Rebecca Sherburn - voice expert

Breathing Part 3 - Exhalation

Learn how to exhale correctly for singing

In this third video about "breathing", Dr. Sherburn shows you the correct way to exhale for singing.

Released on March 7, 2018

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi. I'm Dr. Rebecca Sherborn, the Director of Vocal Studies at Chapman University in Southern California. This is the last in a set of three talks on breathing for singing. In the first, we talked about breath management as an isometric experience where one might sing on the gesture of inhalation as the famous pedagogue Richard Miller advised us. In the second, we spent time isolating and learning how to strengthen the muscles between the ribs, which play a big part in inhalation. So, today, we're going to talk about and feel the action of the abdominal wall in the breath cycle. The abdominal wall plays a part in phase one which is inhalation, phase two which is suspension, and phase three which is exhalation. But before we look at the action of the abdominal wall, there's one really important thing that I need to share with you. And this is perhaps the most important thing I have to say on the topic of breathing overall.

Here it is. We cannot hold the abdominal wall in and breathe well for singing. It has to be relaxed before we inhale. So, there's absolutely no sucking it in to try and look thin. You just have to let go of that idea. The abdomen has to be relaxed in order to get a good deep breath. It is my hope that these exercises will heighten your awareness of the abdominal wall in breathing. As we try them together, we're going to move the internal organs around and feel that wonderful massage inside the body. It's really very good for us. So, grab a large book, and a ball, and I'll see you in a minute.

So, the first thing we'll do is lay on the floor on your back, knees bent, book on your abdomen. Place it between the ribs and the hips, right about at the belly button like this. Take a deep breath. The book should go up. Let it stay up for a second with your mouth open. This is called suspension, which is the second phase of breathing. Suspension is like a breath you take to jump in the pool, but you leave your mouth open, or it's kind of like a big surprise inhale. We have to give these big muscles in the abdomen a second to get into isometric opposition to one another before we begin to exhale. If we skip suspension, all the air comes out of the beginning of the phrase and we have nothing left for the end of the phrase.

So, inhale, suspend, let the book stay up, and then exhale slowly. The book comes down. So, again, inhale, the book goes up. Stay there for just a moment to suspend your breath. Feels like you're still inhaling and then slowly let the book come down. Shh.. Slowly. Do it again, on account of 10. Ready? Shh... Okay. Maybe try that again. Don't think about pushing or pulling the abdomen. Just focus on staying for a second in suspension and then slowly letting the book descend. Slowly. Slow exhalation should feel like you're still inhaling.

Ready? Shh... Great. Now, try this exercise. Use shh as you breathe in and out quickly with no suspension, this will make the book dance like this. Shh, shh, shh, shh, shh, shh, shh, shh, shh. So fun. So, now, stand up and let's see if you can feel the same expansion, the same action you felt on the floor without the book. Let's put the hands on the abdomen, inhale, suspend for just a second, and slowly exhale on shh, as if the book was there weighting your abdomen down. Slowly let your abdomen come back in. Shh.... Now, inhale and make the imaginary book dance like this shh, shh, shh, shh. So, just a side note here.

There is some controversy about the direction of the abdominal wall in this exercise. This exercise teaches us how to sing strings of staccato notes, short notes. You can see that in the method I use, the abdomen tucks in gently as I exhale. Shh, shh. The other opinion on this action has the abdomen pushing forward on the exhalation like this. Shh, shh. I find that very difficult because my muscle memory goes in the opposite direction.

It can be done either way, but I really believe that for coloraturas who will sing strings of fast light staccato passages, the abdomen should bounce in on each staccato, shh, shh. I think this direction is more natural, it's faster, and more efficient. So, here's another way to feel the action of the abdomen in breathing. Lean on a ball on the wall. Relax the abdomen, letting the ball move in toward you as you exhale, toward the spine. Inhale moving off the ball. Keep the abdomen slightly firm against the ball, not a lot, just enough to not drop it. Stay in suspension with your mouth open, exhale, and let the ball come back in toward the center of the body slowly as you say shh. Let's try that again. Ready? Exhale, the ball goes into the spine, inhale, suspend, and slowly exhale shh. How fun is that? Just like the rib exercises, these can be done on shh on a hiss ssss or through straws.

So, now we're going to put the expanded rib cage idea from the previous video, together with the abdominal action we just worked on. Kind of a big disclaimer here. When we put these two muscle groups together, the ones at the sides and the ones at the abdomen in the front, we don't feel either one as strongly as when we work them alone in an isolated sense, but that's okay. That's really correct. What we're looking for when we inhale is a number of directions. Out with the ribs, forward with the abdomen, slightly down into the pelvic floor, all at once, then a momentary suspension, and slow exhalation that feels like we're still inhaling. So, one hand on the ribs, one hand on the abdomen, inhale out forward and down, suspend, which is to hold your breath with your mouth open, and then shh, let the abdomen and the ribs slowly go back in and roll down. Once again, ready? Shh... and the book dancing exercise. Ready? Shh, shh, shh, shh, shh. Shh, shh, shh, shh, shh. When you're done with an exercise, just relax for a quick second. That's phase four, recovery. Nothing going on.

It's just what happens before you inhale again. So, to recap, there are four phases to breathing for singing. One, relax your abdomen and inhale. The ribs go out, the abs go forward, maybe a little bit of pressure into the center of the pelvis. Two, suspend. Stay there for a second like you're holding your breath with your mouth open. Three, exhale slowly letting the ribs and the abs go back to the starting position and that was your musical phrase. Four, relax, recover, and start again. So, here's a small section of Britain's [sp] Aria. Be kind and courteous, which shows a slow exhalation and staccato exhalation.

I hope you enjoyed these three videos on breathing. Please leave comments and questions below. I'm always so glad to hear from you and so interested in what you have to say. Bye.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Zakiya on October 29, 2020 @4:45 pm PST
Thank you so much for this demonstration! Do you maintain some of the resistance from the suspension while you are singing on the exhalation? Also, do you bring the stomach in more at the end of the phrase to use up the remaining breath? For example, at 9:01 on the word "eyes"? Love your videos! Do you offer individual lessons?
Rebecca Sherburn - host, on October 31, 2020 @12:40 pm PST
Hi Zakiya,
Thank you for asking. Yes, there is some resistance when exhaling to sing but I try not to hold the abdominal wall stiffly in place, rather, let it go back in toward the spine naturally as I sing. I don
t think about bringing the stomach back in at the end of the phrase, especially if I have taken the right amount of breath for the phrase at hand. Just a simple in and out with the breath, like what we do to speak but a deeper breath with more air when we sing
.Sorry, I am not taking private students at this time. Contact your local NATS office if you need a recommendation.
Beth * VSM MEMBER * on March 7, 2018 @5:48 pm PST
Another fantastic video!! Thank you for sharing your wonderful talent of singing and teaching.
Rebecca Sherburn - host, on March 8, 2018 @7:21 am PST
Beth, you are so welcome. Really glad this information is helpful.
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