The Breath Control Fallacy

In all countries, and at all recorded times, there has existed an idea that the singer should learn to control his breath and that ‘breath-control’ is a vital part of vocal technic. Teachers who entertain this fancy even prescribe exercises for the conscious control of the rate of expulsion of the breath, used in the act of phonation, by means of the expiratory muscles. That any such attempt on the part of the singer is abortive is evident from the statement already made to the effect that the entire act of phonation is a single act, and that direct control of any narrow group of muscles used in this act is physiologically impossible. True, the rate of expulsion of the breath can be easily regulated when the individual is not phonating, but the moment he commences to sing such control by means of the expiratory muscles becomes impossible (Ed.: I’m reminded here of a quote of Manuel Garcia’s, with whom Stanley studied: “All control of the tone is lost the moment the vocal cords become vibratile.”). Furthermore the intensity is not directly controlled by the breath output when the technic is good, but it is so controlled when the production is ‘throaty.’ Thus, when the technic is good, an increase in breath output may either increase or decrease the intensity from M.F.

Any attempt to control consciously the rate of expulsion of the breath during the act of phonation must, in the last analysis, lead the singer to control reflexly this output by means of a progressive constriction of the throat. Thus, the teaching of ‘breath-control’ must inevitably lead to ‘throatiness’ and vocal deterioration. Psychologically, the effect of this attempt will be to make the pupil ‘breath-conscious,’ and thus seriously impede his sense of freedom.

Stanley, Douglas. “The science of voice.” Journal of the Franklin Institute 211.4 (1931): 405-455.

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