Breath Interference

Breath, because it is the immediate, physical, on-site activating agent of the voice, has been considered the most primary factor in the singing event for the better part of the last three centuries. “He who knows how to breathe knows how to sing,” “Sing on the breath,” “Use more breath support,” “Connect the voice to the breath,” “Learn to control your breath,” “Use the breath clutch,” and “Support the tone with the abdominal press,” are instructive phrases that have been spoken to most singing students at one time or another. Heard with equal frequency are directives such as “Breathe deeply,” “Raise the chest and keep it high,” “Breathe with your diaphragm,” “Breathe with the ribs,” “Breathe with the abdomen,” and “Fill your back with breath.”

Concern for the breath has led to many “methods” of breathing and “breath control,” some of them truly bizarre. However, there are two facts that these “methods” fail to take into account. The first one is that regardless of what part or parts of his body the singer moves – pushes or pulls in – and regardless of what part of the torso he tries to fill with breath, the only place the breath can move into is the lung cavity. Furthermore, once it is contained in the lung cavity, the breath is of equal density in all parts of the cavity and exerts an equal pressure in all directions within the cavity. The second fact – and this one goes almost totally unrecognized by the breath faddists – is that if the singer attempts directly and consciously to control the breath, regardless of what parts of the torso he chooses to grip, squeeze, tuck under, push out, pull in, raise or lower, he will only succeed in interfering with the action of the breath. The only controlling factors relevant to breath acquisition and consumption in the singing event are the degree of breath pressure and the rate of breath flow required to (1) initiate and (2) feed a particular vibratory pattern in response to the singer’s ongoing tonal concept. If the concept is clear, accurate and uninterfered with by any conscious attempt at “breath control,” then an appropriately energizing coordinative movement occurs reflexively in accord with the dynamics of the expressive intent.

Foster, Walter Charles. Singing redefined: a conceptual approach to singing that includes a study of the emotional process and the imaginative capacity, linguistic awareness and musical awareness, singing concepts based on the responsive nature of the instrument, and exercises designed to promote a technically correct, artistically expressive singing tone. Recital Pubns, 1998.

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2 thoughts on “Breath Interference

  1. This really is great stuff – two questions: do you have a bibliography that you would recommend to singers (and singing teachers like myself) to read more about the voice and get a balanced picture of the various approaches? Also, how can I subscribe for more of your updates?

    • Hello Matt! Yes, I do have a bibliography which I will send to you via Twitter. To subscribe to the blog you can add it to an RSS feeder, or follow it through WordPress. Thanks for commenting!

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