People who talk for a living can have habits that can interfere with the quality of their communication. Ideas of “who I am, or what I want to ‘sell,'” postural thinking that hinders gestures, and presence all show up habitually to help the content of what you want to say,….as a singer you may have learned a technique for using the diaphragm, larynx, tongue but you do not know how to integrate this in a larger picture of the whole body singing and therefore interfere.
Breath carries your voice and so they are naturally intertwined. FM Alexander had a voice problem that led him to his investigation. In solving the voice problem, breathing problems were addressed indirectly. FM Alexander was known as “The Breathing Man” and wrote about respiratory education. Many of us are inefficient in how we use air, often interfering with the involuntary muscle of the diaphragm and overworking other muscles. FM Alexander’s breathing methods are following the support of natural breathing.
And this fuels your voice.
Breathing is an Automatic Process
Unless we pay attention, breathing happens automatically. We can, however, consciously control our breathing and need to if we are performing in some way: singing, reciting, giving a speech or presentation.
Some Muscles Involved in Breathing
There are several muscles or muscle groups involved in breathing, but three are most important. The first is the diaphragm, a large, domed muscle that attaches underneath your lungs, all the way around, front to back. Many people think they can do “diaphragmatic breathing,” that they can control their diaphragm. You can’t. There are no nerves that go to the diaphragm like the nerves that go to your skeletal muscles and let you consciously decide to, for example, move your arm. You can consciously decide to take a breath; you can feel pressure on your abdominal viscera when you inhale because your diaphragm has contracted and pulled away from the lungs; but you cannot directly contract or relax your diaphragm.
The second set of muscles you can easily feel move when you breathe are your intercostal muscles. These are the muscles between each of your ribs. When you inhale, these muscles move your ribs so that the lungs have room to expand; when you exhale they move your ribs so your lungs decrease in volume. If you put your hands on your ribs and breathe in and out a few times, you can feel your lungs expanding and decreasing in volume.
A third set of muscles that help you breathe, and that you can use to help you get the last bit of air out of your lungs, are the transverse abdominal muscles. Try this experiment: Let air come in and out of your lungs a few times. Then, let the air out and keep letting it out. At some point you will feel muscles in your abdomen contract. These are your transverse abs. You can watch how they contract and consciously decide to let them contract to get the last bit of air out of your lungs.
The Alexander Technique
Your voice resonates through a whole body and sometimes gets restricted by muscle tensions you may not even know you have. Your body is an instrument similar to a violin or a flute, and when you practice using it well you can create all range of sounds. This is useful for performing on stage or when presenting or teaching.
The Alexander Technique improves your overall coordination, and this general improvement will also improve your breathing. Learning more about breathing and how you can consciously improve the quality of how you use your voice, will greatly enhance any kind of vocal performance. Therefore you do not work at individual parts to change. The Alexander Technique gives you a key to change the whole mechanism all at once.
Greater awareness of how your body is designed to work can really change how you relate to the world.
Many famous singers and actors use the Alexander Technique in their practices. It is taught as part of the curriculum in many colleges training actors, dancers and musicians, including the famous Julliard School in New York.