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Diaphragmatic breathing

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Diaphragmatic breathing is an automatic process. Muscle tension pulls the diaphragm down from, and elasticity returns it to the elevated position. This action of the diaphragm is responsible for 29% to 63% of your lung capacity for air exchange. When the diaphragm moves down, it produces a partial vacuum (negative air pressure) in the lungs (chest cavity).

This is more easily seen in the operation of a syringe, concertina, or set of bellows. When they operate, their internal dimensions are greatly increased. This increased interior space reduces the pressure on the air within. Hence, the air pressure is lower than that outside of the device (and the lungs). As Nature abhors a vacuum, the outside air, which now has a higher relative pressure, rushes in to equalise the interior air pressure to the level of that outside of the instrument (and lungs).

The diaphragm is a tough, elastic membrane attached along the bottom edge of the lower ribs. It separates the lung space from the viscera (stomach, intestines, and other lower body organs). You can draw in more air, by relaxing the abdominal wall. The diaphragm then moves lower. It follows the viscera that are allowed to move forward by the relaxed abdomen. The lower the diaphragm moves, the greater the created difference between internal and atmospheric air pressure. By controlled progressive tensing of the gut, you can then squeeze out that air (just as with the bellows, concertina and syringe). Think of the Heimlich Manoeuvre; by greater compression of the gut you can exhale more air.

Ribs. You need to elevate your ribs to further increase the internal space of the chest cavity, and hence the negative pressures within. In addition, this increases the volume of air that you can exchange. In filling the lungs more fully, you have more air to support singing. Therefore, you can sustain singing for a longer period, require fewer breaths and provide better support for singing quality and volume.

The ribs are hinged at the spine. As they rise, they increase the chest circumference. The interior air space is radically increased (side to side and front to back). This increased space produces the added, available air capacity.

Experiment Stand with your arms hanging and hands clasped. Now with your elbows anchored at your sides, raise your clasped hands. When they are straight in front of you, note how the space between your hands and your body has increased. This is basically the action of the ribs. In addition to this increase, remember that the ribs, being hinged at the spine will also increase the side to side dimension of the air cavity. This experiment illustrates how rib elevation can radically increase the volume of the lung cavity, and as a result, the amount of additional air drawn in with your rib elevation.

The ribs rise by contraction of the intercostal and other associated muscles. By consciously holding your ribs in this elevated position you greatly increase your chest circumference and hence your capacity for “containing” air with which to support your singing. Imagine two syringes, identical with the exception of circumference. It is obvious that the one with the larger diameter will have the greater internal capacity for fluid or air.

Our director, instructs us to continually raise our chest (and hence ribs) as we sing. While we “feel” that our chest is raising, the appearance to the audience is ribs staying in the elevated position, without movement. The net result is this technique helps us to maintain our elevated chest position and the maximum air space possible.

Many barbershops are not taught about this valuable available air space. This is because their coaches don’t think that barbershops can do this without bobbing their shoulders up and down.

Now hold the note/vowel again. This time use both the abdomen/diaphragm & ribs. Write down the time and duration and compare it to your first attempt.

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