Perfect Breathing – (continued)
It must be clear to all students by this time that it was necessary to go somewhat deeply into all the subjects related to voice. Each lesson had to be preceded by a “theoretical discussion” in order to show you why the old systems of haphazard, unscientific, hit-or-miss ways of teaching voice culture, have failed.
It was further necessary to explain that a really valuable system of voice can only be established upon facts. Of course if was necessary to show you these facts, hence all the technical discussions in physiology, physics, vocal mechanics, etc.
All these discussions were necessary; first, to arouse your interest, and second, to insure your confidence in these lessons. The exercises which will develop your voice demand of you great patience and perseverance, and this could only come through a firm belief in this method.
The fact of the matter is, the study of voice is a part of a general education, because so many subjects are involved.
If the human body were an inanimate machine, like a watch or a music box, it would be easy enough to replace the defective parts so that the machine would run smoothly; but in the human body this is not possible, nor can you go to a physician or a surgeon and ask him to do the repairing. Quite the contrary, you must be your own mechanic, your own physician and surgeon; there is no other way.
To make it possible for you to do that for yourself which no one else can do, it was necessary to educate and to train you in this particular line.
In the lessons on breathing, so far studied, you must now see why in former lessons you merely received general directions in regard to breathing. That’s because it is secondary and quite possible to have a good speaking and singing voice in spite of incorrect breathing. Even so, many teachers believe and teach that breath control is the most, if not the all-important factor in voice.
After all is said and done about breathing, the fact remains that we do not need great volumes of air, but merely a sufficient quantity of oxygen to support life, to help the process of combustion; to feed the fires needed for the purpose of movement, work and repair. Even in singing, a great volume of air is rather a hindrance than a help. The fellow who can blow himself up like a toad is merely straining his chest muscles uselessly.
Lightly and without anxiety should the breath be taken during pauses. He who understands to renew the breath skillfully, sings with ease.
One should inhale without noise, so as not to affect the ear of the listener. There are many who arouse more curiosity with their breath than with their voice. They take too much breath, they sing too long on one breath, and at the last they have not sufficient strength to conclude without a “smacking” sound.
“It is not good when singers take a breath to each short note, like a nervous horse who shies at every shadow.
The breath should always be ready when needed – it should be used sparingly.
For a systematic process of study, the division of inhaling and exhaling has to be resorted to. In the preceding two lessons the former was taught – now you will learn the more important step of exhaling.
In the introductory remarks in the lessons on Perfect Breath, it was said that the NORMALLY most important factor of active inspiration is the diaphragm. In normal breathing, as we go about our business, as well as for ordinary conversation in a low, quiet pitch, only a little breath is inhaled and that inhalation is caused by the diaphragm almost entirely, without any activity of the rib expanding muscles.
The dome of the diaphragm descends and thus creates a vacuum which permits the lungs to expand (mostly downward) and store up the breath which has filled the vacuum.
But for the public singer, the speaker, and for all purposes which necessitate more than the normal breath, for running, dancing, etc., the rib expanding or chest enlarging muscles are the most important, while now for this unusual, extra breath, the diaphragm’s principal activity is expiration. When the diaphragm descends, its action is inspiratory, but when it ascends, it becomes expiratory, because it then urges or pushes the air outward. The diaphragm has, therefore, a double capacity.
The diaphragm forms a partition between the chest and the abdomen. It is shaped like a cupola or dome which extends far upward into the thorax or chest. It is attached to the vertebrae, the ribs and the lower part of the breast gone. See Fig 152
also Fig. 147 in Lesson 27.
If you will feel the place where the lowest rib joins the backbone and then draw the hand all around the lower edge of the ribs, you will be pressing against the lower borders of the diaphragm. From this border the diaphragm rises on each side inside of the chest.
If the fibers of the diaphragm contract involuntarily, the central position will necessarily descend; in this case the free ribs will be drawn inward, unless the ribs are otherwise held expanded or rigid; in sudden inspiration as in violent sobbing, this is always the case. But under no circumstances can the diaphragm expand the ribs as is sometimes taught; quite the reverse is true.
The diaphragm may be compared to the head of a drum, which is the sounding part or skin, and the ribs, the hoops which stretch the skin.
As long as the skin on the drum is in a loose state, it sags downward, but when the hoops to which the skin is fastened are being tightened, the skin is being straightened and stretched and in this way the drum is tuned in harmony with the orchestra.
In a similar way the diaphragm is fastened to the ribs of the chest, and the more these ribs, are expanded so much more is the diaphragm straightened and tightened. To the contrary, when the ribs are loosened they resume their natural closed position, then the diaphragm is also loosened and resumes its dome shape in the chest.
The diaphragm is pierced by three tubes. First, the aorta, which conducts the blood FROM the heart; second; the vena cava, which leads the blood TO the heart; third, the aesophagus, through which food passes into the stomach. The vena cava passes through the diaphragm near the spine and if the diaphragm is voluntarily contracted, as some try to do, it prevents the natural, free flow of blood to the heart, which causes dizziness and sometimes nausea. From all this it is apparent that the diaphragm should never be contracted voluntarily or by direct force.
THE NEED OF A POWERFUL COMPRESSION
The degree of pressure of the air in the lungs and windpipe against the under side of the vocal chords is controlled by the ribs and the diaphragm.
The breath pressure of ORDINARY expiration amounts to approximately a little over one inch, but then a tone is sung between A in the second space and E in the fourth space, the pressure suddenly rises to seven or eight inches; when the tone is sung loudly, the pressure rises to over three feet, and for high tones, sung fortissimo, the pressure would be still greater.
It was explained previously that the vocal chords can be reinforced – that they can be enlarged by the muscles which lie close to them and that the more the chords are enlarged the stronger and more beautiful will the tone be.
Now, a powerful breath pressure will greatly favor this enlargement of the vocal chords. The augmented effort brings the entire vocal organ into a firmer state, which again reinforces the vibrations, and of course creates additional over-tones, thereby making the quality of the tone still finer, nobler, and sweeter.