Vocal Care

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Voice production

Part of the process of studying voice is developing an acute awareness of the actions involved in breathing and exploring them in depth.

Vocal technique is as much a science as singing is an art form. While, initially, a student may have to concentrate very hard on his or her breathing, tone placement and muscle control, these techniques will become easier, more natural and even automatic in time, making singing much more enjoyable.

Components of Voice production:

The mechanism of breathing :

Receiving various signals from the nervous system, the diaphragmatic muscles contract and the diaphragm moves downward. As the diaphragm depresses, it creates a vacuum in the lungs and air rushes in to fill that vacuum. During exhalation, the diaphragm relaxes and rises and lung volume decreases, creating a positive pressure difference, and air rushes out.

For a more in depth look at the mechanism of breathing and how correct breathing technique enhances singing, and for some exercises to help improve how you use and support your breath, read Correct Breathing For Singing.

Diaphragm

The (thoracic) diaphragm is made up of of muscle fibres and tendons that extend across the bottom of the rib cage, dividing the torso into  two parts. Above is the thorax (chest), with the lungs and heart, below is the abdomen. It is dome-shaped, slightly higher on the right side because of liver, and curves up toward the centre. It features a boomerang-shaped central tendon - the aponeurosis - which is connected all around by muscular fibres that originate on the lumbar spine, the bottom edge of the rib cage and sternum (breast bone).

Heart is attached to the diaphragm by pericardium - a membranous sac filled with lubricating fluid that envelops the heart - within the membranous sac heart moves up and down along with the diaphragmatic movements.

Lungs

The lungs are made of a soft, elastic, spongy tissue. Their structure is much like an inverted tree. Air enters the lungs through the trachea (wind pipe)  The trachea branches in two to form the bronchi. Each bronchus continues to branch out into many small bronchioles at the end of each bronchiole, it is connected with a cluster of alveoli, which are small sacs where the exchange of the gases carbon dioxide and oxygen takes place,.

As the ribcage and diaphragm move up and down, the lungs are stretched, drawing air into the lung (inhalation), or the lungs are compressed, pushing the air out (exhalation).

Muscles 

Most students of voice don’t consider the importance of the support structure for the voice, yet the muscles of the back and abdomen aid the diaphragm and lungs in establishing the movements necessary for breathing.

The intercostal muscles are found between the ribs, and there are two kinds: The internal intercostal muscles (in the inside of the ribcage) extend from the front of the ribs, and go around the back, past the bend in the ribs. In front of the ribcage, looking from the bottom of each muscle (i.e. the top of each rib), the muscles go diagonally inward. The external intercostal muscles (on the outside of the ribcage) wrap around from the back of the rib almost to the end of the bony part of the rib in front. They go downward and outward when viewed from the back. (At the bottom of the sternum can be seen the transversus thoracis muscle.) These muscles can be felt during coughing.

Having the muscles on diagonals increases the amount of work that they can do, since a longer muscle can become shorter upon contraction than can a shorter, vertical muscle, as it contracts along the full length of the muscle fibres.

When proper diaphragmatic breathing technique is employed, and when a singer's endurance is being tested, the intercostal muscles can get a very good workout. Muscle fatigue is especially common amongst new vocal students who haven’t yet built up strength in these muscles and are isolating them during singing for the first time.

The Abdominal Muscles

Often mistakenly called the diaphragm by singers and by some teachers, the abdominal muscles are linked with the breath when they are used to "support the breath" or when they stretch as the belly distends due to the action of the diaphragm.

The deepest of the abdominal muscle, the transversus abdominis, connects front to back. which is very  important in respiration, it also helps in forced exhalation.

The external obliques course downward and inward, and are the largest and strongest abdominal muscles. These muscles work posturally by contracting and may flex or twist the spine. By compressing the abdomen, these muscles create higher pressure in the abdomen and thorax (chest), essential for forced expiration. Also, by relaxing these muscles, one can allow the distention of the belly to be more free, making the action of the diaphragm more easily felt.

Sandwiched in the middle between the external obliques and the transversus abdominis are the internal obliques. Their direction is down and out, or the opposite of the external obliques. They can be used to compress the abdomen for exhalation.