What is The Appoggio?
You might have heard the term ‘Appoggio’ used commonly in the singing world. If not, you’re about to learn something quite remarkable that will change your whole approach to singing.
The Appoggio Breathing Technique is part of the Bel Canto Singing Style. The Appoggio evolved slowly from the 16th century till the 19th century. It was used early on by the Castrati and later by the Bel Canto Singers. The Appoggio faded along with Bel Canto in the 1830s (19th century). When Bel Canto was revived in 1900 (20th century), the Appoggio was brought to life once again by the new Bel Canto Singers.
The term ‘Appoggio’ is derived from the Italian word ‘Appoggiare’ (Upp-o-ja-re) meaning to ‘lean on’ or ‘to support’. This refers to using your breath to support your voice while singing. The Appoggio teaches you how to coordinate the muscles of your chest, neck and lower torso to manage your breath efficiently for singing well.
Benefits of Singing with The Appoggio
The Appoggio Breathing Technique will help you:
• Manage your breath efficiently
• Sing healthily and effortlessly
• Sustain notes for long durations
• Sing high and low notes with ease
• Improve vocal agility
• Sing with natural and healthy vibrato
Before we learn how to apply the Appoggio Breathing Technique, it is necessary for you to know about the importance of breath management in singing.
Breath Management in Singing
Many singers ignore the importance of breath management in singing. How hard can it be right? After all, breathing is a natural process. We breathe involuntarily throughout the day and night. Do we really need to learn how to manage our breath to sing?
Well, many singers who have employed improper breathing techniques have experienced serious vocal problems. The difference between singing with proper and improper technique lies in using your breath. The importance of managing the breath well for any singer cannot be emphasised enough. Breath management is the foundation for singing well. If you can control your breath, you can control your voice.
The Appoggio Technique aims to teach you how to manage your breath well to sing well.
Now to understand the Appoggio, we must first cover 2 important topics:
Do not skip these topics as they are vital to learning and applying the Appoggio Breathing Technique effectively while singing. Take your time to understand how exactly your body works. The time invested in learning these basic principles will reap great benefits to you as a singer.
The Natural Process of Breathing
Breathing is the natural process that takes place throughout our lives from the moment we are born to the moment we die. Now we all know that we need to breathe to stay alive, yet we take this process for granted.
Have you ever thought about what exactly goes on in your body to make breathing possible and keep you alive?
Your body is made up of cells that need oxygen to function. When you inhale or breathe in, you take in oxygen-rich air. You exhale or breathe out to release stale air, containing waste carbon dioxide gas.
There are 4 stages to your natural breathing cycle:
• Inspiration or Breathing in: Air travels from your nose and mouth into your body.
• Suspension: For a brief period, the air in your body is stationary just before it is let out.
• Expiration or Breathing out: Air is expelled from your body through your nose and mouth.
• Suspension: For a brief period, you do not inhale or exhale any more air.
This is the natural process of breathing that is repeated throughout our lives.
Let’s take a closer look at how our body functions internally while breathing.
When you breathe in, air travels from your nose and mouth into your windpipe (trachea), located in your neck. Your wind-pipe splits into two tubes called bronchi, each connected to a lung. Your lungs are a pair of balloon like organs in your chest area. Now each bronchus (singular form of bronchi) branches out into air passages within your lungs called bronchioles. The air travels through these bronchioles to meet a cluster of alveoli at the end of each passageway. Alveoli are tiny air sacs that carry out the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. As you breathe in, oxygen enters your blood stream to feed the cells that make up your body.
When you breathe out, air is released from your lungs. The air travels up through your windpipe and is expelled through your nose and mouth as carbon dioxide.
Primary Muscles of Breathing
Your diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle located just below your lungs. It is slightly higher on the right side to make space for the organs below it. It divides the trunk of your body into the upper torso and lower torso. Your diaphragm is the primary muscle involved in breathing.
As you breathe in, your diaphragm contracts to move down. The descent of your diaphragm is not very low, just 2-3 inches. The downward movement of your diaphragm increases the space in your chest cavity to allow your lungs to expand and be filled with air.
As you breathe out, your diaphragm relaxes to move up. The upward movement of your diaphragm reduces the space in your chest cavity and compresses your lungs to expel the air.
Ribcage (Intercostal Muscles)
Your ribcage is a bony framework in your torso that houses your lungs, heart and diaphragm. It consists of 12 pairs of ribs that originate from your spine at the back of your torso.
The first 10 pairs of ribs circle around to connect to your sternum (breastbone), a vertical bone in the middle of your chest. Ribs 1-7 are directly connected to your sternum via costal cartilages and are called True Ribs.
Ribs 8-10 are indirectly connected to your sternum via the costal cartilage of the 7th Rib. They are called False Ribs.
The 11th and 12th ribs are suspended without any connection to your sternum or any other ribs. They are known as Floating Ribs.
Your ribcage expands and contracts to support the breathing process. The movements of your ribcage are made possible with the intercostal muscles located between your ribs. For this reason, the spaces between your ribs are known as intercostal spaces. Along with your diaphragm, your intercostals muscles are primary muscles of breathing as well.
There are 3 layers of intercostal muscles:
• External Intercostals - Outermost layer
• Internal Intercostals - Middle layer
• Innermost Intercostals - Deepest layer
As you breathe in, your external intercostals contract to elevate and expand your ribcage. At this time, the internal and innermost intercostals are relaxed. The expansion of your ribcage increases the space in your chest cavity to allow your lungs to expand and be filled with air.
As you breathe out, the internal and innermost intercostals contract to pull your ribcage in. At this time, the external intercostals are relaxed. The inward movement of your ribcage reduces the space in your chest cavity and compresses your lungs to expel the air.
To summarise, the primary muscles of breathing in are your diaphragm and external intercostals. The primary muscles of breathing out are the internal and innermost intercostals. Your diaphragm and ribcage work together to increase and decrease the space in your chest cavity to make breathing possible.
Accessory Muscles of Breathing
As the name indicates, the accessory or secondary muscles of breathing assist the respiration process. While breathing in, some of these muscles help elevate your sternum and ribcage. While breathing out, other muscles help push your diaphragm up and depress your ribcage.
Let’s take a closer look at the accessory muscles of breathing.
Neck Accessory Muscles
The accessory muscles of your neck include:
The sternocleidomastoids or simply sternomastoids are a pair of thick muscles located on both sides of your neck. They connect to your sternum (breastbone), clavicle (collarbone) and mastoid process (behind the ears). They allow you to move your neck and play a role in the respiration process. While breathing in, the sternomastoids contract to elevate your sternum. This in turn assists the expansion of your ribcage.
The scaleni consists of several muscles that extend from your neck to your upper 2 ribs. While breathing in, these muscles contract to elevate these upper ribs.
Lower Torso Accessory Muscles
As looked at earlier, the trunk of your body can be divided into two parts, the upper torso and lower torso. Your lower torso is the area of your body just below your diaphragm. It consists of two sets of muscles:
• Abdominal Muscles
• Lower Back Muscles
Now your abdominal muscles cover a large area of the front and sides of your lower torso. So in order to distinguish the abdominals and refer to them more accurately, the lower torso can be subdivided into two regions:
• Epigastric or Upper Abdominal Region: between the bottom of your sternum (breastbone) and navel (belly-button).
• Hypogastric or Lower Abdominal Region: between the navel and pelvis (groin area).
Your abdominals are made up of 3 sets of muscles:
1. Transverse Abdominis
3. Rectus Abdominis
The Transverse Abdominis is the deepest layer of your abdominal muscles. It spans over a wide area covering the front and sides of your lower torso.
The Internal and External Obliques are the next 2 layers over the transverse abdominis. They cover only the sides of your lower torso.
The Rectus Abdominis is located in the front of your lower torso. It functions mainly as a postural muscle and plays a minor role in normal breathing and the Appoggio. You may have heard this muscle commonly referred to as the abs.
Together, these 3 sets of abdominal muscles make up your abdominal wall.
While breathing in, your lower torso muscles expand to allow your diaphragm to move down. The downward movement of your diaphragm pushes the organs below it outward. At the same time, the expansion of your abdominals creates space for the displacement of these organs. The absence of ribs in your lower torso allows your belly to swell up while breathing in.
While breathing out, your lower torso muscles move in to push your diaphragm up. Along with this, the organs are pushed back in place below your diaphragm.
Now that you know about the muscles involved in breathing, let’s compare the function of these muscles when your body is at rest and when your body is active. This will help you understand how and to what extant you’re supposed to use your muscles in the Appoggio Technique for singing.
Passive Breathing vs Active Breathing
The demand for oxygen in your body varies depending on how active you are at that moment. When your body is at rest while sleeping, your body’s need for oxygen is at its lowest. Your breathing is practically involuntary or automatic.
At this time, your diaphragm is the chief muscle of inspiration or breathing in. The movements of your diaphragm are controlled by your autonomous nervous system.
Your accessory muscles play little or no part while breathing in passively.
While breathing out, your body depends primarily on the natural elastic recoil of your lungs to expel the air. Your lungs are like balloons. We’ve all tried to fill a balloon up with air and let go off it to see the balloon bounce around as the air gets depleted. But what is it that expels the air from the balloon the moment you release it?
As the balloon is filled, the air pressure inside the balloon increases. Air always moves from an area of higher pressure to lower pressure. Along with this, the elasticity of the balloon assists in expelling the air to reduce the internal pressure. Your lungs work in the same way. You are able to breathe in because air travels from a higher pressure outside your body to a lower pressure in your lungs. As your lungs inflate, the air pressure in your lungs increases and becomes greater than the pressure outside your body. You then breathe out to reduce the pressure in your lungs.
So when your body is at rest, it is primarily the elastic recoil of your lungs that works to reduce the internal air pressure and expel the air.
Along with this, your internal and innermost intercostals work passively to pull your ribcage in.
Among the accessory muscles, your abdominals work passively to push your diaphragm up and compress your lungs.
Now let’s see how your muscles function differently when your body is active. First, we’ll take the example of speaking.
Active Breathing - Speaking
While speaking, your respiratory muscles are more active because speaking demands quicker replenishments of air to produce sound.
The accessory muscles of breathing are more active while breathing in, contracting to elevate your sternum and ribcage. Your lower torso expands to allow your diaphragm to move down and take in enough air. The sides and back of your lower torso might expand to some extant while breathing in, although not greatly.
While speaking, your internal and innermost intercostals will work to pull your ribcage in.
At the same time, your abdominals will move in to push your diaphragm up with a fairly decent amount of pressure. If your lower back muscles had expanded to some extant while breathing in, they will move in as well to to push your diaphragm up.
While speaking, your body is no longer depending primarily on the elastic recoil of your lungs to expel air.
Active Breathing - Singing
While singing, your respiratory muscles will be most active as compared to resting and speaking. The demand of oxygen in your body for singing is relatively high. So the function of your respiratory muscles while speaking is not sufficient to meet the more intense demands of singing.
In order to sing with the Appoggio, you must control the external intercostals, abdominals and lower back muscles voluntarily. Your ribcage should be expanded greatly and your lower torso should be distended all around, in the front, sides and back. Although the sides and back of your lower torso are not used to a great extant while speaking, they play a major role in singing with the Appoggio.
We’ll learn about how exactly these muscles are used in the Appoggio later on.
For now, let’s review what we’ve learnt about the function of your respiratory muscles during passive and active breathing.
Voice is produced by us quite naturally. As new born babies, we came out of the womb using our voice to cry. We never needed to think of how to produce voice, we just did it. But what goes on internally that gives each of us a voice to speak or sing?
Voice is produced in your larynx or voice-box. If you run your fingers down the front of your neck, you’ll feel a lump. This is your larynx commonly known as your ‘Adam’s Apple’. The Adam’s Apple is generally larger and hence more prominent in men than women. This is also one of the reasons why men have deeper voices than women. So if you can’t really feel your Adam’s Apple, don’t worry, you’re not missing your voice box.
Your larynx is located just above your windpipe (trachea) and in front of your food-pipe (esophagus). It is made up of several cartilages and muscles that function to produce voice and protect your windpipe from swallowed substances. Your larynx houses your vocal folds or vocal cords, a pair of membranous tissue.
During normal breathing your vocal folds are kept open to allow air to pass through freely.
Voice is produced when your vocal folds are brought close together to vibrate rapidly against the air expelled from your lungs. The number of vibrations per second determines how high or low in pitch you speak or sing. To produce a high note, your vocal folds are stretched to become thinner and hence vibrate quicker. To produce a low not, your vocal folds are shortened to become thicker and hence vibrate slower. It is the rapid vibrations against the stream of air that produces sound. Think of air as fuel for your voice. Just like how a car needs fuel in the engine to run, we need air to produce voice.
Now that you’ve learnt about breathing and voice production, we can move on to the Appoggio Breathing Technique.
The Appoggio Breathing Technique
The Appoggio is only an extension of the natural process of breathing. In normal breathing, we use our respiratory muscles passively. For the Appoggio, you will simply be using your respiratory muscles more actively and with greater control.
You might be surprised to learn that many Classical Bel Canto singers start training by focusing only on Appoggio Breathing Exercises for weeks before trying out vocal exercises or any repertoire. This allows them to gain complete control over their respiratory muscles to support the voice.
So if you master the Appoggio Breathing Technique, you’re more than half way there to learning the Bel Canto Singing Style.
We can learn the Appoggio by breaking it down into 4 parts:
1. Vocal Fold Vibration
2. Slowing the Rise of your Diaphragm
3. Expanded Ribcage and Lower Torso
Now don’t worry if this seems a bit confusing to you at first. We’ll cover each of these parts quite extensively.
Part 1 - Vocal Fold Vibration
In order to sing well, your vocal folds must vibrate well and the muscles of your larynx must function optimally. For this, you need to use just enough air needed to sing, not too much, not too less. A steady and controlled stream of air should pass through your folds consistently regardless of how high or low in pitch you sing.
But what happens when you sing with too much air or too little air?
Singing with Too Much Air
The most common problems experienced by singers is caused by singing with too much air. If you sing with too much air, you could experience:
1. Raised Larynx
2. Breathy Tone
3. Pressed Phonation
You might have come across some of these terms before. Let’s look at each of these problems in more detail.
1. Raised Larynx
Have you ever noticed your larynx rise?
Try swallowing. When you swallow, the extrinsic laryngeal muscles or swallowing muscles elevate your larynx. The rise of your larynx shuts the opening of your air passage to prevent swallowed material from entering your windpipe (trachea). You might remember learning that your larynx not only functions as your voice box, but also serves to protect your windpipe.
The important point to note is that when your larynx is raised, your laryngeal muscles close up and your air passage gets shut.
Why don’t you try breathing in while swallowing! It is literally impossible.
So how do you expect to sing well with a raised larynx?
Your larynx rises while singing because you are simply using too much air. Singing with too much air causes a build up air pressure below your vocal folds. This is called subglottic pressure. As more air accumulates below your folds, the muscles of your larynx start to tense up. In order to reduce this tension, the extrinsic laryngeal muscles or swallowing muscles raise your larynx as a natural reflex. As your larynx rises, your air passage becomes smaller and the length of your throat reduces greatly. This results in a very strained or tense sound while singing. Your voice will have more of a shouting quality instead of a seamless and pleasant sound.
Singers often experience a raised larynx when singing high notes because they tend to release more air.
A raised larynx is one of the most common problems of singing with too much air. Let’s look at the other problems singers encounter.
2. Breathy Tone
A breathy tone is often used by singers as a stylistic effect in mainstream genres such as pop and R&B. However, many young singers try to adopt and exaggerate this style as part of their natural singing voice without realising the repercussions.
The release of too much air for singing might blow your vocal folds apart and not allow them to connect well. Your vocal folds are not allowed to vibrate naturally like they’re supposed to because of this burst of air. The excess airflow also makes it more difficult for your vocal folds to be stretched to sing higher notes. Singing with a breathy tone depletes your air supply quickly, which makes it impossible to sustain notes or phrases for long durations.
You’ll notice your larynx rise even while singing with a breathy tone. But instead of possessing a shouting like quality, a breathy tone is weak because it lacks depth and resonance.
Some singers try to overcome breathiness in the voice by using muscular force to produce a louder and more resonant sound. This method is not a viable solution and might actually result in expelling more air.
Now a breathy tone can be used stylistically while singing to produce an emotional and more dramatic effect in certain sections of a song. But you must have developed good vocal technique before experimenting with such effects.
3. Pressed Phonation
You might try to counteract singing with too much air by increasing muscle tension in your larynx. However, this will only cause you to press or squeeze your vocal folds together. The term ‘Pressed Phonation’ comes from the act of pressing your vocal folds tightly during phonation: the production of vocal sound.
Singing with pressed phonation results in a strained, closed and muffled sound that is detrimental to your vocal health.
Falsetto is the light, airy, high frequency tone that is more distinctly heard in men than women. When men try to imitate a woman’s voice, they generally use the falsetto register. To find your falsetto, try ascending in pitch on a vowel. You’ll reach a point where your voice will want to crack or break. Allow this break to happen instead of straining to sing any higher. Your voice will flip into falsetto.
Falsetto is generally produced when singing with too much air puts a lot of strain on your vocal folds and laryngeal muscles. As we looked at earlier, to reduce this tension your larynx rises. When your vocal folds cannot withstand any more tension, they could change shape quite suddenly causing a break into falsetto. In falsetto, only the inner edges of your vocal folds vibrate unlike singing with a clear and resonant tone where the entire length of your folds vibrate.
Like a breathy tone, singing with falsetto can be used stylistically in many genres. A singer might use falsetto to sing high notes that might suit a particular song. But a singer should never adopt falsetto as part of his/her natural vocal range. Falsetto should not be substituted with the natural voice to sing every song. This could also indicate to the audience that you do not possess a vocal range worthy enough of being called a good singer.
Now that we’ve looked at the problems of singing with too much, let’s see what happens if you try to sing with too little air.
Singing with Too Little Air
Many singers are taught to try and sing with as little air as possible to avoid the problems we just looked at. But you must remember that under-singing is just as destructive as over-singing.
When you try to sing with minimal air, you tend to leave your muscles completely loose. This might give you the sensation of singing with vocal freedom. Ironically, the slackness of your muscles results in a weak vibration of your vocal folds and allows a lot of air to pass through. You’ll find yourself singing with a breathy tone and breaking into falsetto.
Singers who employ this technique are taught to perceive the light airy quality of these tones to be produced with little air and minimal effort. But we learnt earlier that a breathy tone and falsetto are weak because they lack depth and resonance. They do not allow a singer to have control over the voice and explore his/her complete vocal range. Singing with minimal air might even cause your voice to waver or vibrate unnaturally and uncontrollably.
Always remember that although it is important to be relaxed while singing, your muscles still need to be engaged without holding any unwanted tension in order to support your voice.
Part 1 - Review
In order to sing healthily and effortlessly, you must use just enough air needed for your vocal folds and laryngeal muscles to function optimally. The airflow must be steady and controlled at all times, regardless of how high or low in pitch you sing.
No healthy singing technique is built upon using too much air or too little air. Singing with too much air is the cause of most problems experienced by singers. It is damaging to your vocal health and could cause irreversible effects over a period of time.
Let’s see how you can control our breath to sing with a steady stream of air in Part 2 of the Appoggio.
Part 2 - Slow the Rise of Your Diaphragm
In order to release a steady and controlled stream of air, your lungs must be compressed slowly.
So how do you compress your lungs slowly?
You might recall what we learnt about the diaphragm and ribcage in ‘The Natural Process of Breathing’. Your diaphragm and ribcage allow your lungs to expand and compress to make breathing possible.
So in order to control the compression of your lungs, you must control your diaphragm and ribcage.
In this part, we’ll focus on your diaphragm.
To compress your lungs slowly, your diaphragm must rise slowly. The slow rise of your diaphragm will allow you to sing with a steady and controlled airflow.
Now the question is how do you slow the rise of your diaphragm?
Well, your diaphragm is an involuntary muscle. This means that you do not have direct control over your diaphragm. Now you can move your arms, legs or head because you can directly control the muscles in these parts of your body. But in order to move your diaphragm, you actually take the help of other muscles and structures that are connected to your diaphragm. Among these muscles and structures, the most important ones are your ribcage and lower torso muscles.
With the help of your ribcage and lower torso muscles, you can slow the rise of your diaphragm.
Let’s see how we can do this in Part 3 of The Appoggio.
Part 3 - Expanded Ribcage and Lower Torso
In order to slow the rise of your diaphragm, you should:
• Keep your Ribcage Expanded
• Keep your Lower Torso Expanded
We already learnt that your ribcage houses your diaphragm. In fact, your diaphragm is connected to your lower ribs by muscular fibres. So if you keep your ribcage expanded, your lower ribs try to pull your diaphragm down and slow its rise while singing. The downward pull of your lower ribs provides resistance to the upward movement of your diaphragm.
If your ribcage is allowed to move in while singing, the resistance against the rise of your diaphragm is lost. As a result, your diaphragm will rise quickly to expel the air.
You should be careful to not use excessive force to keep your ribcage open. This might cause muscular tension that could be reflected in your neck muscles and larynx.
Expanded Lower Torso
As looked at earlier, your diaphragm divides the trunk of your body into the upper torso and lower torso.
Your lower torso consists of muscles that are connected to your diaphragm. These muscles include your abdominal muscles and lower back muscles.
Your lower torso muscles assist your diaphragm in contracting (moving down) and relaxing (moving up). As you breathe in, the front, sides and back of your lower torso expand to allow your diaphragm to move down. As you breathe out, the front, sides and back of your lower torso move in to push your diaphragm up.
So if you keep your lower torso expanded all around, you can reduce the pressure applied to push your diaphragm up and slow its rise.
Now the expansions of the sides and back of your lower torso should be equal to or even greater than that of your belly or front of your lower torso. There shouldn’t really be too much of a belly distention. Although the lower back is not used to a great extent in normal breathing, you need to learn to expand the muscles of your lower back to manage your breath well and sing well.
If you can just focus on gaining control and keeping your side abdominal wall and lower back muscles expanded, you will be able to slow the rise of your diaphragm greatly. This will give you much better control over your breath to support your voice while singing.
Keeping an expanded lower torso should feel like a tube around your entire waist. You should aim to preserve this feeling for as long as possible while singing.
Pulling in and Pushing out Lower Torso Techniques
There are two incorrect approaches to using the lower torso muscles while singing that are still taught by some teachers today:
• Pulling in
• Pushing out
Pulling in the Lower Torso
Some teachers believe that pulling your lower torso in while singing gives you more control over your voice and projects the sound with great resonance. When you pull your lower torso in to sing, your diaphragm is pushed up quickly. As a result, the air in your lungs is expelled with great force.
What these teachers believe to be a resonant sound is actually just more air being used to produce a shouting like quality. Pulling your lower torso in depletes your air supply quickly and gets rid off any support for your voice.
Pushing out the Lower Torso
If you thrust your lower torso down and out, your sternum is lowered immediately and your ribcage collapses. The pushing down and out technique also reduces the contact of your abdominal wall with the 11th and 12th ribs. This reduces the expansion of your lower ribs and hence, your lower back.
Try pushing your lower torso down and out. You might notice a build up of tension in your larynx. This happens because the muscles of your body are all interconnected through nerves. Tension in one part of your body can be reflected in another part of your body. So when you push your lower torso out, your larynx becomes tense because your vocal folds get pressed against each other tightly as a natural reflex.
You could relate this to exerting muscular force on something such as lifting heavy weights in the gym. When you lift or push something heavy, you tend to contract your lower torso muscles and produce a constricted sound from your throat. This takes place because the tension in your lower torso muscles causes your vocal folds to be squeezed together as air is forced through.
So remember, holding excess tension in your abdominal region and ribcage will cause tension at the laryngeal level while singing.
Part 3 - Review
We’ve learnt that in order to slow the rise of your diaphragm while singing, you must keep your ribcage and lower torso expanded for as long as possible.
Let’s see how exactly you can do this in Part 4 of the App
Part 4 - Posture
In order to keep your ribcage and lower torso expanded while singing, you must have good posture. Yes, thats right! Having good posture is the key to managing your breath well and singing well. This might come as a bit of a surprise to you if you haven’t learnt about the importance of posture in singing before. Your posture determines the placement of the muscles and structures in your body. So having good posture allows you to sing with an expanded ribcage and lower torso to support your voice.
Now what exactly is ‘supporting the voice’ or ‘breath support’?
The term ‘breath support’ is used quite commonly while teaching singing. There are a lot of misleading interpretations out there on what breath support is. Let’s clear this up real quick!
When you have good posture, you can balance and coordinate the muscles of your torso and neck to sing with a steady and controlled airflow. By managing your breath well, the muscles and vocal folds in your larynx are allowed to function optimally to meet the intense demands of singing. Along with this, your neck muscles are able to provide structural support to your larynx. This is how your breath can support your voice.
Without proper breath support, your voice will have no foundation to stand on. You’ll experience breaks, a diminished vocal range, a lack of clarity and resonance, and uncontrollable wavering in your voice.
Breath support is not something that is learnt separately from breath management. In fact, breath support is simply the result of managing your breath well.
Now that we’ve covered breath support, let’s see what good posture for singing really is.
Good Posture for Singing:
• Chest Moderately High
• Back Straight
• Shoulders slightly down and back
• Head straight
• Feet kept shoulder width apart
Now among these points, the key to the Appoggio is keeping your chest moderately high. We use the term ‘moderately high’ because raising your chest too high could actually cause problems while singing, which we’ll look at a bit later. For now, let’s focus on keeping that chest of yours high enough in order to sing with an expanded ribcage and lower torso.
Let’s start with keeping an expanded ribcage.
Chest - Correct Position
When you raise your chest, your sternum (breastbone) rises as well. You might remember learning that the first 10 pairs of ribs are attached to your sternum. So as your sternum rises, your ribcage expands. Now if you can keep your chest moderately high at all times, while breathing in and singing, your ribcage will stay expanded for a remarkable amount of time.
As we looked at earlier, your external intercostal muscles contract to expand your ribcage while breathing in. And while exhaling, your internal and innermost intercostals contract to pull your ribcage in. However, the Appoggio ensures that you maintain a high chest position to keep your external intercostals contracted for as long as possible against the pull of the internal and innermost intercostals. These opposing forces reach something close to an equilibrium that allows your voice to be carried with minimal effort, like your voice is simply floating. The contest between your intercostals is called the Vocal Struggle.
Now there will be some inward movement of your ribcage while singing, but you can reduce this movement to a bare minimum by maintaining the high chest position. Your ribcage should never be allowed to collapse or move in completely as this will allow your diaphragm to rise quickly.
So remember, raise your chest moderately high even before breathing in. There should be little or no displacement of your raised chest at any time, while breathing in or singing.
Chest - Incorrect Position
Be careful to never raise your chest too high like a military stance. When you raise your chest excessively, not only do you feel uncomfortable, you also tend to lower your chest while singing, allowing your ribcage to collapse in the process.
There are singing coaches out there that teach their students to bend forward at the waist, particularly while singing high notes. Bending forward at your waist does nothing but lower your chest. Remember, bending forward or back does not serve any purpose in singing well and goes against having good posture for singing.
So we’ve learnt that you must keep your chest moderately high in order to keep your ribcage expanded. But how high exactly is moderately high?
You can use this simple exercise to help you find the correct placement of your chest for singing.
Raise your arms above your head like you’re pointing towards the sky. This will naturally lift your chest high enough. Now while keeping your chest in this position, slowly lower your arms. This is the noble posture of your chest. At first, you might find breathing with this position of your chest quite uncomfortable, especially if you’ve never paid much attention to your posture. With practice, your muscles will get accustomed to this position and allow you to manage your breath well.
Now let’s see how you can keep your lower torso expanded while singing.
Expanded Lower Torso
There are two points you must remember in order to expand your lower torso:
• Keep your chest moderately high
• Keep your pelvic muscles relaxed
Chest - Correct Position
Now we’ve already looked at the importance of raising your chest moderately high to expand your ribcage. Keeping your chest high enough also allows for the proper expansion of your lower torso.
When you keep your chest moderately high, your diaphragm is allowed to move low enough in the body while breathing in. Although the downward movement of your diaphragm is just around 3 inches, it is low enough to take in a deep breath that will fill your lungs up. A low breath ensures that your lower torso expands all around, in the front, sides and back.
Let’s talk a little about the expansions of the sides and lower back, which are vital to the Appoggio Technique. When your diaphragm descends low enough, it allows your side abdominal wall to expand greatly and elevates the 11th and 12th ribs at the back, which expands your lower back.
Try this exercise to experience the the sides and back of your lower torso expand.
Stand against a wall or lie down to help you feel the expansion.
Make sure to keep your chest moderately high.
Now slowly breathe in. Imagine yourself breathing into the sides and back of your lower torso. Of course the air does not literally move down into your side abdominal wall and lower back. But imagining this allows your diaphragm to descend low enough in the body.
The feeling of an expanded lower torso should feel like a tube around your entire waist.
Now remember, it is impossible for your diaphragm to descend beyond a certain point. So don’t waste your energy on trying to inhale as much air or tank up as this will actually result in the quick expulsion of air.
Tanking up by taking in more air than is needed increases the air pressure in your lungs. This allows the elastic recoil of your lungs to take over and force the air out quickly.
Chest - Incorrect Position
Now during the lower torso exercise, if you raise your chest too high, you might pull your lower torso in instead of allowing it to expand. This happens because your diaphragm is not allowed to descend low enough in your body and your lungs are not actually filling up with enough air. You will notice how quickly your air supply gets diminished if you sing with your chest raised too high.
Breathing into your chest is known as the ‘Breath of Exhaustion’ because it is generally associated with panting or sighing, when you want to take in as much air as possible. The irony is that breathing with a high chest only gives the sensation of taking in more air. In actuality, it is the muscle tension in your chest and the accumulation of air in your throat that gives you the feeling of breathing deeply.
Try breathing heavily like you’ve just run a few sprints and notice the displacement of your chest and how high you raise it while breathing in.
So we’ve covered the first point of keeping your chest moderately high to expand your lower torso. Continue reading on to the second point to learn about the role of your pelvic muscles.
The second point to remember is to keep your pelvic muscles relaxed. Your pelvis is the bony structure below the trunk of your body that provides attachments to your legs and torso. You might have heard this region referred to as the groin area.
Your pelvis consists of muscles that are connected to your abdominal and lower back muscles. Among your pelvic muscles, the most important ones are the levator ani and the coccyges muscles. When you keep your pelvic muscles relaxed, your lower torso muscles are allowed to expand freely while breathing in.
How do you relax your pelvic muscles you ask?
Its quite simple. You relax your pelvic muscles to release waste from your body, that is to urinate and defecate. Imagine that you have to pee right now. You’ll notice that you naturally relax the muscles in your groin area to allow the waste from your body to pass through. These are your pelvic muscles. This is exactly how you should keep your pelvic muscles while singing, in a relaxed state. And if you must use the restroom each time before vocalising, so be it, as this will help you a great deal in developing the Appoggio Technique.
Many singers are not aware of the importance of the pelvic muscles in singing. Although you simply need to relax them, most people keep their pelvic muscles tensed without even realising it. In fact the ignorance and improper use of the pelvic muscles in singing can sometimes be the key difference between proper and improper singing technique.
Now that we’ve looked at how you can expand your lower torso freely, let’s try a simple breathing exercise. This exercise is designed to help you maintain the expansion of your lower torso for as long as possible. It involves teaching you the difference between holding your breath and suspending your breath.
Holding your Breath vs Suspending your Breath
Holding your Breath
Imagine being timed to see how long you can hold your breath for underwater.
Breathe in quickly and deeply.
Now hold your breath and stop.
Notice what you did to stop the release of air.
Try this again and be aware of what exactly you do to hold your breath.
The moment you held your breath, you should have felt your lower torso and ribcage move in slightly and quite suddenly. This causes a short burst of air to be expelled from your lungs. But instead of the air exiting your nose and mouth, it stops at your throat. This happens because your vocal folds come together to shut the airway and block the airflow. With your vocal folds closed, the air starts to accumulate beneath your folds, which gives you the sensation of something being held in your throat. You might have noticed this tension in your throat when you held your breath.
Now of course you can’t hold your breath to sing because your vocal folds are closed. But this test helps you understand what you shouldn’t do to try and keep your lower torso expanded. Although you might notice some expansion of your lower torso while holding your breath, a substantial amount of air is accumulated and held in your throat instead of your lungs.
Let’s compare this to suspending your breath.
Suspending your Breath
Breathe in again, but slowly through your nose. Slow and silent breathing helps develop an awareness of the Appoggio Technique.
Now suspend your breath.
This means that you should simply maintain the open position of your vocal folds without breathing in or out. Your lower torso and ribcage should be expanded without any inward movement whatsoever. The air should remain in your lungs the whole time instead of being held in your throat. You shouldn’t feel the slightest tension in your throat or any other part of your body. You are simply suspending the air within your body, which you might experience as a light floating like sensation.
Now breathe out.
Suspending your Breath - Inspiratory Posture
The posture you took on while suspending your breath is called ‘The Inspiratory Posture’ or ‘The Posture of Inhalation’. The Inspiratory Posture gets its name from taking on the posture of inspiration or breathing in by keeping your ribcage and lower torso expanded.
If you can learn to sing on the Inspiratory Posture, you can delay the process of exhalation to sing with a steady and controlled airflow. Singing on the inspiratory posture will allow you to feel as if you are taking in or inhaling the sound rather than projecting it out. Now of course it’s impossible to literally sing while breathing in. But you should remember to always sing with the feeling of containing the sound within your body, not pushing or expelling it outwards. The Bel Canto masters called this concept ‘Inhalare la voce,’ which means ‘Inhale the voice’.
Your goal as a singer should be to retain the Inspiratory Posture for a remarkable amount of time to manage your breath well for singing. If you can master singing on the Posture of Inhalation you have mastered the Appoggio Breathing Technique.
So we’ve looked at how keeping a moderately high chest is the key to the Appoggio. Let’s quickly look at the role of your back, shoulders, head and feet in assisting the high position of your chest and the proper coordination of your muscles to sing well.
Posture - Other Parts
You might already be aware that you back holds your spine, a long series of connected bones with natural inward and outward curves. Your spine is the ‘backbone’ for good posture. It serves to balance and support your head, neck and torso. For good posture, you must stand upright with your back straight to keep your spine elongated. This will help you raise your chest high enough.
At the same time, you should be careful to not try and elongate your spine too much as this will raise your chest excessively and produce tension in your lower back muscles.
If your back is not straight, your spine will not be elongated and your chest will not be placed high enough to sing with the Appoggio.
Your shoulders should be slightly down and back. This will allow you to raise your chest moderately high.
Now although you should keep your shoulders relaxed, remember to never slouch them. This will affect your spinal posture and lower your chest.
Many singers tend to raise their shoulders, especially while singing high notes. Raising your shoulders produces tension in your shoulder muscles that is reflected in your larynx and hence, your voice.
Head and Neck
You should keep your head straight and relaxed. You might find tilting your head up to the slightest degree more comfortable with your chest raised moderately high. A good indicator for positioning your head is to have your ears in line with your shoulders.
Singing with the correct position of your head allows your neck muscles to function optimally for good breath management. You might remember learning that your neck holds accessory muscles that elevate your sternum and ribcage. It also holds the extrinsic laryngeal muscles that support your larynx and the intrinsic laryngeal muscles that control your vocal folds. After all, it is the coordinated effort of the muscles in your chest, neck and lower torso that help you sing with True Appoggio. So your neck plays a vital role in being able to sing well. Any unwanted tension in your body is reflected in your neck and hence, your voice.
It is a common tendency for singers to raise the head to sing high notes and lower the head to sing low notes. Raising your head while singing is actually an indicator of tension in your neck. It disrupts the coordination of your vocal folds and laryngeal muscles. The reason why you lift your head as you sing higher in pitch is because you are simply using too much air. When you sing with too much air, the muscles in your larynx start to tense up. To try and reduce this tension, your swallowing muscles get activated and raise your larynx. As your larynx rises, your head naturally rises as well. Some singers are so used to straining their muscles to sing higher that they find it hard to sing without raising their head. The tension produced in your neck while raising your head to sing is also reflected in your jaw, tongue, soft palate and pharynx, which all play a major role in the Bel Canto style of singing.
Another common misconception is that lowering your head allows you to sing lower in pitch. In actuality, the lowering of your head applies pressure onto your larynx to depress it. This can actually hurt your larynx and disrupt the coordination of your laryngeal muscles and vocal folds. As your larynx is lowered, the length of your vocal tract or throat increases, which results in a deeper tone. Have you ever noticed the depth of your tone while yawning? Place a finger on your larynx or look into a mirror and try yawning. You’ll notice that your larynx naturally drops down resulting in a deeper tone. You definitely don’t want to sound like you’re yawning while singing.
Now in order to sing with true Bel Canto, you need to sing with a neutral or a slightly low larynx depending on your style of singing. But your larynx should never be depressed like while yawning, especially not by lowering your head to forcefully lower it.
Lowering your head while singing also prevents the accessory muscles of your neck from keeping your sternum and upper ribs elevated.
Many young singers are falsely made to believe that raising or lowering the head helps display the emotions of a song. Its one thing to perform a song with the emotions that it demands. But you should also remember to never get so carried away in your performance that you forget your foundation or the basic principles of the Appoggio Technique.
Your feet should be kept firm to the ground and shoulder width apart. Some singing coaches falsely believe that leaning forward and placing your weight on your toes or the balls of your feet allows you to sing with more freedom. Avoid leaning forward or back at any point while singing. The weight of your body should be balanced evenly on both feet. Now and then it is alright for you to gently shift the weight of your body from one foot to another while singing as this can help you avoid rigidity or stiffness in the body.
You should keep your knees loose and maybe even bend them to the slightest degree if you’re comfortable with it. Bending your knees too much will not only look bizarre while you sing, but also produce muscular tension throughout your body and make it more difficult for you to focus on the Appoggio Technique. At the same time, your should be careful to not lock your knees by keeping them too straight, which can have the same effect.