'diaphragmatic breathing', although a vague term, should not be completely dismissed. In most cases when someone is using the expression 'breathe from the diaphragm', it seems to be understood that expansion of the area just beneath the diaphragm and using the abdominal muscles is what is necessary in order to support the singing voice.

Many people tend to think of diaphragmatic breathing as something unique to singing; as a special skill that must be taught to them, rather than the body's natural way of working.

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However, the fact of the matter is that we are born knowing how to breathe properly, and no one has to teach us how to do it when we come out of the womb. The tummies of sleeping babies rise and fall effortlessly, without any tension or movement in their chests and shoulders. The parts of their bodies that support their breathing work in effortless coordination and synchronicity. Even the breathing of adults is correct when they are relaxed or asleep and not actively trying to control it. The body naturally knows what to do and how to do it, even when our need for oxygen is greater due to increased physical activity or in response to boosts of adrenaline as when we are frightened.

The fact that 'diaphragmatic breathing' is both natural and ideal is why so much emphasis is placed on 'breathing from the diaphragm' while singing.

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Breathing in this natural way - or at least using this natural mechanism as a starting point then learning to enhance it for the extended demands of singing - enables us to regulate our airflow, and is correct whether we are singing, exercising, speaking or watching television. Proper breathing for singing is not just a trick or a specialized skill that singers must learn. It is a product of the natural functioning of the human body.

In other words, it is how our bodies have been designed to take in and expel air. In breathing for singing, the mechanism of breathing is not an abberation from that of the breathing technique used by the body during other acitivities. It is also important to note that, in voice pedagogy, 'breathing from the diaphragm' and ' breathing from the belly ' are not viewed as being synonymous. The breath support technique that is widely referred to as 'diaphragmatic breathing', when correctly executed , should not be confused with 'belly breathing'.

Unlike 'belly breathing', 'breathing from the diaphragm' involves no pushing or forceful expulsion of air, and is the natural, correct, safe, gentle, internationally accepted method of supporting the singing tone. In diaphragmatic breathing, the tone rides on a minimal and steady stream of air, which brings stability and consistency to the tone.

The reason why diaphragmatic breathing is sometimes, though inaccurately, called 'breathing from the belly' is because the bulk of the movement that is seen while someone is breathing naturally occurs in the abdominal and lower rib area. When the diaphragm moves downward, it creates a little less room in the abdomen for the internal organs, which forces them to move outwards a little and the belly to distend or 'swell'.

The Physiology of Breathing

This action is aided by the muscles of inhalation. This movement is so noticeable because of the absence of ribs in this area, which would otherwise hold the belly in like a girdle of bone, restricting the diaphragm's movement. Allowing the movement of our bodies during breathing to be focused in the soft, fleshy area below the diaphragm encourages the more efficient and complete filling of the lungs and allows for a good connection to be made between the diaphragm and the 'support muscles'.

Again, the actual decent of the diaphragm is minimal - two inches or less - and this abdominal distension need not be exaggerated. Understand, though, that the belly itself doesn't actually breathe, as the lungs are located above the belly and the diaphragm. It merely moves in response to the diaphragm's downward and upward movements and to the expansion and contraction of the support muscles.

There is one particular self-professed 'vocal release method' expert who criticizes the diaphragmatic breathing technique, telling those who read his website and purchase his singing course that diaphragmatic breathing was created by a failed opera singer who later became a teacher and passed on his "dangerous" breathing technique to others. He explains that this erroneous teaching has infiltrated the entire classical singing world, and has caused a great deal of damage to singers, utterly destroying their vocal health and careers.

Unfortunately, this vocal coach has had some bad teachers of his own in the past - he openly writes about his experiences with unsuccessful vocal training on his website - and was never given any solid instruction in what diaphragmatic breathing really is, nor what appoggio technique is.

He, like many others, has confused it with pushing or 'belly breathing', which involves excessive muscular involvement deep and too low in the body during the exhalation phase of breathing. This pushing technique forces too much air pressure to blow past the vocal folds at once, which can indeed injure the vocal instrument. While useful for some vocal tasks, and always correct and safe, this 'natural' breathing is somewhat limiting when it comes to more demanding singing tasks.


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Although it may suffice for short phrases that allow for frequent breath renewals between them, as is common in contemporary genres and styles of music , it is not necessarily adequate for more intense vocal tasks, as in the longer phrases or passages, sustained notes, or high lying tessituras that are more common in classical vocal literature. Without violating the same natural functioning of the body's breathing mechanism, elite singers must learn to enhance their breath management techniques beyond 'diaphragmatic breathing' in order to skillfully execute challenging vocal lines.

This is why appoggio was developed, and why so many elite singers use it today to help support their breath. Oftentimes, the terms 'diaphragmatic breathing' and 'breathing from the belly' are used interchangeably by those who are unfamiliar with singing pedagogy terms or who use them very loosely. However, diaphragmatic breathing should not be confused with the dangerous technique known as ' belly breathing ', in which singers expand all areas of the torso, right down to the pelvis, and then use excessive muscular force as they exahale.

This faulty technique may be reinforced by teachers who instruct their students to expand their entire abdominal area through to the hypogastric pelvic and lower abdominal region rather than just the epigastric area - the area between the bottom of the sternum and the navel and extending outward to the lower part of the ribs on each side. Some misguided and ill-informed teachers will have their students place their hands below their navel when practicing their breathing exercises or singing.

Musicians Breath: The Role of Breathing in Human Expression

The incorrect assumption is often made that greater expansion of the lower torso means a lower diaphragm, which creates more room in the lungs and thus more capacity for air. Then, the student is led to believe that pushing upward and inward with the abdominal muscles upon exhalation i. Of course, these assumptions are not based on either logic or scientific fact.

The diaphragm is not located in the umbilical and hypogastric regions of the body, and it is the area above, not below, the navel that should be seen to expand and contract during inhalation and exhalation. Also forcing air out rapidly more often than not leads to pressed or breathy tones, which are lacking in resonance balance, are limited in volume and dynamic variation, are potentially damaging to the vocal folds, and do not regulate the airflow efficiently. This tendency of many singers to breathe 'too low' into their abdomens, unnecessarily expanding the entire area below the ribs is illogical.

That's entirely different than the circular breath, which feeds air to the cheek breathing, a hopelessly superficial and emotionally disconnected breathing style, regardless of whether the fuel for it comes in big inhales or in quickie breaths. But even if he does have such a rep, I wouldn't count on it being deserved. In other words, circular breathing may attract a "fast food" crowd of students that don't want to do what it would take both mechanically and characterologically to truly expand the breath.

And more importantly, there may be some confusion over priorities I suspect the former, that "long exhale" is a side-effect not a cause of great and alive exhaling The lack of a feeling of security, when aiming for a continuous flow of sound, can easily lead you to breathe very quickly and with shallow breaths.

Thus you hyperventilate and become dizzy. There have been instances where people have fainted.

Breathing in Music: Measuring and Marking Time

I read of an extreme instance where someone once died of hyperventilating when circular breathing! Another disadvantage of circular breathing is that it enables you to play continuously, with no phrase ending or spaces in your music. The music has no full stops or commas. It has no punctuation a place to breathe, hence commas are marked on sheets of lyrics. Music needs these breaks. Why spend hours perfecting a skill which enables you to spoil the music?

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What is Circular Breathing?