One of the most important aspects of vocal freedom is your breathing. If you’re not careful, inspiring too much breath will cause tension and restrict your ability to project your voice with ease. A singer should only take as much breath as is needed for the phrase at hand so that they can properly execute their song with full control.
How can a singer inspire and handle tension in singing?
A great athlete would not be able to enjoy his or her athletic ability if he or she did not know how to carry out the proper breathing method. This is equally true for singers. When we take our breath, we are taking in oxygen, which helps us sing. How much singing can we do before we run out of breath or have to breathe again? The answer will depend on the length of time we can sustain a sustained note. It was asked by Lamperti, a voice teacher in the 1800’s, “How long should a singer be able to hold out a note once they have acquired good breathing technique?” “Lamperti responded, up to 20 seconds or more.”
A general element I’ve observed and experienced is taking a breath that does not match the time value given before the phrase. Put differently, do not try to take a breath that surpasses the amount of time given. This will lead to tension as well. It is true that we desire to have a full breath for every phrase we sing, but that is not always the ideal situation.
The ideal method of breathing is to release and replenish.
It is a more advanced technique that I cover in Breathing Mastery. When you consider the inspiration and expiration cycle as a release and replenish, you will never look at or approach music the same ever again. Once you acquire the release and replenish technique, it will revolutionize the way you sing forever. But let me caution you; it takes a great deal of work and patience.
Is a breath required?
I understand the desire to observe specific moments of breathing in a song, but many times a breath is unrequired, but rather a pause. Let me add, the pause of the breath does not mean closing the throat. The amount of inspired breath that one takes may be unnecessary and distracting. It troubles me when I see and hear a performer struggling to keep control of their instrument, a sign of faulty breathing. This is common among singers of all levels; it does not escape any of us.
My number one aim is not to correct a singer so that I might show off my teaching ability, but rather a sincere concern for the singer’s health. Tension produces a shallow breath, which leads to a shallow tone, which leads to pushing. The last thing we desire is to have a singer struggling when simple adjustments can be made to relieve vocal tension.
Try a pause, you just might get it.
The next time you are singing your phrases, try a pause of breath instead of quickly inhaling to get all the air back into your lungs. You have more breath than you know or think, in addition to another factor, the coordinated release of the tone. Remember, how you begin a phrase will determine how the rest of it will feel, look, and sound. My hat’s off to all performers who continue to work and study hard to improve their skills. You might have noticed; you paused your breath between the words “work—and”.