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“Breathe in, breathe out”

“Breathe in, breathe out”

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Published by: Dr Daniel K. Robinson on Nov 03, 2010
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“Breathe in, breathe out”
By Daniel K. Robinson

Perhaps the most controversial area of voice pedagogy (teaching singing) today is Breath Management. Why is this? Well, until just recently, the last ten years in fact, developed methodologies for managing the breath were based on two things; (1) What the student thought that they were experiencing on a kinaesthetic level and, (2) what the teacher thought they were observing the singer’s body do. Interestingly the latest technologies and research methods have shown that what we thought we were experiencing and what we thought we were observing were, if you will, red herrings. We do not have time in this article to completely unpack the historical journey that has led us to now; instead let’s focus on the fundamentals of breath management as we understand them today. Firstly, “efficient breath management is…essential in all styles of singing” (Edwin, 1998, p. 54). Breath management is essential because breath fuels the voice. No air, no sound! So it stands to reason that it would be an area that all singers need to spend time developing the necessary skills required to feed the air efficiently through the larynx. Janice Chapman in her book ‘Singing and Teaching Singing’ (2006) states, A gradual process of assimilation, combining constant affirmation to practice good postural alignment, use of physiologically correct inhalation and exhalation, and encouragement to find and maintain the emotionally connected primal sound base can take between one and two years of normal weekly lessons. (p. 57) One to two years! Why so long? You might have noticed that you breathe all day every day. “Passive breathing uses approximately half a litre of air per breath and is repeated around twelve times per minute” (Borch, 2005, p. 32). Unfortunately our ‘passive’ breathing is often shallow and does not fully activate the muscles required for the intentional breath activity of singing. Therefore we need to spend concerted amounts of time developing the breath management system for singing. Breathe In ~ Inhalation Next, let’s talk about the muscles involved, and do away with a well worn misconception. You do not sing from your diaphragm! “Although singers and actors frequently use the term ‘diaphragm’ synonymously with support, it is actually a combination of rib cage, thoracic, back, and abdominal muscle function” (Sataloff, Cohn, & Hawkshaw, 2006, p. 55). Yes! The diaphragm is involved and has been stated to be “responsible for 60-80% of the work during inspiration” (Kayes, 2004, p. 27), but the work of the diaphragm (during inhalation) must be done in coordination with the release of the abdominal muscles. Perhaps the most promising methodology to arise from the latest research on breath systems for singing is the Accent Breath Method. Key

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advocates of Accent, Janice Chapman and Ron Morris (2006) explain, “Diaphragmatic/belly-release inhalation…does not recruit any expiratory muscles during the in-breath, but relies on a flexible abdominal wall which allows the diaphragm to descend quickly, fully, and efficiently” (p. 41). The next question to be answered is, ‘how much air does the singer need’. The answer is simple, ‘as much as the phrase requires – no more, no less’. “When evaluating respiration, the volume of air is important, but more important is the manner in which the [singer] takes in the air (inhalation), and how the air is used to produce the voice (exhalation)” (Heuer, et al., 2006, p. 230). Breathe Out ~ Exhalation Finally we come to the managed expiration of breath (fuel) over the length of a sung phrase. The challenge here for many contemporary singers is to ensure that the pressure that develops directly under the vocal folds, sub-glottal pressure, does not cause the voice to constrict. “Active exhalation is required during skilled speaking and singing, but in widely different degrees depending on the vocal volume level needed for the expressive purposes at hand” (Thurman, Theimer, Welch, Grefsheim, & Feit, 2000, p. 349). The temptation is to significantly build sub-glottal pressure as the energy and intensity of the song increases. Giving in to this temptation by not managing the exhaled flow of air can lead to disaster, either through sustained wear and tear of the voice or the dreaded ‘break or crack’ in the middle of a phrase or climatic high note. Yes! The sub-glottal pressure does increase with volume…but allow the voice to develop this pressure itself while you intentionally manage the even engagement of your exhalation’s muscular support system. Over the years there have been contemporary methodologists who have suggested that a singer does not need to work on breath management suggesting that the body will naturally take care of the breath flow (Riggs, 1994, p. 22). This is a foolhardy stance which leaves the developing singer open to many distinct dangers. Current researched thought concerning the development of breath management for contemporary singers is in sync with our classical colleagues who advocate that “there is always an ongoing monitoring of breathing, support, and postural alignment” (Chapman & Morris, 2006, p. 55). A systematic approach to the development of good breath management with your singing teacher is highly advised. The subject of breath management is vast and wide and as previously noted there are varying, and conflicting views. It is advisable to align yourself with your teacher’s instruction and allow your voice to determine whether the employed method is working while you breathe in and breathe out. References Borch, D. Z. (2005). Ultimate vocal voyage: The definitive method for unleashing the rock, pop or soul singer within you. Bromma, Sweden: Notfabriken Music Publishing AB.

© Daniel K. Robinson - 2010

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Djarts Voice Coaching ~ www.djarts.com.au

Chapman, J. L., & Morris, R. (2006). Breathing and support. In J. L. Chapman (Ed.), Singing and teaching singing: A holistic approach to classical voice (pp. 39–58). San Diego, CA: Plural Publishing Inc. Edwin, R. (1998). Belting 101. Journal of Singing, 55(1), 53–55. Heuer, R. J., Rulnick, R. K., Horman, M., Perez, K. S., Emerich, K. A., & Sataloff, R. T. (2006). Voice Therapy. In R. T. Sataloff (Ed.),Vocal health and pedagogy: Advanced assessment and treatment(2nd ed., pp. 227–251). San Diego, CA: Plural Publishing Inc. Kayes, G. (2004). Singing and the actor (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge. Riggs, S. (1994). Singing for the stars: A complete program for training your voice (6th ed.). Van Nuys, CA: Alfred Publishing Company. Sataloff, R. T., Cohn, J. R., & Hawkshaw, M. J. (2006). Respiratory Dysfunction. In R. T. Sataloff (Ed.), Vocal health and pedagogy: Advanced assessment and treatment (2nd ed., pp. 55–66). San Diego, CA: Plural Publishing Inc. Thurman, L., Theimer, A., Welch, G., Grefsheim, E., & Feit, P. (2000). Creating breathflow for skilled speaking and singing. In L. Thurman & G. Welch (Eds.), Bodymind & voice: Foundations of voice education (2nd ed., Vol. 2, pp. 339–355). St. John's University, MI: The VoiceCare Network.

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