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Jim Drake’s Entertainment blog: Breathe, breathe in the air

Free workshop teaches basic exercises for singing

How did Frank Sinatra do it? Janis Joplin? If we could ask them today, I’d be interested in what they’d have to say about the mechanics of singing.

Mechanics? Yes, that’s what I experienced during the vocal workshop sponsored by Harmony of the Gorge last Tuesday evening. At times, the class looked and felt more like an exercise or Tai Chi session.

Course instructor Judy Beckman, who has been singing barbershop-style since the 1950s, led the class through physical stretching poses and explained various breathing techniques designed to bring awareness to the muscle control you can eventually use to be able to “sing from your diaphragm” — that phrase I keep hearing about — but have not conquered, apparently, like some of the more popular singers of today.

Beckman kind of explained it like this: There’s several kinds of breathing, and you want to use the right one for singing. You don’t want to use the same breathing that occurs when you’re trying to re-oxygenate your bloodstream after heavy exercise, for example. That’s breathing “from the shoulders” (picture an out-of- breath, huffing and puffing situation). Singing should involve all the muscles surrounding your diaphragm; this is “360 degree breathing.”

The class handouts outlined “360 degree breath exercises,” explained the vocal warmup exercise “bubbling” and there’s even one called “hissing.”

This was a fun one: Take a breath, let it out, then say the alphabet out loud. It’s designed to show you how much air is still in your body after you exhale. Okay, breathe in again.

Just like practicing the right notes to sing, these exercises need the same practice regiment. “Three sets of 10 expansions” sounds like someone lifting weights, doesn’t it?

I didn’t know that the mechanics of singing could involve using your hands to feel the muscle response when inhaling and exhaling, or that scrunching your toes could be in any way beneficial to proper breathing for singing.

Did Frank know that?

Free vocal lesson workshop for men and women continue Jan 26, Feb. 2, and Feb. 9, from 6:30-7 p.m. at the Hood River Valley Christian Church, 975 Indian Creek Road. Learn new skills and revisit the basics of good singing to protect your voice. Sponsored by Harmony of the Gorge and Columbia Gorge Men’s Chorus.

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