Vocal performance tutorial 4 - Rib cage control by Tina & Ben Henderson

Holding the ribcage high and open is important as a singer. There are two important reasons for doing this:

  • Keeping the ribcage high enables the ‘snatch breath’. 
  • If the ribcage collapses, the outflow of your breath may become too sudden to enable proper breath control.

Let’s look at the snatch breath.

Remember in our breathing exercise - “The Spring Clean”, where we were exhaling and inhaling, yet keeping the ribcage held high?

The first reason for doing this is so that you can take a quick ‘snatch breath’ in between short lines of a song.

In order to show this in action, try this:

Breathe out as much as you can, but allow the ribcage to collapse: squeeze the air out by curling up into a ball and crumpling yourself like a bit of paper. Now try to breathe in quickly...notice that it takes quite a bit of time? The ribcage first has to expand, before any air can fill up inside the lungs.

Now try holding the ribcage high and exhale using the diaphragm. As you start to empty, keep the ribs held open...it’s quite tricky, but you can do it. Now, take a short sharp intake of air using your diaphragm.You fill up almost instantly.

That is how to snatch a breath very quickly, so always remember to keep the ribcage high, O.K.?

The second reason for keeping the ribcage held open is to aid the control of the outflow of your breath. Your outflow is particularly important when singing long phrases or passages which do not allow for many breath intakes.

Let’s try to prove this: first try keeping your ribcage closed (you can do this by hunching your shoulders forward and crossing your arms, and then holding your shoulders).,and take an intake of breath from the lungs; you won’t be able to fill up too much because your ribcage space won’t allow it. And you’ll find that you try to breathe in using the top of your lungs. Now try to breathe out - you’ll probably discover that you didn’t take too much air in, and you run out of breath really quickly! Now try to sing ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ using that incorrect breath - you might be able to get maybe halfway through without running out of air!

Okay, so that’s how NOT to do it. Now let’s compare that with how we should breathe when singing:

Let’s try holding the ribcage high, keep your back straight and relaxed, shoulders back.

Take a deep breath from the bottom of the lungs.

Now try to sing ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ - with control of the escaping breath, and controlling the lungs by supporting them with the diaphragm, you should be able to sing right through to the end.

This is exactly how we need to hold the ribcage when singing, so get used to that ribcage position, and remember; don’t let the ribcage collapse whilst breathing out, let the diaphragm do all the hard work.

© Tina & Ben Henderson 2007

Vocal performance tutorial index

Tutorial 1 - Breathing

Tutorial 2 - Pitching notes

Tutorial 3 - Lip twisters

Tutorial 4 - Rib cage control

Tutorial 5 - The break

Tutorial 6 - Your head

Tutorial 7 - Volume production

Tutorial 8 - Vowel production