As I have matured into a better teacher and have begun to more deeply analyze the experiences I had as a young singer on my path to owning a solid “technique”, I came to a startling realization – I had always thought that breathing was bad!
Over the years as my teachers worked with me on improving my breath support, I became so ensnared in the mental and physical processes of how one should “properly breathe” that I could no longer sing. Having learned from this twisted path which ranged from applying continual outward pressure to the abdomen (and sadly to the larynx) to being hooked up to monitors to watch the muscle patterns that that my abdomen and rib musculature took when I breathed, I now have a “breath support” discussion with my singers at the beginning of their studying with me that I happily rarely find the need to come back to.
We singers are often taught that breathing is bad, How ironic! Breathing is of course a necessity for life. Although this seems self-evident, this is important to proclaim to your singers from the mount on high!
What a singer needs is efficient use of the breath – not an endless supply. I have devised the following exercise to assist with that skill:
1. Statement: Breathing is good and necessary!
2. Discussion: Efficient use of your air is the aim of this exercise. This trains your mind and muscles to see a short phrase of music (use a visual example o a short phrase of music ) and to dump air, and to see a long phrase of music (use a visual example) and to be more efficient with the air.
3. Hiss like a snake for the following pattern (that the teacher counts out loud) breathing between each count. The trick for longevity on the long pattern is too release less air (my students who are over 100 counts barely whisper out the hiss) on the long phrases, more air is exhaled on the short. If a student gets tense during this exercise have them perform a shallow “squat” when they inhale.
4 4 4 4
16 ( to grow by 4 counts over time- those with better breath control I leap ahead to 24 or 32)
4 4 4 4
4. Repeat each lesson growing and recording progress on the long section over time. You can also have your student log this in their Music Teacher’s Helper practice log.
If your singer has a tough time with the longer phrase – I employ a mental trick of speeding up the tempo to build confidence around 60 beats and the next week or in a few weeks I slow it a bit , still expecting them to reach that longer pharase mark, and it usually works.