Friday, February 16, 2007

Breathing and Support 2

As promised, here is my rap on breathing. If you think you know anything or If you have had lessons, step into the way-back machine and degauss your brain. Remember rule number two, It's always simpler than it seems. A good way to maintain a receptive state of mind is to assume that everything I have to say is the truth. The information can be filtered or rejected based on your own criteria at a later time.

Let's start with that misunderstood bugger, the diaphragm. If you could imagine your torso to be a bi-level apartment building, tenant A lives upstairs and tenant B lives downstairs. Your lungs are tenant A and your stomach is tenant B. The diaphragm is the structure that serves as A's floor and B's ceiling. I would define a diaphragm as a membrane that serves to separate or divide two areas. In the case of your torso, the chest cavity is separated from the abdominal cavity by the diaphragm.

Touch your diaphragm...move it, feel it, tell it to do something...breathe into it. You can't, can you. Your diaphragm responds to the needs of your body on an involuntary basis. That's why a statement like, "Breathe into/from your diaphragm" is an absurdity. If a teacher ever says those words to you, ask for an explanation. You'll very likely get something similar to an auto mechanic explaining how a faulty muffler has worn out your tires...double-talk!

However, you can and must have control over the actions of your diaphragm if you want to sing. So let's use another analogy to describe the mechanics of breathing. Think of a syringe. A syringe has an opening through which things can go in or out of the reservoir. The diaphragm of the syringe is inside, you can't touch it. in order to draw something into or push something out of the syringe, the diaphragm is controlled by pushing in or pulling out the plunger.

Let's define the parts of our syringe in terms of our body parts:

Syringe opening = mouth and nose

Syringe reservoir = lungs

Syringe diaphragm = your diaphragm

Syringe plunger = the Abdominal Muscles

AHA!! This is the key to the whole shootin' match. You cannot control the diaphragm directly, but you can control the actions of your diaphragm by training and controlling the muscles of the abdomen. In order to accomplish this, you must first pinpoint the proper muscle group and learn to exercise that group without introducing tension or strain to any other area of the instrument otherwise known as your body. The following exercise will seem very simple but try it. It won't take much time or thought, and it won't hurt.

1. Find an object that you can balance on your stomach. A phone book, dictionary or any large book will do.

2. Lie down on your back and put the object on your stomach at just about the belt line.

3. Exhale as fully as possible without collapsing your rib-cage. All of the movement should be south of the solar-plexus and will be visible by virtue of the book on your stomach.

4. Inhale slowly and deeply, again, without involving the rib-cage. Picture the book rising toward the ceiling.

5. Hold the breath and count to four out loud. This will prevent you from holding the air by closing the throat muscles.

Repeat the exercise ten times. Then think about the benefits. In a few short minutes, you have relaxed and cleared you head. You have oxygenated your body to a higher degree than usual. And by mentally getting out of the way, you have allowed your body to practice efficient breathing in a controlled manner. The more you do this very simple exercise, the more benefits you will discover, and the more you will want to repeat it. Be good to yourself. Give yourself five minutes in the morning and five at night.

I once sat in a backstage dressing room discussing singing with Gary Puckett and the late great Brook Benton. Brook passed in early 1988 so this was one of the last shows that he did. Gary had asked Brook what he does to warm up. You had to be there to appreciate the charm and simplicity of Brook's answer. He stood up, looked at Gary and said, "Well Gary, first I breathe in...(takes in a huge breath and holds it)...and then I breathe out ( exhales fully). I do a few of those and I'm pretty much good to go."

If it's good enough for Brook Benton, It's good enough for me. Breathe.


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