There are seven ways to hold back the air while singing. They are as follows, from top to bottom:
If we play the old Sesame Street game, One of These Things is not Like the Others, something jumps out at us.
Every item on the list is at or above the vocal folds. Only one is below, the diaphragm.
The only correct way in breathing to hold back the air is from below the vocal folds using the diaphragm.
I much prefer the phrase, slow the release of air.
When you’re singing and thinking “hold back” it can cause the very thing you’re trying to avoid.
You slow the release of air by using a technique called diaphragmatic co-contraction.
What this means, simply, is that even during the exhale the diaphragm is still active, pulling down against the abdominal muscles’ influence on the lungs. Abdominals can only increase outward air pressure.
Think of doing a bicep curl with a dumbbell. The muscle can only pull the weight up. However, you can slow the descent of the dumbbell by keeping some activity of the bicep.
Slow the release!
In the Italian Bel Canto tradition this is part of “the vocal fight”, called La Lotta Vocale.
The fight is referring to the forces of exhale from the abs against the forces of inhale of the still-active diaphragm.
Don’t get caught up thinking, “but I don’t sing opera!” Good singing is good singing. This applies to everyone.
It’s a tricky technique to master. It makes a great deal of difference to your sound.
Learn about it. Give it a try!
Be well and enjoy your day,