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OPERALABARTICLES Posture and Breath

OPERALABARTICLES

Il canto è fiato (singing is breath) used to say the old Italian Masters of the Bel Canto. Their teaching was based on this fundamental principle. The optimal breath management, achieved by adopting a specific posture called postura nobile (noble posture), is the essence of healthy singing. What is this ideal posture and how can we master our breathing?

Posture and Breath il canto è fiato By Gilles Denizot

Il canto è fiato (singing is breath) used to say the old Italian Masters of the Bel Canto. Their teaching was based on this fundamental principle. The optimal breath management, achieved by adopting a specific posture called postura nobile (noble posture), is the essence of healthy singing. What is this ideal posture and how can we master our breathing?

The Postura nobile or Noble Posture The singer’s instrument is not only part of his body, it IS his body. A musician uses an exterior instrument and his body. It is true that a musician is dependent upon the quality of the piano or the violin he plays, but also upon the muscular response of certain areas of his body, which he can easily monitor. This difference is crucial. The singer does not see his larynx, his vocal folds, his diaphragm. He is sometimes unable to locate them or to explain how they function. This leads to abstract, vague or even wrong ideas. The piano teacher adjusts the stool for his student so that the arm is placed correctly in front of the keyboard. The voice teacher must also adjust the external posture of his student, but he is unable to act directly upon the vocal folds or the diaphragm. He may only work from the outside and make sure that the student’s posture allows for the best disposition of the vocal instrument. This difference is the reason for the problems we all come across in the study of singing.

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OPERALABARTICLES Posture and Breath

Postura nobile? what is it? The Bel Canto Masters taught the postura nobile or "noble posture". The adjective is interesting: it is not athletic, muscular, or natural.

flexible as well as the abdominal muscles, the torso is open (in the shape of an umbrella), the sternum is high and forward, the shoulders are down, the skull is resting on the neck, in a vertical alignment. Then noble posture lifts the sternum high and forward and widens the rib cage. Female singers often go to great lengths to keep their rib cage open. The unfortunate, frequent mistake is

The singer's posture cannot be natural because it is elaborate. However it is far simpler than imagined and it allows for the maximal use of anyone's physical capacities. Not long ago teachers took great care in evaluating the instrument of any student who wanted to learn singing: the rib cage or the structure of the face. In an interview, Jessye Norman said that she had learned to master her breath but that she could only be grateful for the particular and innate dispositions of her body: the shape of her oral cavity and of her throat, the height of her soft palate, the nature of her larynx and of her vocal folds. We all have physical specificities that are somewhat adapted to a given use. There is nothing we can do about it, but a singer has the duty to make the most of his natural dispositions.

to open the rib cage by working with muscles. It forces the expansion and causes regrettable tensions whilst singing. It is far simpler, effective and healthy to first open the rib cage by adopting a definite posture, before breathing in. The postura nobile allows this: your rib cage is open without any muscular effort. Your lungs freely expand within the space provided. This inspiration is faster and fuller because the lungs are allowed to inflate. Teaching a flat torso and a depressed sternum goes against human physiology. It has been proven (using a succession of X-rays) that a

The noble posture of the singer is simply the social posture on a larger scale and specifically structured so that the body and the vocal organs are fully functional. Here's a quick summary: feet are steady on the ground, knees slightly bent, the curve of the back is corrected, the pelvis is

A collapsed torso always causes almost insurmountable difficulties. It may even modify the voice insofar as to be unable to identify the true vocal category of the singer.

"The postura nobile (noble posture) is neither natural nor soft, but energetic and flexible. This posture is essential to sing at one’s best and, for some, to reach professional level."

The thorax of a boy is narrow and flat. As the boy grows, the rib cage becomes wider and allows for a larger intake of breath. Additionally the boy's larynx drops down when his voice breaks and his range lowers by an octave, unlike girls who remain on the upper octave. A significant aspect of a child's education is to learn to stand up straight. As a result, a 'social posture' is achieved. This posture becomes usual (rather than natural) and is even increased when we speak in public.

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low sternum implies a high larynx and a high diaphragm: exactly what we need to avoid in classical singing.

The postura nobile is neither natural nor soft, but energetic and flexible. This posture is essential to sing at one’s best and, for some, to reach professional level.

© OperaLab Gilles Denizot – All Rights Reserved


OPERALABARTICLES Posture and Breath

Breathing Mechanism how does it work? How does the breath enter the lungs? We sometimes hear: "The diaphragm contracts and lowers itself because breath enters the lungs." It actually does the exact opposite. Let’s use the image of the syringe held upright (needle at the top). How do you fill it with air? Evidently you have to draw the plunger out and down, since you cannot push air inside the syringe. To lower the diaphragm, you must adopt the noble posture and free some space normally occupied by the internal abdominal organs. When the abdominal muscles are strengthened instead of being elastic, the diaphragm is facing a strong resistance at inspiration. It has been established that a neurological connection exists between the diaphragm and the larynx. When the former drops, so does the latter. We must relax the abdominal wall and the four intercostals muscles to allow a free intake of breath. How does the breath exit the lungs? Because of a difference in pressure between the breath inside the lungs and the outside air. Let’s use the image of an inflated balloon held between two fingers. When you release your fingers, the balloon instantly deflates. You know you do not need to press on the balloon to release the air. In singing, you also do not need to tighten the abdominal wall to start the sound. When the abdominal muscles are violently squeezed at the beginning of, or during singing, the breath rushes too rapidly through the larynx or in too large a quantity. This causes a leakage of breath

and/or a forced sound. In addition, vocal folds are hit together and the duration of the phrase is shortened. Some speak of glottic shock which has nothing to do with Garcia's coup de glotte. The noble posture makes it easy to renew the breathing cycle: as you empty your lungs and release your abdominal wall, another full contraction of the diaphragm is automatically initiated. This breathing in does not imply collapsing the upper torso posture. Luciano Pavarotti explained that the great secret is to have the patience to let the diaphragm go down again before beginning the next phrase.

"The great secret is to have the patience to let the diaphragm go down again before beginning the next phrase." Luciano Pavarotti

Glottic shock? Some speak of glottic shock which has nothing to do with Garcia's coup de glotte.

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© OperaLab Gilles Denizot – All Rights Reserved


OPERALABARTICLES Posture and Breath

"Is your sound hard or weak? Is it uneven and shaky, as if produced by nervous spasms? Do you feel a squeeze in your throat when breathing in or during singing?"

Your singing voice is "voiced breath" how to train it? Your singing voice is "voiced breath", just like your speaking voice. Is your sound hard or weak? Is your sound uneven and shaky, as if produced by nervous spasms? Do you feel your throat squeeze when breathing in or during singing? You might not have balanced the whole process yet. As a result, various vocal problems occur. Some people try exercises to raise and to stretch the velum, to place the tongue forward and the jaw backward, to lower the larynx and to open the pharynx. In fact, it is best to focus on the posture and the breath. This method is used by all good voice therapists. You must neutralize the antagonistic forces of the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles so that they may work in coordination. Balancing this mechanism properly will allow you to achieve your optimal sound.

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The singer’s instrument IS his body, just like the singer’s voice IS his breath: il canto è fiato. In training the voice, we must first achieve the postura nobile and the appoggio, which is the coordination of the breath management. Then we exercise this mechanism by vocalizing in the middle register before exploring both extremes of the voice. The larynx and the pharynx function properly when the posture and the breath are mastered. This long-established and proven method will help you reach security, consistency and confidence in your singing. Gilles Denizot

© OperaLab Gilles Denizot – All Rights Reserved

Posture and Breath | OperaLab Articles  

What is the ideal posture and how can we master our breathing? By Gilles Denizot

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