In my experience, Fitzmaurice Voicework’s Restructuring (or sometimes referred to as Structured Breathing) is the most economical, efficient, and nuanced breath support technique. Today we'll look at the four layers of the abdominal wall and explain the actions of each, and I think you’ll find that this is a truly effective way to control the rate of your exhale and breath pressure under the vocal folds.
Let’s look at the direction of the muscle fibers for each of the layers and how they might relate to breath support:
Layer 1: The Rectus (aka six-pack abs)
Rectus attaches at the costal cartilage and runs vertically down to the pubic bone. When that muscle engages it will bring those two points closer together, which pulls the ribs towards the pubis.
Layers 2 & 3: External and Internal Obliques
A similar action happens with the obliques. Their insertion is along the lower ribs and they attach to an aponeurosis (sheath of connective tissue) that runs down the midline of the body, and it attaches to the pubic bone and inguinal ligament (in the pelvis).
The muscle fibers run on a diagonal, again pulling the ribs down and towards the midline of the body or from the midline towards either side of the pelvis. Here's a look at just the external obliques and their action:
Layer 4: Transverse
We only have one layer left, and it’s the deepest layer of the abdominal wall. The muscle fibers on the transversus abdominis run transversely around you from front to back, so they don't pull the ribs down, but just cinch you at the waist, and compress the abdominal cavity like a corset. This increases the intra-abdominal pressure which presses your viscera up against your diaphragm to control the rate of exhalation. I’ll refer to this muscle just as transverse for future reference.
Ribs, Belly. Belly, Ribs.
Ribs, Belly: The ribs will swing up and out like bucket handles. Your diaphragm will already have started to contract down but by the time you feel anything it will be the belly letting go and that "expansion" in the belly. On your inhale you need to let the abs be relaxed so the diaphragm can contract down. So: *ribs swing, belly relaxes as the breath drops in. *
Belly, Ribs: Then you isolate the action of the transverse by pulling in and up. You regulate how much breath pressure you use. Let the ribs float down as the air is expelled. Don't hold them muscularly out.
You can think of this action a few different ways. I love these images -- Imagine the door is moving in and up under your rib cage.
For me, the magical thing about the transverse is that you're in control of it. You control, like a gas pedal, how much breath pressure you're putting under the vocal folds. If you need to be loud you may need more support/breath pressure than when you're speaking at a normal volume. I also love this action because it helps to channel your feelings and thoughts into what Fitzmaurice calls the "focus line". More on this later.
Based solely on the anatomy of the abdominal wall you can see how the rectus and obliques squeeze the ribs down, while the transverse keeps the ribs free. I think this is easier to feel when you're singing because you need to sustain sound rather than speaking where we chop up the sound. We'll be using this for sustaining sounds in the floorwork/warm up doing what we call "intoning" until we feel comfortable activating and isolating the transverse action.
Restructuring Action with Phonation
In the wild:
and Dogs (Oh My!)
David Oyelowo's speech in A United Kingdom