Although this takes consistent reminding and practice, the payoff is a much richer, fuller and more blended sound.
While placing the hands over the bottom of your ribcage on either side, take in a long, slow, deep breath and feel the expansion.
As you sing a note, press in slightly with the hands, and resist that pressure by holding the ribcage out – using your intercostal muscles to press outward. It’s not necessary to actually know anything about these muscles. The only thought that’s required is that you’re resisting the pressure from your hands.
Once you have a sense of this, drop the hands and just focus on leaving the ribs expanded outward, as long as possible, as you sing.
There’s also an additional bonus – and that is that when you begin a note with the ribcage expanded it’s much easier to start a vowel without a glottal bump.
When I ask for precision at the onset of a phrase I don’t often get what I want. If the word begins with a vowel, I get many enthusiastic glottal attacks, all at slightly different times, and generally a few well meaning accents that start slightly below the note, then slide up.
I had to find a different way of asking for what I really mean.
Recently I’ve been asking for Pouffy Onset vowels – that is, vowels that are initiated by a puff of slightly breathy airiness. Not only does this prevent the glottal attacks, but it also improves synchronization by giving a slightly fuzzier defining edge to the sound. I know this sounds like a paradox, but the fuzzy edge means that all of the singers for whom ‘right now’ is generally understood to mean ‘some time around now’ can glide in and not disrupt the front end synchronization.
The Pouffy Onset also works with vowel blend beginnings, like ‘with’ (oo – ihth) and ‘you’ (ih – oo). In the case of the ‘y’ in the word ‘you’ the pouffiness helps prevent the lurch and thrust of that great hunk of meat that is the tongue.
The Pouffy Onset worked beautifully last night for my men’s chorus on the last word – ‘you’ of Heart of My Heart. Been wondering for years how to fix that.
I have generally found that singers truly want to do what I’m asking for – I just need to ask in many different ways so that each singer understands the message. In order to do this I’ve had to get coaching, or to think up a solution on my own. Either way, the two real magic tricks are:
Drill it till everyone understands
Develop a subtle hand signal (so that we need never speak of these things again)