Today's article is about Voice Support.
More specifically, it's about under- and over-pressure in the lungs and how a loose belly can help.
As singers, we work with air. We have to control our airflow – our breathing – to be able to sing. If we can't control it, we can't hold a note, and we can't really sing.
What we want to achieve optimally is the most freedom for our voice so that we can sing any phrase – however long or short we want. We want to be independent of constantly having to take a breath, push, or strain. To accomplish all that, we want to control the air pressure in our lungs. Basically, we want to avoid over-pressure in our lungs and create under-pressure in our lungs.
Over-Pressure: You have a container, and you have more pressure in this container than the pressure around this container.
Under-Pressure: Inside the container, there is less pressure than in the surrounding environment.
Neutral-Pressure: The air pressure inside the container equals the air pressure outside the container.
For singers, that container is our lungs.
Our lungs are a container for air that holds either more, less, or the same air pressure as the air around us. When your vocal cords are open, and the air can freely flow in and out of your lungs, the air pressure within the lungs is the same as the one surrounding you.
If you close your vocal cords and you contract everything, that creates an overpressure in your lungs because the container gets smaller. That has the effect that air in your lungs wants to escape. It's like being in an overcrowded room where the walls move in on you... You probably want to get out of there...
That is over-pressure.
Now, if you do the opposite:
You have a container, you close the container, and then you expand the container, you create under-pressure inside the container. In this scenario, air wants to flow into the container to balance out the air pressure from the outside environment of the container and inside the container.
When you sing, you close your vocal cords. They're not fully closed because they vibrate, but you stop (or at least control) the airflow.
And that's how you can create over-pressure or under-pressure in your lungs because if your vocal cords close well, it is a similar effect as if you close them when holding your breath.
It can be a very similar feeling as well.
Your vocal cords are the only way air can enter or exit your lungs. Therefore, if you close your vocal cords and produce overpressure in your lungs (by pushing your rib cage together, contracting your abdominal muscles, etc.), the air will push against the walls of your lungs, trachea, and vocal cords. Your vocal cords are the weakest point in this system because they are the only point that can open and allow the air to flow out.
Conversely, through closing your vocal cords and expanding your body (by letting your belly lose and opening your rib cage), the vocal cords are pulled downward. The air wants to come in from above the vocal cords to balance the air-pressure inside and outside the lungs, creating under-pressure in your lungs.
Here's another example that illustrates what I am talking about: Imagine you have a plastic bottle half filled with water. You put the palm of your hand on top of the bottle neck to close it airtight.
In this allegory, the water represents your intestines, the air is the air in your lungs, and your palm represents the closed vocal cords. Now you squeeze the bottle. The water in the bottle will be pushed upwards, and you will feel the air push against the palm of your hand. It will push the skin of your hand slightly upwards.
Conversely, you can first squeeze the water bottle before putting your palm on top to close the bottle neck. When the bottle is airtight, you let go.
Now there's under pressure in the bottle, and the bottle will gently suck the skin of your hand downwards to the inside of the bottle. The under-pressure inside the bottle wants air to flow into the bottle so that the entire container can return to a relaxed state without under-pressure.
We will use this physical mechanism to our advantage. We want to create under-pressure in our lungs for a few different purposes.
1. We don't want the air pressure of overpressure in the lungs hitting the vocal cords because the Vocal-Range-Muscle "Crico-Thyroid Pars Oblique" will only become well-trained and strengthened to stretch the vocal cords up to a range of 4 octaves without that crutch. Using air pressure to reach higher notes is a crutch that keeps the voice small and can lead to considerable voice damage. (Check out this "Introduction Range" article to understand the health and vocal growth reasons to stop using air pressure for creating higher pitches.)
2. The under-pressure allows us to keep more air in our lungs for a longer period so that we can sing longer phrases. Check out the video "Long Phrases (20)" where I demonstrate that ability, singing a whole song in one breath.
3. Furthermore, the under-pressure in the lungs - as demonstrated above - pulls the vocal cords slightly downwards, away from the vestibular folds so that the vestibular folds and the vocal cords do not come in contact when the vocal cords vibrate.
That is firstly good because it's healthy: you prevent your voice from getting sore or hoarse with that, as described in this Anti-Hoarseness article.
Also, it enables the vocal cords to vibrate freely, which makes your voice louder because they have more space to clap against one another with a larger radius of movement.
Additionally, opening up the space between vocal cords and vestibular folds increases the volume of the overtones in your voice in the frequency spectrum around 2.800Hz-3.200Hz. This increase in volume of this particular region of overtones is called the "singers formant," and it brings amazing sound qualities to your voice. Watch this video to learn what the "Singers Formant" is.
In order to facilitate this whole process, loosening your belly is very important. If you have even slightly tight abdominal muscles, your belly muscles will push against your intestines, and your intestines will be pushed up towards the diaphragm, which means towards the lungs, creating overpressure in the lungs.
There is no sound that your voice can make that needs any type of belly action (especially not belly pressure!). All vocal sounds can be created with a perfectly relaxed belly!
Check out the corresponding YouTube Video to this article by clicking the picture below.
In my next article, I will tell you what to use instead of the belly muscles for supporting the voice. I will also explain what is a very good definition of voice support and why that definition is better than any other. Check out my YouTube playlist in which I convey how to produce a multitude of vocal sounds, all with a totally relaxed belly.
PIC 16.05 Closed Vocal Cords
PIC 16.06 woman Squeezing her lungs together with a pic of a container pushing air up on his chest
Image by <a href="https://www.freepik.com/free-photo/aggressive-black-woman-with-afro-haircut-clenches-fists-angrily-feels-mad-desperate-holds-hands-front-ready-fight-challenge_10584872.htm#query=strenious&position=15&from_view=search&track=ais">Image by wayhomestudio</a> on Freepik
PIC 16.07 man opening up his body, with a container on the chest where air wants to flow in
Image by: https://www.freepik.com/free-photo/serene-black-jogger-exercising-outdoors_2540629.htm#query=breathe%20in&position=29&from_view=search&track=ais