The Silent Breath

Thursday night I gave a class at the Nashville Jazz Workshop called “Vocal Health.”  This is a 3-week masterclass designed to introduce vocology to a wider audience, and hopefully get more people interested in learning more about their bodies and practical voice science application.
 The 3-week format was chosen because we wanted to offer a half-session length interactive lecture.  (Most classes at the Workshop are 6 weeks.)  But, because things are generally working out for all of us, it turns out 3 weeks is a perfect way to divide the mechanics of the voice into equal parts.  Magic scheduling.

The mechanical parts of the voice are:
  1.  Power Source – Lungs
  2. Sound source (or vibrator) – Vocal Folds
  3. Resonator – Vocal Tract

(See my blog post on the 3 mechanical parts of the voice for more info and free resources.)

Our first session this week focused on the lungs, breathing, and how airflow affects the entire vocal system.  In graduate school, I made a handout on the passive and active forces of respiration.  The assignment was to make a 1-page handout on a specific topic, and the reason I chose respiration was because our instructor (Jenny Muckala) was so excited about the passive forces of respiration I think she might have been jumping up and down a little.  Her enthusiasm lit a fire in my belly about the natural, passive forces inherent to breathin’.  How awesome that the body and physics are taking care of us, and part of the “the work” of singing isn’t “work” at all!

On that note, one of my favorite things to teach is how to take a silent breath.

“Why can we take a silent breath?

Because of the relationship between active and passive forces!  By expanding the ribcage (active), the volume of the [air space] lungs is increased.  When the ribs expand and the diaphragm lowers, air automatically rushes into the lungs (passive).  This is Boyle’s Law in action.  Quiet beathing is a natural reflex that requires very little effort and happens about 17 times per minute when the body is at rest.”

-Active and Passive Forces of Respiration Handout, 2011

How To

The way to practice a silent breath is to open your mouth and vocal folds.  (Glottis open, lovey.) This allows air to freely flow from the atmosphere into the lungs with little interference.  Exhale as much of your air out as possible, even contracting the stomach wall if you can.  Then, expand your abdominal wall or lower ribcage – or better yet, let it flop out.  You should feel air rush into your lungs, and hear no sound.

Boyle’s Law (from physics) Dictates . . .

Boyle’s Law tells us that the universe doesn’t like a vacuum.  When a container is made bigger, the molecules are spread out across a larger physical space.  If that container is connected by a tube to another space or container with a higher density of molecules, the molecules will naturally equalize themselves and more air will rush into the space with fewer molecules.

Hence, the ability take a silent breath.

Please feel free to download my handout on the Passive and Active Forces of Respiration on my Resources Page.

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