Your belly and your throat’s level of relaxation are connected. There is an intimate relationship between the open throat and the singer’s breath. You can’t really discuss one without the other because the state of openness or constriction of the throat will determine how effective your breath control is. This article explains why.
There's a lot of myths about breathing for voice use. To breathe “low” or diaphragmatically we do not actively push out the abdominals. Try it right now— push your belly out as you inhale—your throat or tongue most likely will tighten. We can’t base our singing on throat tightness. There is another myth that the belly should tighten and/or suck in as we sing. Forget that misconception!
When we sing ideally we don’t suck in our abs. Why? The abdominals are our body’s powerful exhalers. If we suck them in we create way too much breath pressure for our little vocal cords to handle. We actually need very little air to sing. We do not need to take a big breath for voice use. In fact the vocal cords are so tiny that they only require a little stream of steady exhaled air. The only way to really get that is by holding back breath pressure in the body. That means the belly does not come in to push exhaled air out while you sing but instead stays flexible. The pelvic floor muscles and abdominal muscles relax when you take a breath, and they don’t contract as you phonate. If we keep our abs and pelvic floor muscles loose and relaxed as we breathe and as we sing, the body expands down and out around our core passively and there is buoyancy, or free movement in our core muscles in response to voice use.
Why is it then for most singers even when starting out with relaxed core muscles feel their
abs getting tight as they sing? Why is it also that they run out of breath so quickly? Could both problems stem from the same reason? Yes!
To find the reason we need to understand the relationship between the abdominals and the throat. This relationship is the missing piece in most people’s vocal technique and most voice teachers pedagogy. This missing info is so obvious. The throat has to stay open for the
air to flow through it. If it closes which it can do right above the vocal cords, you will feel as
if you ran out of breath. It wasn’t that you didn’t take in enough air. You just physically
closed off your airway without realizing it. Now, because you inadvertently closed off the
airway, you are running out of breath. It doesn’t matter how you took your breath or even how much air you inhaled. If your airway gets too small you will run out of steam. As this happens you will notice that your abdominals start contracting hard, tightening your belly to force more air through your voice. This actually increases throat tension, making the problem worse. As you can now see, there is a direct relationship between the amount of air that's available to you when you sing and how open or spacious your throat (or airway) is— because they work in tandem with one another! It’s not possible to have proper breath support without an open throat! The air that is being exhaled needs to flow through your throat to start your vocal cords vibrating and the open vocal tract resonates your vibration with power and ease.
How do we open the throat? First of all if you think about opening your throat unfortunately
all you're going to do is tighten it. When a voice teacher instructs a student to open the throat the results are not usually very good. Let’s try that for a second. Lets just sit here and think “open my throat”! Did you feel that your something tightened? Maybe the root of your tongue or your throat itself? Even a little constriction in your throat where you want to open it is counter-productive because its a small area. An open throat is a relaxed throat and relaxation means that the muscles aren't contracting where you just contracted them.
The open throat is created in a relaxed environment by the inhaled breath. The throat is three dimensional, so it opens in three spaces at the same time. The inhaled breath opens the throat down (vertical), out (horizontal) and front to back (depth). The vertical position has a lot to do with timbre choices such as opera or pop music, but the other two dimensions are what we need to focus on. These two ways of thinking about the breath, side to side space (left to right), and front to back space (back of tongue to back of neck direction) are what open the singer’s throat. For the side to side opening the area right inside of your larynx above your vocal cords has to be open as in a silent breath. Let’s try it. If you plug up your ears gently with a finger in each and breathe in a large inhale through your mouth quietly see if you can hear nothing for both your inhale and your exhale. Try keeping the area silent as you exhale slowly. You may first hear breath noises. Try relaxing so much that there is complete silence. This is the space known in Estill voice training as “retraction”. We don’t normally speak in full retraction or we’d all sound like television commercial announcers. But we do sing with that retracted space. Talk about easy vocal power and tons of breath flow. You can all do it!
The other dimension is front to back. This space of depth involves the tongue. The root of the tongue is the other main source of vocal tract constriction. The tongue needs to be relaxed. Think of your tongue as being completely in your mouth, resting by your teeth and it is a big, soft, weightless blob floating in there resting near your front lower teeth. Give it no presence. Now when you breathe in through your mouth, see if you can feel the cool air travel to the back of your tongue, and down your into the throat. It feels cool. There’s a little throat and tongue temperature change! Make sure that your tongue doesn't move as you inhale and it stays in the resting position by the front teeth, with sides by your molars. That along with the space of retraction is the experience of the open throat created by your inhale.
Every breath you take while you sing is another chance at opening and relaxing your very own acoustical space.
When a singer or speaker combines the conditions of a diaphragmatic breath (relaxed pelvic floor and abdominals) with an open airway the body stays movable as she sings and the support is buoyant. The vocalist normally does not run out of air, and paradoxically they sense more air moving through their voice! There is easy power, endurance and vocal freedom. It’s what I call a vocal win-win!