Most of us have been advised to breathe from the abdomen and push out the air so that your voice sounds powerful…now is that really how we are meant to be breathing , and are we doing it correctly? I recently gained certification as a Body Minded practitioner in Sydney, which was developed from the Alexander Technique. It is a basically about the efficiency of muscle use, with balance, strength, coordination and ease of movement.
I am by no means trained in Alexander Technique, but have a good knowledge of the foundation principles of the technique and how they relate to the human voice. The following misconceptions about breathing were quoted in the book, “Voice and the Alexander Technique,” Jane R Heirich, 2005.
All of us have some belief about breathing, especially when it comes to singing and public speaking. Here are seven common myths about breathing.
1)Singing in higher pitch requires more breath.
Pitch variance comes from the length and frequency of vibration of vocal folds. At a higher pitch, the vocal folds are thinner and more efficient, and hence does not require more breath support. Difficulties arise when speakers and singers carry too much of vocal fold mass in the middle and lower pitch ranges. Singing in lower pitches require greater breath flow to kick things into action and maintain continuous sound.
2)Take a big breath before singing or speaking.
The other variations are, take a deep breath, top up your breath at every opportunity etc. We actually only need adequate breath for a task and this over preparation leads to stiffening of rib muscles, neck , tightening of larynx and hence affect the ease and quality of sound.
3)Push out breath with abdominal muscles in order to make a sound.
We have all heard that we need to push the air from our abdomens to speak. Now, sound is not produced from the stomach of course. It starts from the mind, to the larynx and to the mouth. Overwork of the abdomen occurs when someone is working hard on projecting sound to an audience. The breath itself does not carry sound to the listener, a resonant sound wave does the job. So next time, work on relaxing the abdominal muscles, not pushing them out to speak.
4)If I don’t manage my breathe consciously, it won’t work.
Most speakers and singers try to over-manipulate the breathing mechanism. Let’s take a look at the torso of toddlers. They are elastically organised, and they have varying volumes without manipulating their breath mechanism. Over organising the breathing system can often stiffen the torso and get in the way of optimal voice.
5)If I take a deep breath quickly, it is impossible for the air to come in quickly.
Listen to tv and radio news commentator and you will often hear a noisy breath intake as they speech through their delivery. The gasping noise comes from partially closed vocal folds, which restrict the amount of air the person gets.
6)Deep breathing exercises are the answer
Deep breathing exercises are useful for relaxation or meditation. Plenty of yoga teachers practice breathing and holding your breath during cycles. I do have deep respect for those breathing cycles, and they have their own rationale. However holding of breath sometimes transfers to speaking and singing , and this is where it affects performance. Often this in a subconscious habit that creeps into the speaker.
7)If my voice is breathy, I need more support.
Speakers or singers may present with a breathy sound and they think they need to use more effort or voice, to create more support. The real problem is that the air escapes through the glottis when speaking, rather than forming a nice sound wave. Singers and speakers have to do adequate warm ups before engaging in performance, if they have breathy voicing.
If you are unsure about how you breathe, a good test is to read a short passage and put your finger in front of your mouth. You should not feel a constant draft of air. If you do, there is a fair chance that your vocal quality is breathy.
These seven misconceptions about breathing exist amongst speakers and singers, as well as other professional voice users. The closer we come to natural breathing function of a child, the better. After all, children run around all day, shouting, laughing and talking away, and never run out of breath or voice. They are great models for vocal power and use of muscles.
The next time you feel the urge to take in a deep breathe, or feel yourself tightening your abdomens or holding your breath, remember the picture of a happy toddler. They don’t need the extra tension or stopping of breathing to be hold, and neither do you! Always happy to chat further, shoot me an email if you have specific questions about your breathing!