I need to work on my BREATHING... I think.Aug 15, 2022
As coaches I think we hear that most often from an incoming singer, and sometimes they might need to work on breath.
But, the singing breath is there to serve the voice. Like fuel. If there's something funky going on downstream at the vocal folds (or above that) that's losing energy, the breathing system can and will compensate for it. You can bet your bottom dollar on that.
There's plenty of evidence
All these compensations can be seen in research studies that record the instantaneous changes in breathing patterns when voice users switch between breathy and clear sounds. Breathing compensations are also part and parcel of a vocal injury picture, like nodules or general scarring. Breathing is even affected by resonance effects, vowels, mouth shapes, tongue positions. You name it!
This is because different voice qualities and singing situations need different amounts of breath 'fuel' to be sustained. If your singing is demanding a lot more fuel than usual, you'll likely feel that in your breath.
Is there a breath demand?
But the fact you feel a problem in your breath often doesn't mean that's where you solve it. You'll have to first ask the question:
"Is there something else that's putting unnecessarily high demands on the singers breath?". Not always easily answered without an assessment tool, but it's the start of looking at the voice holistically. Like an interdependent system of systems.
Are they more breathy than they'd like? Is the voice sounding squeezed or held? Is their tone super warm and dark? Do they have real trouble getting either soft or loud? Have you asked whether they have had any vocal injury or trouble in recent times?
All these questions are designed to find out what's putting the demand on the singers breath.
It can stem from belief
Breathing issues can also stem from a singers beliefs. If they believe singing to be inherently effortful, they might over-prepare breath or force it out. Breathing exercise can be given for this, but they get twisted by the singers effortful beliefs and become hit and miss.
Even prioritising a technique ("breathe fully into the diaphragm") over an intention ("breathe as you would to say the phrase in the emotion intended") can mismatch breath and voice. For example, breathing way too much for short and simple lines.
Widen your view
So if your singers are struggling with stubborn breath issues, it's time to look at the voice in a system-wide sort of way. Voice can get very 'chicken or egg?' with what started what, but if you approach a singer holistically it won't matter anyway. You'll just experience way more success with that niggle that can be breathing!
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