Exhalation Myths Exposed

by Angie

As a follow-up to the last 2 posts referring to the myths given by Dr Deirdre Michael in the latest edition of the “Journal of Singing” (the official journal of the National Association of Teachers of Singing), we shall now take a closer look at the exhalation myths.


Myth #1: The diaphragm inhales and exhales
Myth #2: Abdominal muscles push out the air out.
Myth #3: The great panacea is breath support.

These 3 myths all belong together in my opinion. Together, they are the reason why each has caused so many problems and uncertainties in the singing community for so long.

I have had many students come to my studio saying they heard a singer must “sing from the stomach” or “sing from the diaphragm”. I have noticed that the majority of beginner students have the habit of contracting their abdominal muscles as they begin to sing a phrase and when they try to create more volume, they contract even more!

This action of consciously trying to force an exhalation during singing is not only counterproductive, but it can also be quite harmful to the voice.

As Dr. Deirdre Michael points out in the article, “the diaphragm only inhales for you, it doesn’t exhale” and continues to say how “motivated young singers base their breathing technique on the belief that they need to help their diaphragm exhale, and that the muscular activity they feel is their diaphragm working.”

The fact remains that the diaphragm is not normally felt and so any feeling of trying to help ourselves exhale should be from a slight resistance to the inhalation muscles, as we do not want to collapse in our breathing as we sing.

What I am talking about here is the very slight contraction of the abdominal muscles as we hold outward (as opposed to squeezing them inward). Any inward contraction of the abdominals should only take place towards the very end of an exhalation, a careful coordination that takes place when we need to get the remaining air out to finish a long phrase.

The exhalation is a very passive action. All we are doing as singers is making sure that we do not explode our air out; that we are allowing for a slow recoil of the diaphragm which permits air to be released more slowly.

Stay tuned next week as I address the general topic of myths in singing.

Till next time songbirds, happy singing… and try to avoid any forced exhalation!

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