Putting the Cart Before the Horse

Having for so long ‘breathed life’ into that which he sings, it is not difficult to see why, when he has been asked to help others, the successful performer teaches breath management instead of functional mechanics; expressive breathing has been an intimate part of his artistic life. Furthermore, it is obvious that the majority of students have trouble with their breathing. We live in an anxiety-ridden world, and shallow breathers (a product of anxiety) are the rule rather than the exception. It is perfectly natural to conclude, therefore, that the student’s technical faults derive from his breathing problem. Consequently, correction would seem to lie within the province of ‘breath management.’

The technical problems commonly faced in practical vocal training, however, are far removed from the area of feeling within which the artist functions so well. Few students have naturally well-formed voices and their ability to ‘feel’ is usually limited because of throat constriction. The problems to which the teacher must constantly address himself are: throat constriction, shortness of tonal range, lack of resonance, and the student’s inability to execute even reasonably long phrases without running short of breath.

Not one of the faults mentioned above is directly caused by faulty breathing; none is subject to correction through techniques given over to control of the breath. Each falls within the province of function and is due to a poor muscular coordination within the laryngeal pharynx. When technical difficulties arise which lie within the area of functional mechanics, it is irresponsible to deal with the problem by attempting to control the breath. Generally speaking, it is far more advisable to defer work on breathing until basic fundamentals have been well worked out. Breath management becomes a legitimate issue during advanced training when the student is ready to ‘feel with his breathing’ for purposes of interpretation. A vital point to remember is this: it is a properly adjusted larynx which to a great extent trains and regulates the breathing.

Reid, Cornelius L. Voice: psyche and soma. J. Patelson Music House, 1975.

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3 thoughts on “Putting the Cart Before the Horse

  1. I believe it is true, though “radical”, to say that a beginning voice student is not ready to work on breathing per se. This is a useful and concise explanation of why that is so.

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