Breath Support – How #1

January 24, 2013

Breath gives us life.  The German word atmen, or breath, is closely related to the Sanskrit atman, or soul (originally, breath.  They noticed that when someone dies, the breath leaves the body, hence, soul.).  We get the English word atmosphere from this root.

Without breath, there is no life or soul.  Without good breathing, there can be no good singing.


The ‘how’ can be easily conceptualized, but can be difficult to put into practice.  There are just a few parts to it, but they can be counterintuitive.  They are posture, inhalation, exhalation.  Easy, eh?

I’m going to discuss all this at the experiential level.  If you want to get into the exact musculature and skeletal structure, I couldn’t do better than Vennard.

Today I’ll talk about Posture

If your posture is like a question mark, there could be room for improvement.  You should have a lot of room between your ribs and your pelvis for the expansion that good breathing needs.

The ribcage should be up and open, like when you stand with your arms outspread. My massage therapist says, “Lead with your heart.”   It is a lifted, but loose and energetic, posture.  It must not be locked or tense.

The relationship between the head, neck, and ribcage is important.  Probably the most important part of it is that it should all stay loose and energetic.  If the head has to be locked in one position to sing, there is room for improvement!  I know, I know, some folks believe in the chin to the chest approach, and others like the shoulders raised, and yet others seem to only be able to sing if the head is slightly to the left or right.  To me, all of these seem to come from tension, and do not help a good singing tone.

I once performed with a baritone whose chin had to be pulled to his right shoulder when he sang.  If he was crossing from stage left to stage right, he sang upstage!  Not only did this get in the way of his performance, but he made an ugly noise.

So, what about the head and neck?  The head should generally be looking straight ahead, not up or down, but (dare I say it?) loose and energetic.  Watching singers I’ve admired, like Luciano Pavarotti or Theo Adam, the head is mobile and they are always moving side to side, at least a little.  We’ll talk more about this, but you should be able to move your head fully from side to side while singing throughout your range.

Once this relationship between the various parts is in place, the rest of the body can do almost anything.  When I sang Rodolfo, I used to play a game with myself and see just how far I could slump in my chair in Momus and still hit the high B at the end of the Quando m’en vo ensemble.  We’ve all seen operatic performances where the singers got into all kinds of positions with no problems singing, which is always better than those singers who always have to stand just so, and put on a veneer of acting.

So, the foundation of good singing is breathing, and the foundation of good breathing is the postural relationship between the rib and pelvis, and the head, neck, and ribs.  Next time, we’ll tackle filling the tank.

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