Breath is one of those subjects that every teacher agrees is important, but not everyone agrees as to how it should be taught. Some minimize it saying that athletes have great breath but do not have great voices. Some emphasize it continuously saying that it ties into everything we do as singers.
I guess I am closer to the latter camp. I do believe that breath ties into everything we do as singers. I do make sure, though, that I tackle other areas as well and relate them back to breathing rather than focusing on the breath on its own for extensive periods of time.
If we think about breathing as it relates to singing there are four main areas where understanding and fine tuning one’s breath is crucial:
- The inhalation.
- The onset.
- The legato line.
- The silent period between the end of the line and the beginning of a new inhalation.
Hmmm…that’s every moment! I divided the moments like this though because each one has its own set of challenges that must be handled differently than the others.
For this post though, let me explain my overall idea with breath.
I believe that breathing for singing in general should be a deliberate and controlled process. This is done by controlling the release of air from our lungs with the breathing musculature alone. This means that a phrase is never sung where elastic recoil and glottal resistance control the phrase. Instead the entire breath system acts in a coordinated fashion so that when air starts, sound starts and vice versa. When sound stops, air stops and vice versa. This minimizes any air leakage and also trains singers to offer the balanced amount of glottal resistance that is appropriate for the given phrase.
What also needs to be accomplished is a “fooling” of the breathing reflexes. When we take a relaxed and full inhalation, a number of reflexes follow that allow for a wide throat and an easy passage to the lungs. This wide open space is also nice for singing, so while we sing, we should maintain as much of that inhalation feeling as possible.
We singers try to avoid the opposite reflex instinctively, which is the rising of the larynx due to low air pressure in the lungs. You can feel this yourself by placing your finger on the Adam’s apple while blowing all the air out of your lungs. It should rise automatically. This constricting of space may be valuable for certain acting moments (it’s a good trick actually for feeling the emptiness of sadness or sudden loss), but for singing this is usually undesirable because it results in a desperate and pinched sound that can be disturbing to hear or produce.
So I maintain the sensation of inhalation while I exhale. Folks have come up with all sorts of terms for this like “singing on the gesture of inhalation” or to sing on the inhalare. La lotta vocale is the “vocal contest”, which may be referring to the battle within this respiratory paradox.
It certainly is a battle. It requires a great deal of respiratory strength but not the “pushy grabby go-get em’ harrumph with the abdominals” kind. It’s more of a “poise under pressure” kind with a bit of hidden “harrumph!”
So that is as far as I will go this time because this post would just go on forever if I tried to let out all of my ideas about this now.
If you have any ideas about breath, please let me know.