Sustainable Sound (Part 2)

Sustainable Sound (Part 2)

Some “notes” on endurance through breath support

hold that note

          Breath support: a topic that is possibly even more inadequately explained than the action of the diaphragm for singers.

          We have already spoken of the importance of core stability in sustaining a note or phrase in Sustainable Sound Part 1. But understanding how our body achieves the sustained pressure required for us to phonate (make sound) can be a useful tool (and interesting if you’re a nerd like me).


          So if we assume that our core is stable from the back and the front, our air becomes stabilized by the coordination of our diaphragm and abdominal muscles. We know that our diaphragm contracts down to create more room for the lungs to expand above it during inspiration. By relaxing the diaphragm we decrease this space for the lungs and expiration results (along with all the natural expiratory forces we have spoken about). That’s if we have no desire to control our expiration. If we want to control our expiration, we can’t just let all the compressive forces win the battle to expel our air. We have to use muscles that can not only change our expiration rate, but work against the compressive forces.


          Muscles that change our expiration rate largely can be found in the abdominal region. External and internal oblique muscles as well as transversus abdominis muscles are key players as well as rectus abdominis. By acting on the abdominal cavity below the diaphragm and the lungs, they can increase or sustain pressure from below to allow a more steady release of air during expiration. Furthermore, the diaphragm can partially contract to resist the pressure of the abdomen and control the expiration. Think about this: if the diaphragm just simply relaxed, the lungs would be at the mercy of the abdominal forces and the force of expiration would be harder to control. By pushing back against the pressure that is generated in the abdominal cavity by the abdominal muscles, the diaphragm can control how much of this pressure is experienced by the lungs, thus better controlling expiration.


          You will notice most of the talk for “breath support” has been from below the lungs rather than discussing the ribcage or cavity that contains the lungs. This does not mean however that core stability isn’t a part of breath support. Part of supporting the breath comes from that “checking” action of the inspiratory muscles in coordination with a controlled expiration. So you see, breath support is not as simple as “support from your diaphragm;” it involves many muscles working in conjunction to create the ability to sustain and support phonation.

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