Breath Management in Singing
By David L. Jones
Alan Lindquest once told me to take a thimble full
of breath and put it in the lower back. It is important for us to understand
what this statement really means. Most singers take "too much breath under
the upper rib cage and blow most of it out during the first part of the phrase.
Enrico Caruso told Lindquest in 1917 that he took "no more breath to sing
than to have a casual conversation with a friend."
Inhalation must feel as though it occurs "below the ribs";
not under the ribs. Wide suspended ribs are necessary in order
for a singer not to "push too much breath pressure,"
however, this suspended rib cage should not be hyper-extended
with over-inflated lungs. I remember one exercise in which Mr.
Lindquest had me "pant without moving my rib cage."
Many find this a difficult function, however, with practice it
can be accomplished.
Breathing into the back is an act that many find difficult,
however, "over-breathing" under the ribs makes it next
to impossible. A singer can practice the lower back breath while
sitting in a straight-backed chair or against a flat wall area.
Then, when the singer stands, he/she must have one foot in front
of the other with the weight on the balls of the feet. This allows
the curve in the lower back to lessen allowing for a low breath.
John Wilcox suggested that a singer lie on the floor (stomach
down) and feel the breath pull into the lower back.
What separates breath and "support"? If a singer
does not "over-breathe," he/she can then extend the
"grunt muscles" (lower lumbars) at the onset of sound.
These muscles can then extend further as the singer goes higher.
The body should sustain the support-width of the highest tone
as the singer comes down in pitch. This holds back the breath
pressure in order for the larynx to stay in a low position. (A
small "breath stream" must travel through the larynx
at a consistent rate.) The pectoral muscles should remain firm
after the "small but low singing breath" is taken.
These muscles, along with the intercostals (between the ribs),
and the lower lumbar muscles (in the lower back), hold back 'too
much wild air' or too much "breath pressure." It is
important to know that these three sets of muscles (pectorals,
lower lumbars, and intercostals) allow us to sing from "compressed
air," not loose air. Lamperti said that the cords then "draw
the air they need" in order to create the onset of sound
or what some call the "attack". Lindquest taught the
"perfect attack"; this was explained by him as "closing
the cords" after the singing breath is taken. It has been
my experience that many singers use a "puff of air"
to begin their sound. This creates either "breathy tone"
or a driven sound. The "perfect cord closure" is not
to be taken too far. This would create "glottic shock"
which is abusive to the cords. This can be avoided be beginning
with a voiced "z" or "v".
It takes very little air to sing. Mr. Lindquest
would say many times "drink the voice" rather than pushing "wild
air through the larynx". Only a small stream of air (consistent in pressure)
should be used to sing. This "small stream" can be experienced by
using the "ng" or voiced "V" or by employing lip-trills
and tongue trills . The "small stream" of breath must be applied to
language function. Many singers have difficulty going from vocalizing to repertoire.
One major reason for this is that singers "change breath pressure"
between vowel and consonant function. The larynx comes up for certain consonants,
however, if the "small breath stream" is achieved the larynx will
re-drop after consonant function. This re-dropping of the larynx is crucial
for a legato line to be achieved. If the "small stream" or consistent
breath is used in coordination with appropriate nasal resonance, a legato line
will result. The singer will experience beautiful resonant tone.
Mr. Lindquest also taught the "two-cupped breath";
the first half through the nose which lifts the soft palate and
the second half through the mouth which lowers the larynx. He
said that this should be used as a practice breath to train the
lower back reflex and the elongation of the resonating space.
NOTE: INTERVIEW: 1977: Martha
Rosacker: "Mr. Lindquest, what is your philosophy of teaching?"
Mr. Lindquest: "You inspire the entire person. Singing
is much more than just teaching "a voice". Singing
is the voice of the soul, and the spirit of the person must reflect
through their singing."