Use of the Breath in Singing - Questions and Answers.

  1. What exactly is breath control?
  2. The normal thing to do of course when you breathe in every day life is just release the body and breathe out. When you are singing you want to hang on to the breath. In other words you do not want the lungs to collapse and push the breath out quickly. You want them not to collapse suddenly at the onset of sound and, as the lungs are attached to the frame of the body, the body needs to stay open and feed the vibration of the vocal cords with a narrow stream of compressed air. You don’t want the breath to release fast.
  3. What exactly is breath control?
  4. The normal thing to do of course when you breathe in every day life is just release the body and breathe out. When you are singing you want to hang on to the breath. In other words you do not want the lungs to collapse and push the breath out quickly. You want them not to collapse suddenly at the onset of sound and, as the lungs are attached to the frame of the body, the body needs to stay open and feed the vibration of the vocal cords with a narrow stream of compressed air. You don’t want the breath to release fast.
  5. Why is it necessary to hold back pressure?
  6. The vocal cords are approximately 12 mm long in women, 14mm for a man. They are only little. They work wonderfully when they are able to vibrate regularly on a small narrow stream of air. When loose air is pushed up at them from the lung they find it very difficult to come together and struggle to make the delicate little adjustments needed. The whole glottis is under strain. A simple analogy is that when we are expecting a gale we tie things, weight things down. We can ask the cords to make the tiny adjustments to pitch and move from note to note under these difficult circumstances but they will not work effectively. This causes difficulty in going from one register to another in fact a whole host of vocal problems in repertoire. Loose breath also destroys your ability to form words. The jaw and tongue are very stuck through tensions inside the throat. It is the coordination of the body, the poised buoyant energy of the upper body holding back air that creates colour, resonance, and the freedom to pronounce words on the regular vibration of the vocal cords in repertoire.
  7. How is it possible to regulate the amount of breath used when singing?
  8. Well we can try to regulate it with the throat but this strangles the voice so we can say it is the body’s responsibility. There is a tube that goes from behind the nose directly down to the chest (it has no branches off) and from there it fills the lungs. In order to control the amount of breath reaching the vocal cords the pressure of breath needs to be controlled. You do this by creating resistance. The centre of gravity needs to feel as though its in the pelvis (article on balance). There are involuntary muscles there which control the amount of air that goes out in the most miraculous way. It is your power source.
  9. What has to happen to make this possible?
  10. Here are the areas in the body which help you hold back pressure. The upper abdominal wall reacts gently in a pliable way going out and wide, the back going out back and wide behind above the waist and below it, and the chest also goes out, forwards. The solar plexus at the top of it with the sternum goes lightly and gently forward as the lower part of it lightly comes in. it is accompanied by a slow stretching either side of it across the lower ribs.
  11. It should feel like muscles are going in opposite directions creating resistance. In other words as the lung is reducing inside the ribcage the body is gently stretching open against this loss and not giving in to it. This then is the opposite to loose sloppy exhalation breath. None of these are rigid movements as you will get a feel for reacting and adjusting the resistance in your body according to what is happening in the music.
  12. It is the reason that a singer learns music on the body. Lamperti the great nineteenth century vocal master puts it like this – Violinists, cellists, et al., know and obey this law governing reactions to desire. The voice (greatest of all instruments) is absurd without this self control. In other words the singer cannot relax floppily and just follow the pitch and emotion as it goes and loosely follow the music but we need to concentrate on making the instrument on which we need to play. The singer is the player and the played.
  13. What are some exercises you can do to begin to see how that feels?
  14. The following are some ways to begin to feel the reflex action of resistance compressing the air and holding back pressure.

I hope this helps your vocal journey to progress

Cathy Pope