Whether you're a singer, or an actor, it may be interesting to consider: How long can I hold out a single pitch. The ability to improve this skill will help your singing as well as speaking technique. I randomly tested myself the other night and was able to go about 50 seconds on a single note, using falsetto. So....what is the WORLD RECORD?? Well, it turns out that I took a vocal workshop this last weekend with the guy who holds that record, Richard Fink IV. Richard is a New York based coach who has developed the 'Throga' System, which I am currently studying. The emphasis of his training is NOT standing around trying to hold notes as long as possible while burning incense and listening to meditation music. The world record thing was more of a side project. How long did he go??
So how does he do it? There are 3 parameters at work here - 1 )Lung Capacity, 2) Breath Support, and 3) Vocal cord function.
1) Generally in singing we are concerned with efficiency of breathing more than Lung Capacity itself, because if we filled up to full capacity all the time, we would be extremely inefficient, and frankly stressed out! For the longest note possible, it's about very high capacity - this means being in great cardiovascular shape and understanding how to use both the diaphragm and intercostal (around the rib cage) muscles to make the lungs fill with air to about 90% capacity. More than that will create too much stress in the body and too much air pressure in the lungs.
2) Breath Support, as most of you know now, is the managing of air flow and air pressure as you create sound (exhale). To stay on one long note at a constant volume, you most be able to control the AIR PRESSURE in your lungs and between your lungs and your vocal cords. You are essentially a balloon that is letting a little bit of air out of the valve at a steady pressure and speed.
3) The valve I described in #2 is actually the vocal cords - as they vibrate they are allowing air to pass between them (there are 2 of them, just to be clear). If they are opening too much as they vibrate, too much air will go through and it will be breathy, if they press too much, not enough air will go through and a squeezing sound will result.
So for a long note, we're looking for a full (90%) efficient inhale, a controlled air pressure and air flow, and a nice vocal cord closure that lets as little air through as possible while still vibrating in a healthy manner. Try a few long notes. Choose a very comfortable pitch. Big Inhale, then follow the description above. If it's too difficult as first, start with an SSSS sound instead, then a ZZZZ. You will quickly find that some of the same muscles that you use to HOLD your breath are employed when sustaining a long tone!