Matthew Edwards

Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute

Mix it up Monday: Thomas Hixon’s Respiratory Shape Exercises

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Hixon BookThomas J. Hixon held a PhD in speech pathology and audiology from the University of Iowa and did postdoctoral work at Harvard in respiratory physiology and biomechanics. He wrote well over 100 articles and textbooks, and taught workshops for singers throughout the world. In his book Respiratory Function in Singing (a MUST read) he not only describes the intricacies of respiration but also offers several series of exercises designed to explore respiration for singing. Today I want to highlight his exercise regimen for exploring respiratory shape. Hixon says that the shape of the respiratory apparatus involves the combined positioning of the rib cage and abdominal wall. Shape has numerous influences on vocal production that are discussed in-depth in the book. The exercises below specifically target abdominal movement. While performing the exercises, ask the student to pay careful attention to what she experiences and encourage her to put it in her own words. First Hixon has the student explore the movement by itself.

  1. Ask the student to move the abdominal wall in half as far as possible, then relax.
  2. Next have her move the abdominal wall in as far as possible, then relax.
  3. Now move the abdominal wall out half as far as possible. Relax.
  4. Then move the abdominal wall out as far as possible, then relax.
  5. Finally, have her move the abdominal wall in as far as possible, pause, then move it out as far as possible. Relax.

Now it is time to add phonation. These exercises should begin with a silent breath and vocalization should be normal amplitude, on a comfortable pitch, with default vocal quality.

  1. First, ask the student to take in all the air possible. Instruct the student to sustain a vowel alternating between pulling the abdominal wall in half as far as possible and releasing to its starting position. Continue alternating between in and out until the air supply is depleted. Relax.
  2. Again, cue the student to take in all the air possible, but this time ask her to alternate between pulling the abdominal wall in as far as possible and back to its starting position until the air supply is depleted. Relax.
  3. Take in all the air possible, sustain a vowel, and alternate between moving the abdominal wall out half as far as possible and then releasing it back to the starting position until the air supply is depleted. Relax.
  4. Now take in all the air possible, sustain a vowel, and alternate between moving the abdominal wall out as far as possible and releasing it back to the starting position until the air supply is depleted. Relax.
  5. Finally, take in all the air possible, sustain a vowel, and alternate between moving the abdominal wall in as far as possible and out as far as possible until the air supply is depleted. Relax.

While going through these exercises, have the student pay attention to how their voice changes. What does she feel? What does she hear? Does the larynx move? Does vowel shape change? Does the tone quality change? Does one exercise work better than another? After discussing the exercise, try applying these variations of abdominal wall movement to more complex exercises or repertoire. To read the complete description of this exercise as well as the others Hixon describes, see chapter 10 of his book.

Do you use these exercises or other variations in your teaching? If you do, please comment below. If you are not already following the blog, please sign-up on the bottom right hand side of this page. As always, thanks for reading! ~ Matt

 

 

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5 comments on “Mix it up Monday: Thomas Hixon’s Respiratory Shape Exercises

  1. Holly
    March 27, 2017

    Is the purpose of this exercise to make the student aware that she can physically isolate and manipulate the abdominal wall?

    • Matthew Edwards
      March 28, 2017

      Yes. When I play with this exercise, I ask the student to pay attention to changes in pressure and/or flow, in tone quality, and in volume. There are additional exercises to the one I have shared this week. Those exercises address other aspects of respiration, and then Hixon gives exercises for combining all of the principles.

  2. Maria Aimoniotis
    March 27, 2017

    Thanks for sharing Matt! I just ordered the book and am looking forward to using these ideas with studio work.

  3. Diane Thornton
    July 27, 2017

    Hello, Matt! Sorry it’s been so long since you’ve heard from me. I’m finally playing catch up while recovering from surgery. Have you looked at Garyth Nair’s “The Craft of Singing?” He incorporates Hixon’s ideas in his chapters on singer’s respiration and support. Would love to know what you think. The best — Diane Thornton

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This entry was posted on March 27, 2017 by in Misc. Thoughts.

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