From: Question 1. Why is singing like laughter?

If you say ‘hah’ loudly and clearly using your normal speaking voice and without thinking about it, what happens in a fraction of a second is something like this: the air starts moving, the diaphragm reacts and the sound is created. Thus you are not thinking about the sound that you want to make, and even less about which muscles you need to use to make the effort. You just say ‘hah’ and the sound is there.

This is what singing from the flow of breath is all about. Learning to rely on your body to know what it has to do and to dare to surrender the initiative.

The breath sets the process in motion and you follow. This does not mean that you do not have to do anything to sing, or that the quality of the sound does not matter. But it does mean that you are confident that the sound will be its best if you follow this process.

Exercise 2, from Question 1

Sing 5 low notes on an ascending scale on the vowel ‘oo’ (like in the  word ‘who’), making each tone separate, and taking a new breath before each new note. Start each one with a little bit of air, so you start with five ‘hoo’s. Sing with energy, but without forcing or pushing anything, and accept the sound (and the amount of sound) whatever way it comes. Put your hands on your waist just below your ribs, and check whether your hands move out and back in with each note. If this is happening, then you have the knack of this natural phenomenon – the exhalation is beginning to flow, and the dome-shaped diaphragm muscle is reacting by flattening out. When it flattens out, its surface area increases – you can feel this when your hands move out. The diaphragm is descending. The moment when your hands move outwards is the moment when the exhalation meets the descending diaphragm – this is where a singing sound comes from.

From: Question 9. What is good use of breath support?

Breath support was understood for a long time as using direct muscle power, both the abdominal muscles and the diaphragm muscle, constantly as you sing. But trouble starts when you try to keep it

low by consciously pushing your diaphragm muscle down or your belly out. That fixes your diaphragm in one position, causing pressure on the area around your throat, and stalling the generous flow of breath.

It is good to become aware of the low abdominal muscles involved in the process of breath support. When the diaphragm is kept low in singing, they do their job and get the upwards energy going in order to let the air flow. But once the exhalation has started, and contact has been made with the low diaphragm, the trick is to leave it alone and allow the abdominal muscles to do the work themselves. In other words, interfering and fanatically tensing your abdominal muscles will backfire. It produces too much tension, the diaphragm can no longer stay low properly and your breath will not last.

From: Question 25. Does the breath have the last word?

If you watch someone learning a dance, you will see that initially they need their full attention to learn the various steps (and sometimes it can be a real slog). But at a certain point they have to let this all go to really dance. If you listen to a violinist, or watch a top athlete, it is always this last bit of litheness, the ease, the release, that makes something look or sound beautiful. Then it also looks simple.

The same is true of singing. The ultimate connection is in releasing: once you dare to release the breath, the link connecting all the other elements of singing, then singing just happens.

So the breath does have the last word, literally and figuratively.

Hetty Gehring
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