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Reaching The Breaking Point—Part Two
By Jeannie Deva - 02/10/2005 - 03:41 AM EST

In part one of this article we began to address the phenomenon known as “register break,” the “passáge,” or “breaking point.” For those of you who read it, I hope you’ve been using the suggested exercises, and have been finding them helpful. After practicing them, you should find your voice sounding richer and a bit fuller and more resonant. Are you? In this article, we’ll explore a few other “tricks of the trade” for better control of your vocal range.

As discussed in Part One of this article, The usual cause of register break is too much air pressure under the vocal folds due to unregulated breath support. “Breath support” is a by word of vocal lingo. Unfortunately, not as common is a physiological explanation of just what it means and why it is a crucial part to vocal technique.

If you think you have to push out more air in order to sing higher, think again! Similar to fretting the strings on a guitar, to sing higher pitches a shorter length of your vocal folds are free to vibrate. They need less air coming up to them (from your lungs) to vibrate them faster, producing higher pitches. For lower pitches, a longer length of your vocal folds are free to vibrate. They require slightly more air (compared to higher pitches) and they vibrate at a slower speed.

To prepare for each speed of vibration, the folds are stretched and thinned or shortened and thickened appropriately for each desired pitch. To do this, a combination of three things must occur:

1) The muscles of the folds press the inner rims against each other permitting different lengths of the folds to vibrate. (For lower pitches, the entire length of each fold is free to vibrate.)

2) The muscles of the folds stretch and thin the folds (for higher pitches) or shorten and thicken the folds (for lower pitches).

3) To facilitate the stretching and thinning of the folds, the whole unit (called the vocal box) tilts slightly into the center of your throat. All this is designed to occur automatically and only needs your decision to sing different notes to trigger it. This is one of the beauties of the voice as an instrument. One of the main aspects of voice training as I see it, is learning to get out of the road of your vocal apparatus permitting it to work for you.

Your vocal folds are designed to be the vibrators and creators of your vocal sound, not air stream regulators. If you force breath out, it will usually be too much. This usually results in the muscles of your vocal folds tensing as they resist the excessive pressure created by the inordinate air stream. The surrounding area of your throat would become tighter and smaller. The necessary ease of inner movement then disappears as the vocal box is “locked” in place. And the winner? Register break.

Your Breathing
When you breath in, the air goes into your lungs, but where exactly are your lungs? Everyone knows they are inside the rib cage with the common misconception that the lungs are in the chest filling the front of your rib cage. There is a small portion of each of your two lungs in the upper section of your chest with the majority of each sac extending from inside your shoulders down to about two inches above your waist. Is this starting to change the way you think about breathing yet? The largest part of your lungs are in your back!

When your “stomach” moves forward during an inhale, it is not because you are taking air into it or taking in air because of it's movements. It is moving forward because the abdominal organs (your "guts") are being pushed down and forward by your diaphragm as it lowers. Your stomach is NOT filling with air. Again - the air comes into your lungs and the biggest part of them is in your back. So when you breathe in, let the air fill your back. To do so, your ribs, which encase your lungs and assist breathing, need to lift and expand.

If you can expand your ribs when you sing, you will develop breath support that will prevent excess air pressure against your vocal folds.

Here is a very simple exercise to facilitate rib cage expansion. This exercise, by itself, will not completely handle the breathing problems we have discussed, and in short articles it is impossible to teach you the entire technique I have developed for this purpose. This exercise is the first in a series of exercises I use, designed to stretch and tone muscles that are critical to breath support.

Exercise — The Rib Cage Stretch
Throughout this exercise keep your mouth open and your throat relaxed so that your breathing is unrestricted.

1) Stand relaxed but erect, with your arms hanging by either side, palms turned to face forward.

2) Open your mouth slightly.

3) Stretch and Slowly raise your arms out to the sides of your body and slowly up over your head. (As you stretch your arms out and up, air will naturally inhale through your open mouth.)

4) Once over your head, continue stretching your arms, angle your arms by your cheeks, and put your palms flat together. You should feel the stretch in your back, not your chest or neck. (Your face should be forward not raised. If your stomach is tense, let it relax.)

5) While stretching up, silently count to 6. (Keep your mouth open and your throat relaxed. Do not breathe in or out at this time.)

6) Release the stretch and lower your arms back down to the sides of your body. Your breath will naturally exhale as you lower your arms.

Repeat steps 1 through 6 for a total of 30 repetitions.
Take a few minutes rest after each 10.

This exercise can and should be done daily for at least one week, and will take about 20 minutes. For complete details, pictorial illustrations and coaching, see my book and CD course: The Contemporary Vocalist Volume One. Use this as a warm up prior to rehearsal and gigs as well!

Jeannie Deva is the founder of Jeannie Deva® Voice Studios since 1978 and originator of The Deva Method® A Non-Classical Approach for Singers™. Author of the internationally published vocal home-study course: The Contemporary Vocalist book and CDs, and The Deva Method Vocal Warm-Ups and Cool-Downs CD, she has been flown to recording studios internationally as a recording studio vocal specialist and has been endorsed by producers and engineers of the Rolling Stones, The Cars, Aerosmith, and many others. Clients include Grammy Award Winner Aimee Mann, Patty Griffin, Dar Williams, members of the J. Geils band, Broadway cast of Grease, the international touring cast of Fame, Jesus Christ Superstar and many more. While her private voice studio is located in Los Angeles, Jeannie maintains private clients across the US, South America and Europe, giving lessons in person and long distance, by phone. Jeannie Deva® Voice Studios 818-446-0932.

Copyright 2005. All Rights Reserved. Jeannie Deva, The Deva Method and A Non-Classical Approach for Singers are service and trademarks owned by Jeannie Deva Enterprises, Inc.

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