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PRACTICAL EXERCISES FOR GAINING BREATH CONTROL
EXERCISE I. Lie flat on the back upon a sofa or, better still, upon the floor, with the head on the same level as the rest of the body. Let the palm of the right hand rest upon the upper chest and that of the left hand upon the front wall of the abdomen just at the waist line. In this position inhale slowly through the nose for about eight seconds. Then open the mouth and exhale slowly for an equal length of time with an aspirate ʼn sound.
Purpose. To establish correct abdominal breathing by gaining expansion at the center of the body. As the breath is taken slowly into the lungs, the diaphragm should push against the viscera, causing a bulging outward at the waist line. If the student finds this expansion to be at the point where the right hand rests upon the upper chest, his breathing is wrong. The exercise should be repeated again and again until he feels a definite expansion at the waist line.
EXERCISE II. Sit erect in a chair with the feet flat on the floor. Do not lean against the back. With the palm of the right hand upon the upper chest and that of the left hand upon the front wall of the abdomen, practice inhaling and exhaling exactly as in Exercise I. There must be positively no raising of the shoulders in taking this exercise. If the student is uncertain about the action of the shoulders, he should sit before a mirror and observe carefully whether the shoulders remain in one position both while inhaling and while exhaling. When this has been accomplished the exercise should be repeated in a standing position. This is particularly valuable, since it is more difficult at first to get abdominal expansion in a standing than in a sitting or lying position.
Purpose. To establish correct abdominal breathing by carefully avoiding improper action of the upper chest.
EXERCISE III. Resume the sitting position used in Exercise II. Inhale slowly till the lungs are comfortably full of air. Retain the breath for five seconds and exhale slowly with an aspirate h sound. Repeat the exercise, holding the breath ten seconds, then fifteen, and then twenty.
Purpose. To feel the gradual contraction of the diaphragm during inhalation and its influence upon the abdominal muscles, also the definite tension of the diaphragm while the breath is being held and the gradual relaxation as it is allowed to pass out of the lungs.
EXERCISE IV. Retain the position of Exercise III and inhale slowly in the same manner. Hold the breath for three or four seconds. Exhale quickly with an aspirate h sound.
Purpose. To feel the quick action of the diaphragm as it goes back to its normal place after being held down in a tense position for several seconds.
EXERCISE V. Same position as in Exercise IV. Inhale quickly. Exhale slowly with a very gradual relaxation of the diaphragm.
Purpose. To make the diaphragm relax very slowly and steadily as the air passes out of the lungs. This exercise is of the greatest importance, as the conditions are the same as in speaking, and it makes necessary complete control of the muscles of exhalation. The first four exercises prepare the way gradually for this one. The exercise should be practiced carefully many times until the ability to take in breath quickly and give it up sparingly, as is necessary in speaking, becomes a habit. The essential thing is to be able to control the breath in this way unconsciously.
EXERCISE VI. Same position as in Exercise V. Inhale slowly. Exhale with quick unvocalized impulses of short a-e-i-o-u (that is, pronouncing a as in "at," e as in "end," i as in "it," o as in "on,' u as in 'us"), pausing a second or two after each impulse.
Purpose. To gain control of the diaphragm, as is necessary in vigorous speaking. After the student becomes able to use the diaphragm with sharp aspirate impulses upon short vowel sounds, the exercise may be used in different ways, as:
1. Repeating the exercise by vocalizing short a-e-i-o-u. 2. Substituting for short vowel sounds the numerals 1-2-3-4-5.
3. Reading or reciting passages of a vigorous nature that require a sharp action of the muscles of expiration.
4. Using the same exercises in a standing position, employing all the conditions of breath control that are necessary for an effective public speech.
After the student has gained control of the muscles that regulate his breathing and is able to use his breath economically, he will naturally turn his attention to the chief end for which this control has been sought, namely, clear and distinct speaking. This is commonly known as enunciation. We find that enunciation and pronunciation are generally used synonymously. It is true that they are so closely allied that for practical purposes they can hardly be separated, yet each has a certain significance that should be understood.
Enunciation and pronunciation defined. Pronunciation, in its strictest sense, is the correctness with which articulate sounds are uttered; while enunciation, according to Webster, is the "mode of utterance or pronunciation, especially as regards fullness and distinctness of articulation." For example, "get" called "git"; "tremendous," tremenjus"; "address"," "address"; and "film,” fillum" are matters of correctness, or pronunciation. While in cases in which the sounds are all correctly given, the accent properly placed, and the syllables correctly divided, and yet in which the utterance so lacks in clearness that the general effect upon the ear is that of a blurring of sounds, it is a matter of fullness and distinctness, or enunciation. And this, as we shall see,
applies not only to individual words but very often to one's entire mode of utterance.
Clear enunciation is one of the most important considerations of the speaker. If his speaking is to be thoroughly effective, he must be able to speak not only with correctness but also with fullness and distinctness. There are many faults of the public speaker that will be overlooked, but the one that is unpardonable is not to be heard. In fact, there is little that is worse in public speech than slipshod utterance. What is so satisfying to an audience as a mode of utterance that is always so full and distinct that it gives pleasure to the hearer and is easily heard in any part of an auditorium whether holding five hundred or five thousand people?
The causes of poor enunciation. The causes of poor enunciation are numerous. Sometimes there are defects of the articulating organs that make it impossible to utter articulate sounds with distinctness, and s becomes eth, th becomes d, and the like. Difficulties of this kind, even though due to physical defects, can in some cases be overcome by the practice of exercises of the right kind; while in others the skill of a surgeon is required before good enunciation is possible. Then again it is ignorance of what the enunciation should be that is the cause of the defect, as with persons whose enunciation is boorish because they have never known anything more refined. Or it may be due chiefly to imperfect control of the breath. But in a very great many cases, if not in the majority of them, it is sheer carelessness. Probably most persons who speak with the mouth not more than half open, who chop off their syllables, or who mumble half under the breath,