I have been blessed with the ability to hold out notes for what seems like an eternity. Whenever I perform, I am always asked the same question: “How do you hold out your notes that long?” I always tell them the same few answers. “Practice, practice, practice,” and, “If you follow the vocal training program from my book, Raise Your Voice, you will achieve the results you desire.” But what if I told you that I have recently re-discovered a series of techniques guaranteed to improve your breathing. How would you like to be able to sustain notes for thirty seconds or longer? Do I have your attention?
These techniques are fully explained in my second book, The Ultimate Breathing Workout. I figured I’d give you a taste by sharing the 1st exercise (which is basically a warm-up) out of nine exercises that make up the program:
The first exercise in the series will strengthen the abdominal and intercostal muscles while focusing on developing your Maximum Breath Potential. In Breathing Basics, I explained to you how you must maintain a slight tensing in the stomach muscles as if you were hissing. This exercise focuses on hissing. By hissing the air out, you’ll strengthen the abdominal muscles.
Start by taking a deep breath in through the nose. Remember to breathe into your belly first. Make sure to fill the vase from the bottom up. Don’t forget to expand the ribs by engaging the intercostal muscles.
Now begin to hiss, like a sustained “sssss”. Set your stopwatch and begin to hiss at a steady controlled rate. There will come a point when your stomach muscles begin to burn. It will feel uncomfortable and a little funny, like you aren’t in control of your stomach. Try to hang on. It’s going to be very tempting to give up and breathe, but don’t do it. Just think; the longer you hold on, the closer you are coming to sustaining notes for long periods of time. You are developing stomach muscle control.
Now the tricky part is learning to keep the ribs expanded outward for as long as you can. Remember, this exercise is to help strengthen the intercostal muscles as well. If you can keep the ribs expanded while you release your air supply, you’ll maintain a larger cavity in the chest, which in turn will slow the air release rate.
Your abdominal muscles will basically be fighting your intercostal muscles for control. Your abdominal muscles want to push in and your intercostal muscles want to push out. Don’t let your abs win!
You are teaching the abdominal and intercostal muscles a muscle memory pattern, or as I prefer to say, you are teaching them patience. They are learning how to release breath at a controlled rate. The burning sensation will eventually pass as you strengthen the stomach muscles.
So, have I peaked your interest? This first exercise is just the icing on the cake. I’m sure that you might have been a little confused by some of the terminology… You’ll completely understand every concept after you read the beginning of The Ultimate Breathing Workout”. For those of you who prefer to see exercises in action as opposed to reading in a book, check out my video, Beyond the Ultimate Breathing Workout.