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Specific questions about breathing and support
September 12, 2014
10:58 am
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quentin
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Hello guys,

I would like to have your advice and experience on some issues i meet regarding support.

The first issue is to have a "curvy" lower back (think about laying on the ground and be able to sneak your hand between the ground and your lower back). When i think about it counsciously, i can have a good back posture, but to " fill this gap ", i have to slightly contract my butt. Is it normal that i have to do this in order for my back to stay straight?

The second thing is about the right air volume. I have noticed that when i do scales, i expell some remaining air before taking a breath to vocalize the next scale. Does it indicate that i breathe too much air for what is required?

The last difficult trick for me is the advanced breathing technique (I don't have Internet at home right now, otherwise it would have probably been solved with Phil) that Phil taught me in our last two sessions. The idea is to breathe while feeling a lower back expansion (when you put your hands on your hips) and thus creating extra pressure (if i understand it correctly). I feel like in order to get this back expansion, i have to contract a bit my abs at the same time to create resistance so that i breathe more "backward" instead of "forward" (lower belly expansion only). Is it normal to have this resistance or is it unnecessarry tension?

If my description is confusing, i can send you a video!

Thanks for your imput!

September 12, 2014
5:12 pm
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OwenKorzec
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First and last thing sound correct.

Second one I am heard a lot of conflicting opinions, but I currently agree with what Phil says about trying to maintain the lungs 75% full while you are singing and relax everything and reset where possible. So for short scales you will probably have to expel some air afterwards. Unless you are moving from one to the next really fast with little space in between, in which case you have to just take microbreaths which Phil hasn't taught me in depth yet but it's definitely a lot harder because you can't empty out and reset (you'd miss the timing if you did)

September 12, 2014
7:32 pm
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Phil Moufarrege
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Yes quentin to get the lower back flat there may be a contraction in the butt. There is a way to minimize this by bending the legs when standing up and dropping all weight into the feet. You will have to practice the standing exercise in this video to get that to happen:

http://www.grow-the-voice.com/.....nging.html

As for the breath capacity, Owen hit it on the head, it depends on how long the phrase was. As for microbreaths, it isn't a big thing you need to be a "taught" its just the idea of maintaining a comfortably full tank of air which means if you have a bunch of long phrases you quickly suck in some air to refill to keep chest expansion. WHen you get a bigger break you completely relax everything.

@PhilMoufarrege
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September 13, 2014
1:05 am
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Justin Chew
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Do these exercises strengthen breath support?

September 13, 2014
2:17 am
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Phil Moufarrege
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Those videos by Eric are good. The aim is not to "strengthen" your support, they are just breathing exercises to get you to breathe properly. Good breathing is NOT support, good breathing is the thing you do before you support. Support is what you do WITH the breath. What strengthens your support is using it properly to properly hold up your singing voice. Support is trained in the singing exercises (when done correctly).

The only thing I disagree wtih Eric Arcenaux is that he promotes hyper lordosis (pelvis aiming down) this causes back problems and stretches the abdominal cavity not allowing you to get a proper contraction. I don't know why he promotes it.

Instead I encourage a FLAT lower back which is the correct human structural posture for all athletic events. I never used to worry about teaching it because it is a little overkill but I found that many singers have trouble getting a FULL breath. So I started teaching it. It is what makes it eaier to breathe deeply into the belly and get a stronger contraction in the lower abdominals.

I cover it in this video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Qduz1Nf6F2Q

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September 15, 2014
10:39 am
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TommyTheHat
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"It's not how many notes you know. It's what you do with them."

September 16, 2014
6:58 pm
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OwenKorzec
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I think Tommy is onto a point. It would make sense that you want a neutral curve of the back for neutral activities. Including easier singing for instance.

On harder stuff I can tell you first hand flattening the curve, even if slightly, is very important. It may happen naturally for some but I had an old habit of really tightening my back to be excessively arched when belting and I had to work to fix it.

Because you WANT that tension in the abs anyways for difficult singing.

One thing Phil has said is to try to combine the proud chest with the pelvis tilted up so the entire back is flat, but I suspect this is more theory and a mindset helper than what happens in reality. I have seen Phil combine these two positions and literally get a completely flat back as well but I have a hunch that you don't want your neutral posture position to be that clinically flat for everyday posture.

September 16, 2014
8:15 pm
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Phil Moufarrege
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TommyTheHat said

Phil Moufarrege said

Instead I encourage a FLAT lower back which is the correct human structural posture for all athletic events. I never used to worry about teaching it beacuse it is a little overkill but I foudn that many singers have trouble getting a FULL breath. So I started teaching it. It is what makes it eaier to breath deeply into the belly and get a stronger contraction in the lower abdominals.

I'm not sure I agree with this, but it is possible that in text I am not getting your complete point . Maybe I am just not fully understanding your postSmile

I disagree with a "Flat" back in athletics. While I do flatten my lower back for certain things, it is at those times, to purposely ADD more tension. An example would be while doing crunches. I'll raise my legs or tilt my pelvis upward in order to remove the natural curve from my lower back and flatten it to the floor. But this is to add more tension to the abs. The key word here is tension. When doing weighted squats you wouldn't want the curve taken out of your back. The natural curve should remain in the lower back, although it wouldn't be as pronounced once you start to descend. To remove the curve (flatten the back) you would need to push the pelvis forward which would end up tucking the butt under. A big no,no in squatting. True, that you don't want to "arch" your back either but that is an unnatural curve in the opposite direction. But when squatting you don't want to remove the natural form of the back. Shoulders back chest out, butt pushed back (but not exaggerated). The lower back will appear flatter, but it's keeping it's natural strength and position.

For me, I always try to keep the natural position of the lower back in all athletics unless I specifically want tension for some reason. The "natural" spine shape is the most supportive for natural movements. That means not to over exaggerate the curve because that then pushes the chest out. There are certain forms or exercises in martial arts for example that specifically target this tension. In an Okinawan system called Goju for example there is a form (kata) known as Sanchin. The Pelvis, at times during this exercise is tilted forward which in turn flattens the lower back. I have used this technique while I was fighting (MMA) and on the bottom (unfortunately) of a mount with my opponent trying to smash my face in or manipulate me in some manner. I became immovable, so to speak, with proper Sanchin breathing and the tension created by the pelvic tilt. But again, this was a specific idea and geared toward purposely creating tension. It is a sort of isometric.

So we may be on different pages here Smile

As far as singing? Well, I'm not a teacher and won't try and say what is right or wrong. Laugh But for me "personally" I try to keep a neutral position while singing unless I am in need of extra support. Then I may bring in more of a martial arts type of breathing into it. My lower back may flatten a bit but it is not a purposeful maneuver. It is caused by what else I am doing. The technique involved gives a feeling of involvement of my lower pelvis area but I don't purposely move it forward to flatten the back. It's just "support." And it goes down below the naval area...like breathing in meditation...or martial arts.

I'm expanding in many places. I am "involving" a lot of area's. But most of this is just a result of what I'm doing and not actually "what I am trying to do." Like in meditating when sometimes you are told to feel the breath go in through your nose and circulate around the head and then travel down into your pelvic region a couple inches below the naval etc. The breath doesn't actually do that and you can't really TRY to do that. But it is a FEELING and you eventually think you ARE doing it. Smile

On a side note (a bit off topic) the postural restorative institute is actually endorsing flat backed weighted squats now.

It is something that needs to be experimented more with, however I suspect it actually may be better to do it that way considering the benefits it has in so many other things and also the fact the abdominal wall can contract so much better. Interestingly The greatest squatter who ever lived (Paul Anderson) would actually do most of his squatting in this position because most of his training was partials in the close to lockout position or above the knee position. I'm not sure if he went back to arched back on the bottom or not but he actually did his training with a flattened back.

Steve Justa one of the strongest guys on the planet (who no one has heard of LOL) - all I can find of him are clips with a flattened back, no "typical arching".

I prefer to go back to the old timers because they were stronger, didn't use belts, wraps, steroids or supplements. One thing these old-timers knew that the modern lifters don't know is the use of the pelvic floor to activate your natural weightlifting belt - the transversus abdominis - the "corset" muscle. I use it all the time not only in athletic events but even in singing!

The main purpose of flattening the back is to eliminate tension that is held in the lower back and to "connect" the upper and lower body. In martial arts it is used to "connect" the upper body to the lower body into the ground so that you can handle energy from an opponent or deliver energy to them from the ground (punching with the body - so much more than just "twisting the hips"). If you do any kind of push-hands tai chi or systema the first place they will "break you" is from your lower back if it isnt flattened - you will be uprooted in seconds. The key though is the weight being held into the lower back MUST BE DROPPED into the feet. You will feel your glutes disengage and your feet will feel like they are being crushed.

When people feel this they are finally able to feel like they can get a full breath as opposed to these shallow (even "abdominal" breaths can still feel shallow and incomplete to many!!)

I wouldn't say it is NECESSARY for singing but it certainly helps breathe better (most people when they do "abdominal breathing" they really ONLY get the fat belly and no expansion in the chest which is just half a breath).

The idea of "the proud chest" was really a byproduct of having a straight back. When you flatten the lower back and keep your spine neutral the chest will expand on the inhale giving you the "big chest look" without losing the ability to breathe deeply and diaphragmatically. Where people screw this up is that they go for the "proud chest" wtihout having a straight back and end up wtih this arched pushed out chest thing and revert back to shallow chest breathing.

Hope this clarifies my stance better.

@PhilMoufarrege
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Grow-The-Voice.com | PHILMOUFARREGE.com

September 16, 2014
8:36 pm
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TommyTheHat
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"It's not how many notes you know. It's what you do with them."

September 16, 2014
9:24 pm
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wabba_treads420
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Is it normal to feel the solar plexus feel a little tense while you support? I try to relax as much as possible but still keep the muscles in and around my diaphragm engaged + rib cage expansion.

September 16, 2014
10:09 pm
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TommyTheHat
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"It's not how many notes you know. It's what you do with them."

September 16, 2014
10:21 pm
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Phil Moufarrege
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TommyTheHat said

RE: Punching and body connection to the ground etc. Smile I won't attempt to get into any of that here as it is way off topic and too lengthy a discussion. I have written extensive articles (all since destroyed) on this and ground connection was a basis for my style of teaching.
Anyway...interesting stuff none the less. As for squatting and back support. I am from the school of natural support. No artificial support (belts and whatnot).

As far as flat back and fighting....well I'll have to say (so as not to get lengthy) Like anything in fighting, it's another tool. Something that needs to be turned on and off as needed..ie. not a constant. Fighting is very much a "by feel" thing. It changes second to second. Many tecniques are fleeting. Smile

But we digress!

As for singing, I try not to get much tension in the abs or lower region. I can certainly feel it all working down there, but i suppose after so many years of practicing similar breathing techniques it's fairly natural. It's the back the pelvis, the abs, the ribs...it's all working. I just can't really say I'm tensing anything. I'm just "supporting." lol.

Thanks for taking the time to clarify Smile
Ok...back on topic!

EDIT:
I started this post saying "Punching." I was in a hurry....I didn't mean to write "punching" specifically. . Laugh

It's great to have someone like you here. This may be a really weird question but were you ever on the chihand forums about 10 years ago?

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September 16, 2014
10:29 pm
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TommyTheHat
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"It's not how many notes you know. It's what you do with them."

September 16, 2014
10:44 pm
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Marnell Sample
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Great replies, everyone.

@quentin
Yes, when you flatten the curve in the lower back, the glutes will engage. The glutes are one of the sets of muscles that are responsible for this motion (the other being the lower abs and the hamstrings).


@TommyTheHat
A huge factor that people often forget when having discussions like this is the idea of "neutral". Everyone's neutral resting place will be different. This comes largely from how you have been habitually using your body (and thus the muscles have adapted). So, one person's neutral might be more of a hyperextended lower back while the next person's is less pronounced. This accounts for some of the differences people report when trying to describe physical sensations, especially in relation to support.

Phil posted a great video by the Postural Restoration Institute. I have been researching them for a few years now. They have been about trying to get the body into its most neutral position, especially in terms of how it affects your breathing. Neutral for them means that you have full range of motion in all planes and that you are as close to symmetrical as possible on both sides. When it comes to any movement I do, I've now let my breath be the guide as to whether I'm doing it correctly. If my breath gets locked while exercising, then that lets me know I'm moving in such a way that's activating extraneous muscles in the body. So, I take a cue from the PRI people and try exhaling all of my air while in the middle of a movement, and suddenly, my body reorganizes itself into a way that's more efficient. When I do this with squatting, I find my lower back automatically flattens. It's not possible for me to keep a tight arch in my back and completely exhale at the same time. It's either one or the other. I've personally found squatting in this manner feels much more comfortable on my spine. It also seems to engage my core more efficiently.


@Phil Moufarrege
Thanks for posting the PRI video. Good stuff. There was another video by the PRI people from a presentation that Ron Hruska did within the past year, if I'm not mistaken. It was at the 2013 NSCA conference, and they asked questions specifically about keeping a tight arch in the back for squatting and deadlifting, and how it affected your body's neutral alignment! You can find the video here.
@wabba_treads420
The solar plexus can feel engage, but not in a contraction type of way like when you're doing a crunch. It becomes very engaged but in an expanded kind of way. It's kind of difficult to explain in text how one can engage a muscle and use it eccentrically rather than concentrically (which is how most people think of it). If you look at a lot of gymnastics ring moves, many of them recruit the biceps very heavily even though the biceps are in a lengthened state due to the arms being straight! This is akin to what happens in the solar plexus when you sing.
September 17, 2014
12:28 am
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Phil Moufarrege
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Marnell Sample said

When it comes to any movement I do, I've now let my breath be the guide as to whether I'm doing it correctly. If my breath gets locked while exercising, then that lets me know I'm moving in such a way that's activating extraneous muscles in the body.

This is an excellent measure! This is exactly what the Systema guys do in martial arts. There is a book called "let every breath" for Systema which details very basic calisthenics with progressions in order to develop the ability to do strenuous tasks without disrupting the breath. Tommy I think you would love it considering your interests, though I'm sure you are very familiar with this stuff already judging by your writing.

Tommy said Look at a baseball player. He learns techniques/fundamentals to help his batting. He is taught specifics on how to stand and hold the bat. Elbow position and height, foot placement, bend of the knees etc. But when he is a pro and has years of experience under his belt his stance and position looks nothing like he learned. Every batter looks different as a matter of fact and some make you wonder how they will ever hit the ball. But when the pitch is thrown and they swing, it all comes together. All the technique is there it just doesn't look like it.

This is a great point. The outside appearance does not necessary reflect the internal mechanics. I think a big part of teaching is being able to remember how one got to the conclusion, rather than simply giving singers a conclusion they need to know the steps that get them there.

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