Many singers know that the chest and shoulders should not move up and down for breathing. Often I have asked students who are new to me, but who are not beginners, “what happens with breath during the act of singing?” They often have a good idea of how to inhale, but for exhalation, i.e. the singing portion of the breath cycle, they cannot give a precise answer. In this blogpost and video I will build upon the last blogpost of the “appoggio” method of breathing, and apply it to making vocal sound in singing or projected speech.
To sum up the use of breath while singing with a visual image, I would say something like “paint the phrase with the movement of the abdominal muscles.” If we want short notes, we use short puffs of air caused by short (abdominal) muscle contractions. Generally, however, we want long, legato phrases, requiring a long slow contraction of the abdominals. Here is a video demonstration of a few types of vocal tasks.
Summary: the appoggio breath is based on using two sets of muscles to breathe: abdominal muscle action and intercostal/diaphragmatic resistance. The ribs are slightly raised throughout the breath cycle, contracting the diaphragm, especially while exhaling; the abdominal muscles relax to inhale and contract to exhale. The diaphragm (which you do not feel) acts as a braking force on the action of the abdominals, so that exhalation can continue for long phrases. This may seem simple, but it is not easy to control one set of muscles while relaxing another! It takes a lot of practice to alter our breath patterns, which have been practiced (albeit unconsciously) since birth.
-Start by practicing easy vocalises with short phrases, moderate range, and moderate dynamics.
-Take time to be fully aware of the muscle actions as they relate to the sound. There should be 100% correspondence of the abdominal muscle contraction to the sound.
-Use a mirror and/or your hands on your body to observe and feel the movements you make.
-Remember that these are all moderate movements and they may seem like they are “not enough.” Through the proper coordination, it works without Herculean effort!
-Take a break when your concentration wanes.
-Many repetitions over time are needed to make a physical habit. Use a portion of each practice time or rehearsal to give your attention to the breath/sound connection.