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  • Writer's pictureVOBA

Perks of Under-Pressure in the Lungs (16)

Today's article is about Voice Support.

Pic of Voba showing off his lose belly when singing.
Lose belly for a healthy, strong voice.

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.

A picture with 3 containers. Left showing under-pressure in the container, through the expansion of the container. Middle: Neutral air-pressure, meaning the same air-pressure inside the container as outside the container. Right: Over-pressure inside the container, through the container contracting.
A closed container in 3 stages. Middle: Neutral pressure means the same air-pressure that is outside the container also resides within the container. Left (Under-pressure): The container expands and creates under-pressure within (lower air-density than the density around the containter). Right (Over-pressure): The container contracts, thereby increasing the air-pressure inside the container in comparison to the air-pressure outside the closed container.

Over-Pressure: You have a container, and you have more pressure in this container than the pressure around this container.

An Open Container with air-flow arrows in and out, symbolizing neutral pressure - equal airpressure inside and outside the container.
The air-pressure within the lungs equals the air-pressure of your surrounding, when air can freely flow in and out of your lungs.

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.

A picture of a container being squeezed with the over-pressure in the container pushing against the upper lid of the container.
If you close your vocal cords and diminish the space in your lungs through contracting the belly and/or letting the rib cage collapse, you create over-pressure in your lungs. The air in the lungs will therefore push against the walls of the lungs, and especially up against the vocal cords.


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.

A picture of a container expanding and the lid being pulled to the inside of the expanding container, due to the created under-pressure.
When your lungs expand they pull more air into them. If the vocal cords are closed, the vocal cords are pulled slightly downwards through this under-pressure that is created in the lungs.


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.

A drawing showing the closed vocal cords from above.
The closed vocal cords from above.

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.


Woman Squeezing her lungs together with a container on her chest, symbolising the lungs, squeezing her rib cage together, pushing air out.
If you collapse/contract your rib cage to the inside, you create over pressure in your lungs. That pressure pushes upwards against your vocal cords.


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.

A guy stretching his arms up, breathing in, with a container on his chest, symbolising the expanding lungs.
If you expand your lungs, you create under-pressure in your lungs. This under-pressure pulls the vocal cords downwards.


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.

Voba holding a bottle filled with 50% water air-tight with his palm.

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.

Voba not squeezing and squeezing a water bottle.
A tight belly pushes your intestines inwards and thereby upwards against your lungs, creating over-pressure in your lungs.

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.

3 pics of Voba squeezing a plastic bottle, closing the bottle neck with his palm and letting go with the hand that squeezed the bottle.
When you squeeze the bottle first and then close it, there is under-pressure in the bottle. If you then stop to squeeze, you will feel the skin at your palm being sucked into the bottle neck, because the bottle tries to go back to it's original shape to balance the air-pressure within and around the bottle.

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.

2 pix – One with the Ventricle closed and one with the ventricle open, indicating the more movement space the vocal cords have when the ventricle is open.
When you pull your vocal cords and the vestibular folds apart, your vocal cord have more space to vibrate. That larger movement radius that the open ventricle allows, naturally increases the volume that the vocal cords can produce, because they can vibrate more freely that way.

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.

Voba showing off his relaxed belly to the camera.
All sound that singers produce with their voice can be produced with a relaxed belly!

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.

Picture Sources

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="">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

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