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Breath Management!

Over the past ten years of my life, Ive undergone intensive singing training from all sorts of
teachers: a classical enthusiast, vocal pedagogist, a Chinese pop star etc. and the majority of my
vocal problems have come from one thing: breath management. As Lois Beel stated quite
passionately in her book, The VoiceAn Instrument, Voice is breath, breath is voice (2010, pg.
17), no other phrase would resonate so true to me as I continue to grow as a singer. In this essay,
Ill be outlining how practising proper breath management has aided me in overcoming some of my
biggest hurdles as a growing singer.!

The first one: jaw and upper body tension. The curse of many of those who start off wanting to belt
like their favourite pop stars. This was me at the age of eleven. I was put into singing lessons
because my mum was worried I was going to hurt myself trying to sing like Kelly Clarkson. At that
time, I never thought to associate my voice and how it worked with the rest of the body. I believed it
was an entity of its own that revealed a persons spirit. The latter was true however the former
wasnt. The voice was very much related, perhaps even dictated by the way other muscles in the
body worked. I learnt the importance of diaphragmatic breathing and how the external and internal
intercostal muscles must be coordinated to ensure smooth musical phrases (OConnor, 2015, para.
6). As I progressed in my singing training, I learnt the importance of good posture and how keeping
the sternum up and chest opened helped maintain proper breath management (Friedlander, 2011,
para.13). It became clearer that singing wasnt just the coordination of the muscles of the larynx
but also its coordination with the chest wall, diaphragm, abdominal muscles and the lumbar
muscles of the back (Sandelin, n.d., pg.1). !

As I started to move from contemporary singing and into classical singing, I started to encounter a
new breath management problem: breathiness. It started off as the result of my voice struggling to
enter the correct resonating areas but gradually moved into being the result of overcompensation. I
would often breath deeply before a phrase however once I began singing, the sound would be
accompanied by an excess of breath which resulted in a whispery quality that disturbed the tone of
my voice. This is a problem I still struggle with today, especially as I ventured into my higher range
however Ive found it helpful to go back to practising a number of simple exercises such as
humming or vocalising on unvoiced and voiced consonants and sounds such as sss followed by
an oh (OConnor, 2015, para.28). Such exercises allowed me to explore and feel the condition of
my voice at that moment and to know how much air I needed to create to sustain my voice. It came
back to coordinating my breath with my voice and giving my voice just the amount of breath it
needed. As Lois Beel said, The amount of breath emitted depends so often on the actual note
being sung (2010, pg.17).!

Similar principles were applicable when I started singing music theatre repertoire. I will always
accompany music theatre songs with one thing: bright tone. It was the one thing I was constantly
hounded about when I first started singing music theatre songs (hell, even now I still get hounded
about it). It came about as I was discovering my mixed voice. I struggled to navigate my voice
towards the correct resonators to produce said bright tone however when I started lessons with a
vocal pedagogist, I began to connect the importance of breath with producing a bright and forward
sound. She elaborated for me the importance of controlling the breath with my pelvic muscles to
ensure I utilise all the air that I inspired in. The contraction of the pelvic floor muscles ensured I
gave enough support to allow my voice to familiarise itself with the new resonators and give the
sound strength (personal communication, 18 December 2014). I developed this newfound way of
singing a bit more in my lessons with Greg and I began to notice more and more the importance of
not only breathing deeply but also coordinating and managing the breath to maintain the bright
tone of the music theatre voice. !

As I started singing songs which were not quite so straight forward in their phrasing like Leonard
Bernstein and Adam Guettel, I often had to revisit and become acquainted once again with my old
friend: breathing. Although its something that is supposedly involuntary, my day to day breathing
habits just did not cut it when it came to these strangely phrased songs (Lewis, n.d., para.1). When
I would rehearse, I would often revert back into bad habits: my voice would become breathy, I
would run out of air before finishing a phrase etc. The one way I combated this was to actively
manage my breath. By marking out areas either mentally or physically on the music to remind
myself to breathe - keeping in mind to ensure the lyrics still made sense - I found being realistic
with what I can achieve with my breath really helped me not only create a more pleasing sound but
to also communicate the song across better. I found tuning into my body and recognising when it
tensed as a result of lack of breath fundamental to this practice. Hence, I began managing my
breath not only physiologically but also mentally, which would eventually translate into
physiological upon practice. !

In the end, there is no real end to my battle with breath management as a singer. I continue to
actively practise breathing during singing practice and each song will continue to bring its own
breathing challenges. Some songs will be easier to tackle such as Rodgers and Hammersteins
Impossible whilst others such as Leonard Bernsteins, A Boy Like That will bit a little bit more tricky.
As I continue to sing, Ill always remind myself of the lesson mentioned at the beginning of this
essay and one I will always come back to, Voice is breath, breath is voice (Beele, 2010, pg.17). !

Word Count: 1005!


Beel, L.E 2010, The Voice...An Instrument, Lois Beel, Sydney, Australia.!

Friedlander, C 2011, Anatomy Of Breath, Part 3: Breath Management, The Liberated Voice, viewed
3 December 2015,!

Lewis, L n.d., Breath Control For Singers, Vocalist, viewed 3 December 2015, http://!

OConnor, K 2015, Breath Management (Support Of The Singing Voice), Singwise, viewed 3
December 2015,

Sandelin, C, n.d., Lesson 2. Breath Control, Expressive Singing I - The Mechanics of Singing,
viewed 3 December 2015,