Most singers “belt”, “push”, or “throw” their voices. What they are actually doing is throwing their breath or voice forward in their mouth. Unfortunately most of the breath goes out the mouth before very little of it is able to go into the sinus cavities and resonate, so by belting the voice the singer has eliminated the overtones of the voice. The tendency when one pushes their voice is also to lean on the vocal chords, go sharp on the note, and once again cause tension around the vocal chords. There is no way to push your voice without using muscles to do so. Singers that belt or throw their voice usually have a yelling, bellowing, or screaming quality to their voice.
When good singers sing, they don’t belt or push their voice, they “inhale” their voice. That is, while they are singing they are drawing breath into their head. They don’t think of it as being breath however. They think of it as being their “voice” or their “sound” (Even though they are physically taking breath into their head) This is the key difference between Bel Canto and every other vocal technique out there.
There are three main reasons to inhale the voice:
1.This eliminates tension. There is no way to push your voice without using muscles of the throat. When you inhale your voice however, you do not have this problem. As you draw breath into your head as you are singing the breath causes a low pressure area or suction at the back of the throat, which in turn “draws” breath up across the vocal chords. This requires no muscular effort, but is a willed action. In science this vacuum you are creating is called Bernoullis principle and works with liquids and gases. It’s the way a pump or carburetor is primed.
2.This act of inhalation adds the overtones back onto the voice. When the breath is inhaled it creates a vacuum at the back of the throat and draws breath up from the lungs across the vocal chords. Once the air reaches the mouth the two streams of air mix, roll and resonate in the mouth cavity. The breath can’t go out the mouth (you can’t suck and blow at the same time) so the air is forced up the back of the throat and forced out through the sinus cavities and out the nostrils of the nose, thereby forcing the overtones back onto the voice.
3.This is only way to control the exact amount of breath across the vocal chords. Benoullis Principle states that the amount displaced is equal to the amount inhaled, or in laymen’s terms, the amount of breath you inhale in through your mouth is equal to the amount of breath pulled up from the lungs. One has to equal the other. Most singers, because they push, know that on higher notes they need more breath, so they ram up to the note, many times pushing right past it and going sharp. With inhalation the singer now has control over the amount of breath they are bringing in on any given note. When they master the inhalation they are only drawing enough breath in to create the note or singing on the breath. This is when tone is the warmest, much like picking a guitar string with just the right intensity. After all, your voice is a stringed instrument.
Inhalation takes the longest of all the steps to master, especially singing soft high notes or singing a decrescendo on a high note. Some opera singers spend their entire career trying to master this.
THE HOLD OF THE BREATH
Once the singer masters inhalation, they must also master the “hold of the breath.” The whole breathing process works like this: First the singer takes a breath using the diaphragm, which fully fills the lungs with breath. Immediately upon starting to sing the singer begins inhaling, which draws just enough breath from the lungs to create the note. There is a problem however. Normally the diaphragm is in a “raised” position, so as soon as the singer begins to sing the diaphragm wants to go back into that position, which releases the lungs, or allows the breath to escape the lungs, canceling out the inhalation. Therefore, we need to keep the diaphragm in a lowered position and let the intercostal muscles squeeze the lungs or in other words exert pressure on the lungs.
How do we keep the lungs in a lowered position you may ask? Well, it isn’t by pushing down or out with your stomach. Keeping the diaphragm in that lowered position is a matter of once again tricking your body by imagining that you are holding your breath. When you swim under water why doesn’t water run into your nose, down your throat, and into your lungs? Because you hold your breath. To keep your diaphragm in a lowered position you have to imagine holding your breath like you are swimming underwater. Now, you can’t entirely hold the breath in your lungs because there has to be breath going across the vocal chords to create sound, but by thinking of holding your breath it effectively keeps your diaphragm in a lowered position and allows the exact amount of breath to be drawn from the lungs with the inhalation. As the lungs empty of breath the intercostals muscles contract, forcing every last bit of breath from the lungs, or providing “support.”