Breathing: The Seductive Key to Unlocking Your Vocal Variety

by Kate Peters Jan 12th, 2010

Everyone breathes. It¶s one of the most natural things we do. However, if you ask singers to name the most important part of vocal technique, 9 out of 10 will say ³breathing.´ So, is there some special way to breathe that makes your voice better? Yes! In this article, we explore breathing as it relates to vocal variety as a speaker. I¶ll provide you an easy to follow technique, as well as tips to improve your voice through better use of air. The results of applying these tips will be more Power, better Pacing, more interesting Pitch and more effective Pauses in your speaking.

Contents
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Lose Your Breath, Lose Your Voice Overview of Breathing o Breathing 101 BreathingandVocalVariety o Pace o Pitch o Pause o Power Practical Advicefor Daily Life

practice incorporating it into your speaking and singing. ³You cannot always center yourself emotionally by an act of will. (Did I mention that someone stole it? This is Poe. then your lower ribs (you should feel them expand) and then all the way up to your chin. the lower abdominal muscles should come in first as though you were rolling up a tube of toothpaste. MD writes. Repeat. Andrew Weil. (Since you are not a tube of toothpaste. Once you have mastered the exercise sitting down. his voice also stops with his breath. Eventually. and regular. You may need to do it slowly at first until you can coordinate all the actions smoothly. Overview of Breathing So how does one breathe for better speaking and singing? Well. Lose Your Voice In Edgar Allen Poe¶s short story. . after all!) Although the story is a bit macabre. and tries to hide his condition. It¶s breathing 101 ² so easy a baby can do it. deep. Now exhale slowly. it underlines the fact that if you lose your breath. and the rest will follow. Charles Kirk describes how proper breathing technique helps him to remain calm on the trading floor. Deeper breathing makes you feel more confident and strong as well. the narrator loses his breath as he is about to berate his wife. As you exhale. If you do the exercise correctly. 3. and then try them. strong appearance. ³Loss of Breath´. your stomach will go in while your chest stays out and expands. keep your chest up as you exhale. but you can use your voluntary nerves to make your breathing slow. Fill up your abdomen first. 4.) 5. (An audio file of these instructions can be heard by clicking here. You¶ll see that she seems to breath from her stomach. keep your ribs expanded and tighten your abdomen as you would if you were doing a ³crunch´²that is. Sit forward in a chair and let your stomach muscles relax. you lose your voice « and it¶s never a good idea to berate your wife.´ The key thing to remember is that breathing should be low and expansive.´ Deep breathing decreases tension and helps to focus intellectual activity. Breathe in through your nose and imagine that you are a vessel filling up with air as you would pour water into a vase. philosophizes. 2. he finds his voice when he finds his breath. Here¶s how it¶s done: Breathing 101 Read the following instructions out loud carefully. watch a baby breathe. Except for some frog-like utterances. all to no avail. but she is really using her abdominal muscles. Proper posture for breathing creates a confident. including: y y y Awareness of your breathing will enable you to breathe more effectively. Practicingthistechniquewillprovidemany benefits. Shocked by this.Lose Your Breath. ³The key thing to remember is that breathing should be low and expansive. quiet.) 1. Hold this breath for a count of ten. he agonizes.

paying special attention to posture. Overdo the latter when you practice so you really feel the breath in the sound. y Pitch Pitch is determined by the notes we use when we speak. for vocal variety you are encouraged to vary your pace by speeding up and slowing down appropriately for the message you are delivering.Breathing and Vocal Variety An earlier Six Minutes article advised you to ³use your voice to complement your message. Remember to stop and breathe between ideas. consider the following: ³Vary your pace by speeding up and slowing down appropriately for the message you are delivering. we use notes when speaking just as we do for singing. too. If you speak too quickly. and usually of shorter duration than notes we sing. and power. their likely causes. in this case. Then take one more deep breath and exhale vigorously into your first words. informally ordered. Yes. In general.´ This is what I refer to as vocal image: how you are perceived by the sound of your voice. or if your speaking is labored or too slow. consciously take a breath before you begin. however. To create vocal variety. Ideally. pause. Here are two such problems. Speaking notes. that vocal image is created through several aspects of your sound. Practice the breathing technique above. The next time you practice a presentation. However. This may also be caused by poor posture. Sometimes problems with creating variety in pitch can be the result of poor breathing technique. Vocal variety is all about the sound of the voice and. Be sure you move that air with the abdominal muscles as you speak.´ y Speaking too fast is often the result of not stopping to breathe often enough. some people have trouble with pacing due to poor breathing. pitch. including pace. Pace Pace is the speed of your delivery. Solution: Not using enough air can cause a person to sound dull and lifeless. are random. Solution: To slow down your speaking with the breath. you want your content to align with your delivery method and both to align with the sound of your voice. Speaking too slowly can also be caused by not taking in and using enough air. take time to inhale and exhale deeply five times before you start to speak. By breathing deeper and then using all the air in your sound. and some ways to fix them: . one uses different pitches to make their sound more interesting. you create a more energetic sound and you feel more energized.

nerves can play a big part in forgetting to breathe and feeling out of breath. they are that special something that leads to ³comedic timing. y Power . air should flow freely in your voice. thinner sound.´ When speaking. I call this ³energizing the voice. It is amazing to see how many people simply forget to breathe when they are in front of an audience. Here¶s how to apply breathing to your pauses: y Breathe before speaking your first words. is to pause and breathe! The long-term solution. Lisa Braithwaite comments rightly that speaking too low can do vocal damage. Awareness of breathing makes for natural pauses. and emotionally. If your voice sounds squeezed or strained. Solution: The solution to shallow breathing is to relax the abdomen and drop the air in lower. If you do this correctly. however. It also allows your larynx to be stimulated but relaxed. They are the ³beats´ an actor uses between phrases. I might still have continued « this pitch of voice (the guttural) depending. mentally. as blogger Denise Graveline mentions.´ It also has the effect of making pitch variety much easier to achieve because the voice becomes free to move and create more pitches. you may not be using all the air you take in. Taking that first breath allows you to align everything physically. Be aware of your breathing. As you may have experienced. So the short term solution to this. at that interesting crisis. And finally. you will definitely feel the freedom in your voice! Pause ³Awareness of breathing makes for natural pauses. dropped my voice to a singularly deep guttural. The more you practice. You can improve a strained sound by practicing a breathy sound and then gradually adding more and more vocal sound to it. it gets the oxygen flowing so that you can think more clearly and look your best. I find. Another lesson from Poe¶s prose is that you can produce a sound without breath. If you don¶t want to be limited to a guttural growl. not upon the current of the breath. the more likely it is you¶ll remember to breathe when you¶re speaking in public. pauses also give us time to breathe. A high larynx cancreate a higher. or too low. is to practice being aware of your breathing all day long. This also relaxes the larynx so it doesn¶t ride so high. pauses are the golden silences that allow your listeners to take in what you are saying.´ Importantly.y A voice that is too high-pitched and thin can be the result of shallow breathing (without abdominal expansion and support). He writes: y I discovered that had I. but upon a certain spasmodic action of the muscles of the throat.

Your personal vocal power may be found in the tone of your sound or in how you phrase a thought.´) y y The final and real test. keeping the air moving with the sound allows for wonderful control of your voice so that you can use all of your vocal variety techniques more effectively. The truth is that vocal power is so much more than how loud you are. You can speak loudly. you will be shouting. but if you aren¶t incorporating that air into your sound. (You can even put a book on your abdomen to exaggerate the way you use those muscles for even better awareness of how to do this correctly. Your impact on others may be quite different than you intended! In addition. y Practical Advice for Daily Life Try to practice good breathing technique several times a day and soon you will naturally incorporate it into your everyday speaking. Your hands are raised as you drive which makes it easier to keep your chest high. so you need to have air to get a powerful sound . it is easier to isolate the abdominal muscles and strengthen them for proper breathing. Sit on the edge of your chair and take 10 practice breaths three times a day. A powerful speaker is one who is relaxed and comfortable. A powerful voice is relaxed and comfortable. Don¶t forget to slow down and breathe from time to time during the course of a talk in front of an audience. Here are a few tips forpracticingbreathing: y Practice breathing while driving. So practice and it won¶t be long before you are able to make your learned breathing as natural as the breathing you are using now.A common misconception about Power is that it is the same thing as volume. When you are lying down. remember to consciously practice using the air you take in. . of course. natural sound rather than one that is contrived or forced. Breathing deeply relaxes the larynx so the voice can settle into a comfortable. Take time to inhale and exhale deeply five times before you start to speak. then take one more deep breath and breathe into your first words. will come in how well you incorporate good breathing into your presentations. practice makes perfect. Practice breathing when you are about to go to sleep or lying down on the floor at the end of a workout session. y Sound moves on air. Andpracticingbreathingcanalsoeaseroad rage significantly! Practice breathing while sitting at your desk when you would normally be slumped over in your chair. On the day of your big presentation. and the benefits will be enormous. Many people are surprised to learn that power can be heightened or lessened by how they breathe and how they use their breath. Watch the book go up and down as you breathe ³with your stomach. Vocal power is all about the impact your sound has on others. As they say.