Anyone trained in singing out there able to answer this?
December 20, 2013 11:17 AM   Subscribe

I've taken up singing as a hobby and have started a class. I'm confused as to some of the technical aspects we're learning. On the one hand the instructor has mentioned that Singing is merely sustained Speech... but then she has also said that singing is different from regular speech because when we sing we must aim to keep the rib cage up and expanded whereas when we speak the rib cage and intercostal muscles collapses with the breath. So this has left me wondering- Is the collapsing simply a bad habit that many of us do that we should correct during our speech? Or do we really need to breath differently when we sing rather than the rest of the time? I'm not talking about how we would need to take a bigger breath to sustain a note or something like that.. I'm talking about the technical aspects of breathing ie - The use of the intercostal muscles etc... Should the technical aspect of breathing for speech and singing really be that different from one another?
posted by manderin to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Here's my opinion based on studying both speech/posture/acting and singing, and based on what I've been told by various teachers.

"Is the collapsing simply a bad habit that many of us do that we should correct during our speech?"

If you can speak with your rib cage more open, as for good singing, you will sound amazing. The collapsed chest is not ideal for speaking, but most people do it and so it sounds and seems "normal".

If you try this, be careful not to suddenly overwhelm your conversation partners by being too loud.

For public speaking, it is absolutely wonderful to use the same postures and breath support as good singing requires.
posted by amtho at 11:26 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Practiced singing is a "hack" to our speech, whereas regular speech is a more basic biological function. Opening the chest is also a "hack" to getting bigger sound out of one's voice (whether speaking or singing). I think it makes sense to see the two hacks together (as in practiced singing) more often than one or the other by itself (i.e. speaking with an open chest or singing with a closed one). But none of the combinations are necessarily wrong.
posted by grog at 11:48 AM on December 20, 2013

If you speak a lot and/or at loud volumes (lecturing, doing presentations, whatever) you may find that breathing the way you do when you sing helps a lot. You *can* keep your rib cage up when you speak, but it will sound different - it might not sound like *your* voice. But it takes a lot of energy to do that, and it's probably not necessary for all your normal speaking needs.

Also, as you go on, you'll probably notice that voice teachers use a lot of explanations and metaphors that sometimes seem to contradict each other. Just try and kind of go with it, take what you find useful and file the rest away in case it seems useful later. It's like the Bible.
posted by mskyle at 12:27 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, most people tend not to expand the ribcage and use their full vocal and lung capacity when they speak. Some people would say that the collapsed ribcage is a bad habit, but I tend to see it as being about energy conservation depending on how you are choosing to use your voice.

Speech, particularly conversation, usually takes place in short bursts, with volume kept reasonably low for social and etiquette reasons. Physical distances between people having a verbal interaction are usually short. To raise the ribcage and deploy your full voice might be "better" for your voice, but it is energy intensive for you and will draw funny looks from people around you. So most people do not tend to use their voice to its potential in those kinds of scenarios, preferring to leave full voice for speeches or for dominating boardroom conversations and the like.

Singing, on the other hand, tends to be a sustained use of the voice and breath, with much larger distances between performer and audience, sometimes with other singers/instruments to contend with. In that scenario, the expenditure of energy associated with the raised ribcage and full voice are absolutely worth it to you, if you want to be heard.
posted by LN at 12:39 PM on December 20, 2013

Speaking and singing can arranged along several continua. They are not two distinct phenomena.
posted by spitbull at 12:47 PM on December 20, 2013

So it seems then all of you are in agreement that the technique used whilst singing of keeping the rib cage lifted and expanded is something that requires effort? Effort that is not needed during most every day speaking, thereby making it energy consuming and inefficient- but when needing the sound to travel in singing this effort is worth it?
posted by manderin at 1:24 PM on December 20, 2013

Try it. Sing a bit in normal posture. Then repeat your singing with expanded rib cage. You should hear the difference in more rounded tones, besides volume.
posted by Cranberry at 1:53 PM on December 20, 2013

The more careful muscle control required for singing is all about controlling airflow. Usually to increase volume, but also to maintain consistent airflow during sustained notes. Both of those are usually unnecessary for normal speech, but you need volume in some teaching/public speaking environments- and the same technique is useful there.
posted by p3t3 at 6:52 PM on December 20, 2013

My comment was about the openness that occurrs naturally as a result of really good posture, which is always welcome. It's possible that your teacher and these other comments are talking about a second, additional opening which requires more muscular effort.
posted by amtho at 8:48 AM on December 21, 2013

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