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Control of breath underpins all speaking and singing. Air is taken into the lungs either through the mouth or nose as we breathe in, and passes out of the body as we breathe out. On its way out, it passes through the larynx and is used to power the voice. The control of airflow must be the job of the breath support system and, when properly supported, the voice will emerge freely and under control.

The following are the most important parts of the anatomy with regard to the use of breath in singing:

  • the lungs, which hold the air when it is inhaled
  • the diaphragm, which controls the inhalation of the air
  • the abdominal muscles, which control the exhalation of the air
  • related muscle groups in the back and pelvic floor, which support the abdominal muscles


The Lungs

These are large sacs lying within the rib cage, above the diaphragm. Their main purpose is to provide the body with oxygen which they extract from the inhaled air. The air left over is then exhaled, and it is from this that we can make sound. Lungs cannot inflate or deflate by themselves because they have no muscles of their own. They inflate and deflate due to the action of the diaphragm.

The Diaphragm

The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle attached to the lower edges of the rib cage and to the spine at the back. It lies deep inside the body under the rib cage. You can feel the effect of it moving when you touch the upper abdominal muscles, but you are not touching the diaphragm itself. When relaxed, the diaphragm lies in a dome shape underneath the deflated lungs. When it contracts, it moves downwards towards the abdomen and the lungs fill with air.

Diaphragmatic breathing is often considered to be a support mechanism in singing. However, we use the diaphragm to breathe in. When we sing, we are breathing out! The diaphragm is relaxing as we breathe out (exhale), so it is losing energy and can’t be depended upon to support the voice. Breath support for singing in fact comes from the muscles which control exhalation, the outward flow of breath. These other muscle groups support the breath, giving power to the voice – and are particularly important for long phrases, whether spoken or sung.

When the lungs are full, the diaphragm will have contracted and moved downwards. This action creates the inhalation of air and the lungs inflate.

When there is little breath in the lungs, the diaphragm is relaxed and sits high in the rib cage.

Locking or holding the diaphragm interferes with and impedes the free flow of air. The diaphragm can become locked if the rib cage is constantly being held in a rigid, high position. This is a common problem, since some people mistakenly believe that this ‘military’ posture is good for singing. But flexibility is the key to success in singing, and it stems from well-aligned posture.

Ross Campbell
Professor of Singing, Royal Academy of Music, London
Director & Head of Singing, Musical Theatre Ireland, MTI
Award winning Author for ABRSM Songbooks 1 - 5
1-to-1 Vocal Training & Consultations available
www.rosscampbell.biz
www.musicaltheatreireland.ie

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dailysingingtipsukRoss Campbell is the founder behind Daily Singing Tips. Ross is an award winning graduate of the Royal College of Music in London and has extensive experience and .....

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