Vocal and Instrumental Instruction


Can You Throw a Baseball With Your Uncle Terry's Big Toe?

Posted by shelly on October 9, 2012 at 11:20 PM


Down with the diaphragm! 

by Shelly Wade


 New York vocal coach, Shelly Wade, unifies the body and voice in each of her students, gaining a natural and healthy technique built to last. The goal is to form and maintain habits that will make our voices built to last a lifetime. In order to do so, we must learn to isolate and make proper use of our muscles. "What muscles?", you may ask. The diaphragm... abdominals... intercostals...? May sound confusing; especially considering that the diaphragm happens to be an involuntary muscle. Every vocal teacher has their own technique and explanation of what they call "breath support". Many of the explanations can become highly confusing, and sometimes disagreeable with our bodies. "Belly out!", they say. Well, to me, that just plain hurts. "Drop your jaw!", they say. "Use your diaphragm!" I don't know about you, but I can't control my diaphragm any more than I can control my Uncle Terry's big Toe!

 How can one use or control something they can't even feel? All of these directions seem to work like a charm if you have a ton of raw talent and don't need extra work. For the rest of us, it's too darn confusing! "Belly out", "Drop your jaw", and "Use your diaphragm" are all "control driven" directions that make your brain work too hard for singing. Yes, your belly will come out as you inhale. (You can feel this as you lie on your back and breathe normally with a book on your belly.) And yes, your diaphragm will release (Your diaphragm is a domed-shape, involuntary muscle that releases down as you inhale- to make room for your lungs to fill up. As a result, your organs are released down as well, and your belly expands.). This is a process of "result"; not a process of "cause". You cannot "cause" your belly to expand or "control" your diaphragm. You just can't. Both of these things happen as a "result". A simple result of isolating and using the proper muscles. As you inhale, try to push your belly out. It's just hurts. As you have probably already heard, "Don't do it if it hurts!"

 You can also think of this as an "Action - Reaction process". With Shelly, the only thing you have to worry about is exercises. Simply singing, with no work involved. You body does it's work as a "reaction", not an "action". The "Exhalation" (Singing) is the "Action"! This happens just as you would speak to someone in a conversation. The "Reaction" happens when you run out of breath. Your body allows more air in by releasing and making room for your lungs to fill. As you are reading this, you don't say to yourself, "Okay, I need to breathe now or else I will suffocate." You just breathe as a "result of needing air." Why would you do otherwise as you're singing? If you try to "control" all these muscles, will be in for a big disappointment and a lot of unwanted tension.

 Many directions we are given as singers can impede the natural beauty of our tone quality. They can also turn into bad habits, causing tension, pitch problems, etc. Shelly makes sure her directions are "result" driven. There is no need for anyone to make singing complicated.

 Shelly uses several body movement methods into her technique, including Yoga, Feldenkrais, and Alexander Technique. She focuses on isolating and releasing the proper muscles in order to prevent tension and misuse of extraneous muscles outside the vocal folds. Awareness is key. Tension cannot be inhibited without awareness. If you are scrunching your shoulders as you're reading this, you aren't able to release them until you recognize they are tense. It's the same with your jaw or any other part of your vocal mechanism. Let the exercises do the work so you can think about more important things like articulation and expression during your songs.

 We don't go around town reminding our knees to bend as we walk! They bend because that's the natural process. Now go out, forget about your darn diaphragm, and let it do it's job!

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