Engaging The Expiratory Muscles

I was involved recently in writing a pedagogy paper with some colleagues in which the phrase “engaging the expiratory muscles” was used.

I objected to it. If you knew nothing at all about singing and I said to you, “please engage your expiratory muscles”, which ones would you use? In fact, would you even know what I was asking you to engage?

Why not say “exhale and contract your abdominal muscles” or “exhale and keep your ribs open while contracting your abdominal muscles? Wouldn’t most people grasp that better?

I guess not. I was shot down by a number of others. “Obviously, everyone who reads this article will understand ‘engage the expiratory muscles'”, I was told.  /: (   Oh.

This is voice teacher jargon. This is not in any way necessary. Why can’t we speak in plain English? Why is it necessary in any field to speak in technical jargon when you are writing for an unknown audience of readers?

Academia likes flowery, ornate, involved language. It likes big words for big ideas. I like common words for average people. I don’t want to impress people, I want to EDUCATE them. I don’t want them to know how much I know, I want them to learn. I don’t want them to “reach out” to “grasp” the information. I want the information to come to them so they don’t have to digest it, they can just eat it and let it digest on its own over time.

If you make things harder, you will lose some people. If you make them very complex, you will lose more. If you make them totally obscure, you will lose everyone who doesn’t know exactly what you know in exactly the same way you know it. That is not education, that’s extrapolation. If you write in a way that no one can understand, then don’t blame the readers by saying they are “disinterested” and “unmotivated”.

Silence is golden but silence is also death. Keeping quiet when it’s time to speak up and speak out is as necessary as holding your tongue and being discreet. There is value in obscurity, particularly in writing novels and secret codes. In writing for the average reader, however, the opposite of obscurity is a much better goal – transparency, clarity and en-LIGHT-en-ment (i.e. shedding light on) is the way to go.

So, don’t engage your expiratory muscles, just exhale. It will save you a lot of grief.

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4 thoughts on “Engaging The Expiratory Muscles”

  1. This idea may have come from a misinterpretation of something Richard Miller often said. When asked to describe “support” simply, he said, “you simply stay in the expiratory position.”

    Yes, but HOW? Which is your point.

  2. Amen, Jeanie!
    as a beginning singer trying to sift through lots of ‘literature’ (books and the crazy web) about ‘how to sing’ i am continually frustrated with both the crazy academic language and the differing theories! If you just want to sing and have fun doing it without hurting yourself, or need help un-doing the default settings that are causing pain or frustration or flat pitch… how do you sift through all that gobbledygook!!! ? where can i find YOUR ‘instructions’ – written down? Happy Spring, -Lori

  3. Lori, take a look on this website for teachers trained by Jeanie that might be located in your area. Look at the Teachers tab up top.
    -Michelle

  4. I am with you on this! Plain language for doable actions! In vocal pedagogy we either have simple language asking us to do the undoable like “Hook the sound up and over” or long Latinate anatomical phrases such as this for something that can be said more simply. Yes, we must speak up when jargon gets thick!

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