Breathing for Singing: Flexing the Ribs
You don’t have to remember the number of ribs to understand their role in breathing for singing. You do want to remember that the top of your rib cage has more movement from front to back in your body and that the lower ribs open more laterally, or out to the side of your body
Knowing how your ribs move, you can visualize the side-to-side opening near the bottom of your ribs to get the most air into your body quickly. And if you’re a dancer, you want to know how to quickly open the upper ribs and your back when you’re dancing across the stage.
You may be asked to sing and dance at the same time. Because dancers have to keep their body moving while singing, they can’t always let their abdominal muscles release. But dancers can allow the ribs to open when breathing.
If a dancer allows his ribs to open upon inhalation and slowly lets them close upon exhalation, he doesn’t have to worry so much about letting the abdominal muscles be loose. When you understand the way the body was designed to breathe, take it a step farther and practice working with your ribs for dancing while singing.
Move your arms in the following exercise so that you can feel the opening of your chest and ribs:
Raise your arms over your head.
Take a breath and feel your ribs open.
Keep your chest stable. You don’t need to raise your chest; merely let it open. Repeat several times to feel the movement of your ribs.
Put your arms down and place your hands on your ribs.
Put your palms against your lower ribs with your thumb facing forward and fingers pointing to your back. To feel the movement higher in your rib cage, turn your hand the same way with the thumb facing forward, or cross your arms so that your right hand is on your left ribs and your left hand is on your right ribs.
With your hands on your ribs, open the ribs slowly to feel the stretch of the intercostals — the muscles between the ribs.
Repeat several times.
Send air to your ribs or flex open your ribs as you inhale.
As you sing, allow your ribs to gradually move back in.
If raising your arms over your head isn’t comfortable, you can lie on your side. Putting your arms above your head is ideal, but you can get the same sense of movement in the ribs with your arm bent at the elbow or extended in front of you.
Other positions you can try are standing with your arms extended straight out on each side. Position the arms just slightly behind your body so your chest is open. In this position, you may especially feel the opening of the upper ribs. When your arms tire, you can put your hands on your hips and continue exploring the opening of the ribs.
It’s fine to practice with your hands on your hips to remind you to open your sides and ribs. When the opening is familiar, you can put your arms down by your side and find the same opening.