Saturday, September 28, 2019

Breathing - How Do Singers Breathe?


I have seen it all now.  Ignorance, arrogance, stupidity, ego mania, and conceit.  All in a matter of seconds, as he demonstrated his breathing exercises for singing.  He reminded me of a now deceased friend who had his face in a paper bag, maniacally and violently breathing in the fumes from the glue he had dumped into the bag.  Toluene, he said that it contained.  He said it wasn’t poison. Uh-huh.

Let’s get real about breathing for singing.  The two things a singer needs regarding breathing as used for singing are: 1) control and 2) lung capacity.   Let’s get more real.  Air pressure and the amount of air which can be expelled from the lungs are both measurable and there are instruments to measure such things, to be found by your friendly pulmonary physician.  It is a matter of physics and anatomy and modern science which will verify what I am about to say, should Mr. Windbag care to put it to a test.

You must control the speed of the exhalation in order to control the dynamics-how loud or quiet it is.  You also must have enough air to sing a phrase at a controlled volume level.  It is a good idea to have more air than you need and to have more control of the air than you need, to sing effortlessly and to not let any issue with breathing impede your artistic expression.  We could set up equipment to test the air pressure and the amount of air used for singing. 

I have never seen any singer at any time breathe like the breathing that was done on the “exercise” I saw in a video.  I also play trombone.  One of my teachers was Dr. Donald S. Reinhardt.  He had 2 simple and effective breathing exercises.  One was for lung capacity and the other for breath control.  Professional brass players from the 1940s forward used these successfully for playing.  Having been both a professional singer and trombonist since 1972, I can say that it takes much less air to sing than it does to play a trombone.  Two problems can exist for both activities: 1) over-breathing and 2) under-breathing. 

Taking in too little or too much air to comfortably execute a phrase will cause unwanted sounds or bad tone or being unable to finish a phrase while maintaining the control of the dynamics.  There are many tricks, gimmicks or other stupid things being done which have nothing to do with breath control for actual singing.  These are not based on any medical science or on physics.  They have no use.  One is to blow on a piece of paper, to keep it from falling down a wall.  You do not exhale that hard or use that much air when you sing, so it is a trick and it is of no use.  Maybe you could have some friends hold a filing cabinet off the floor and against the wall and you could try to hold it there by blowing on it.  Maybe you can exhale with a hissing sound, like a happy little snake, but wait a minute.  Do snakes sing?  A little science mixed with a little common sense could go a long way but if you are looking for tricks, you might take up learning what magicians really do, to distract you from reality.  Some teachers of singing may just distract you from your money.  Magic is a trick and Trix are for kids (or so they say).

Chuck Stewart, Vocal Coach