Breath Support – How #3

February 15, 2013

Let’s start with generalities, and then get more specific.  Again, this is an experiential approach – what the singer should feel – but informed by the technical knowledge of what is actually going on.

  • Air flow makes the sound, not air pressure.
  • Faster air makes for higher notes.
  • More air flowing makes for louder notes.
  • If the breathing apparatus isn’t controlling the flow, the singing apparatus has to, causing tension in the tongue, jaw, throat, etc.

Let me dilate on these a bit:

“Air flow makes the sound, not air pressure.”

This is true not only of the air flow sustaining the pitch, but air flow starting the note.

Air flowing through the vocal folds keeps them flapping in the breeze, causing the vibrations that come to us as a singing tone.  If there is a feeling of pressure in the throat, that feeling comes from tension.  Of course there is a pressure differential across the vocal folds, or there would be no air flow!  However, if you feel that pressure, you are either extremely sensitive, or tight.

Starting the tone should involve air flow as well.  This goes back to the Bernoulli Effect, where air that’s moving has a lower pressure than stationary air.  Essentially, if the vocal folds are close but not touching, and the singer causes the air to flow between them, the moving air will suck the folds together to start the sound.  Otherwise, the vocal folds are closed, pressure builds up, and the air punches through, causing a glottal plosive or glottal slap, which is as violent a process as the name sounds.  This will harm the voice in no time, and it is about the only thing I won’t let anyone get away with.

These next two are from Miss Repp.  I have not yet found reference, one way or the other, in Vennard, Tosi, etc.  However, they do work!

“Faster air makes for higher notes.”

Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!  Like the pig in the ad.

When you slide the voice up and down like this, loosely, you can feel how the air moves as you get higher.  Try it with a variety of vowels!

Now, the air doesn’t speed up as you get higher, the pitch gets higher as the air speeds up.  That may seem like picky word play, but the concept is very useful, especially if someone seems to approach high notes like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube.

“More air flowing makes for louder notes.”

Again, it is not the amount of muscle that someone is using, but the amount of energy in the airflow that determine the basic volume of the sound.  This is not to be confused with the resonance that gets the voice to carry over an orchestra, which must be there from ppp to fff.  That is for another discussion altogether, but the breath has to be working well first.

Putting these two thoughts together, singing high notes softly requires less air going quickly.  We’ll talk more about this when we get to registration.

“If the breathing apparatus isn’t controlling the flow, the singing apparatus has to, causing tension in the tongue, jaw, throat, etc.”

Something has to control the sound.  If the control is not from a well formed breath, then vocal tension will happen.

The flip side of this is that if you try to loosen the tongue, for instance, and don’t replace whatever control the tongue was trying to exert over the sound with well formed breath, then if you can get the tongue loose (which is unlikely) something else will take over, moving the tension to the jaw or the throat.

Well, I had hoped to get to the physicality of breath, but this post is already too long!  Next time, we’ll talk about just where and how to breathe.



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