Air and Breath Control
Air is crucial to voice production. It is the flow of air through the various constrictions in the vocal tract that generates sound, and air is also the medium which transmits that sound to our ears. The ability to skillfully control the pressure and flow of air is a large part of successful voice use; new singing students often spend several lessons on proper breath control before doing any serious work on the voice itself.
With extended training, vocalists can improve their lung capacity, learn to take a larger breath while taking less time to do it, learn to take a ‘silent’ breath, and keep a steady airflow going to their vocal folds without generating any excess tension in the upper body or neck area.
Each of these skills is essential to good singing, and those who use their voices for speaking – actors, lawyers, and sales people, for example – can also benefit from improved breath control. The breath control skills used for performers’ voices may also be used with persons with voice disorders to facilitate healing of tissue or overcoming a disorder.
The airflow necessary for singing or speaking is generated by pressure exerted on our lungs by the diaphragm and abdominal muscles.
The total volume of air that an average adult can hold in his/her lungs is around 6-7 liters. However, only part of this air can actually be used; around 2 liters of that is always present in the lungs, and is called residual volume. This air can’t be expelled unless the lungs collapse. The remaining volume of 4-5 liters, the tidal volume, is usable for respiration or voice use. However, we rarely use all of this capacity
Muscle Use in Breathing
The cycle of breathing can be divided into four discrete phases of muscular effort:
- Inspiration: the abdominal muscles and internal intercostals (rib muscles) must relax, and the external intercostals contract to fully expand the rib cage; the diaphragm contracts and descends, which also enlarges the lung space. Expiration, first phase: since the rib cage has been expanded more than it is at rest, it will tend to ‘relax’ back to its rest position if no muscular effort is keeping it expanded; this is called elastic recoil. The pressure from recoil is all that is needed to start the airflow; in fact, if an especially deep breath was taken, the pressure from the recoil will be greater than desired, and the air pressure will need to be restrained somewhat by continued contraction of the diaphragm. Expiration, second phase: The last of the elastic recoil is used up in this phase, aided by contraction of the internal intercostals. These pressures shrink the rib cage, adding to the lung pressure.
- Expiration, third phase: The abdominal muscles are used to provide the last bit of lung pressure possible.
so.. now you know a little more about how to use your breath and how it works for you..
Enjoy your singing and voice activities…