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  • juliehamula

To BREATHE or NOT to breathe, THAT is the question.

A few weeks ago, I had a wonderful #techniquetalks interview with the fabulous Mezzo-Soprano, Chrystal E. Williams.

(If you haven't seen it, check it out HERE).

One of the subjects we explored at length was BREATH, and Chrystal talked about why it's important to not breathe, how not breathing helps train the support system, and prevents the all-dreaded "stacking of air". As I was listening, I was thinking of how this is so true, and the many arguments why NOT breathing is a valid choice.

Disclaimer: If you don't know HOW to breathe, then obviously you should work on BREATHING before you work on NOT breathing

Reasons why you SHOULDN'T breath....

1. If you breathe too often, especially if the music is fast, or leaves very little time for a full inhale, it is a good idea to not breath. This prevents the air from getting stacked. What is stacked air? It is what happens when you don't achieve a full exhalation, and inhale on top of already half-full lungs. Kind of like hyperventilating. It is not pretty, can cause massive tension in the throat, and cuts down your vocal stamina by 50-80%. Just NOT GOOD.

2. You won't have to deal with the offset... (an offset is the stopping of a tone). Why is this important? Well, say you have a phrase that peaks at a high tone and then returns back down. Many people feel after they reach the top, they should breathe. After all, it's pretty logical, and you may even feel like you NEED that breath or you will die. (Spoiler alert: you won't die). However, consider the consequences. If you breathe after the high note, you will have to offset on a high pitch. This can be a struggle for any singer. Maintaining an open throat when stopping a pitch is tricky, and even more so the higher you go. If you simply "don't breathe" after the high note, you avoid having to deal with the offset. And the bonus is, the audience will say "WOW! He didn't breathe! Isn't that amazing?" Only you will know that by NOT breathing, you actually made things easier on yourself.

3. NOT breathing forces you to manage your airflow/phonation more effectively. Kind of like when your Mom gave you $10 allowance back in 1995. You were likely saying to yourself: YES, I'm rich, I can go by lip gloss with my friends at Hello Kitty! But what would have happened if you had saved that $10 every week??. . . Yeah, ok, that is just depressing... As Tiffany says, "Could've been so beautiful..." (If you don't know these references, be glad! You're too young...) If you know you CANNOT breathe, you don't allow all your airflow to leak and weaken the cord closure, thus earning you more efficient phonation!

(Now, phonation is not that simple, so don't assume that all you have to do is not breathe to have proper cord closure, but that's for another day).

4. When you don't breathe, you are forced to have a reckoning with your body. There are many singers, even pretty good ones, who skirt by without having to FULLY SUPPORT in their bodies. They make decent sounds, but they have yet to experience the vocal benefits that come from full body support. A good way to train this full body support is to sing ridiculously long phrases without breathing. Your body will start to repel and scream at you to breathe. Your abs will want to crunch in. Your toes will lift. You'll start to do a weird dance where your left hip squeezes. But all of this is to train your body. The more you do this, i.e. singing without breathing, the more you will build up correct muscular support. Now, in doing this, you need to be certain that all your muscles are trying to move out when they so desperately want to squeeze inward. By doing this daily, you will notice huge increases in your support and breath capacity (that's not really a thing, but you will feel it as such).

Now this article wouldn't be complete unless I stated some reasons you SHOULD breathe.... in fact there are really only 2.

Reasons you SHOULD breathe

1. It's in good musical taste. Not breathing would be tacky. Not breathing wouldn't communicate the text appropriately. Not breathing would not respect the musical line. Yeah, in these cases, for the love of Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach, please breathe!

2. You have a struggle with pressed phonation. If you've been told your tone sounds like Grandpa getting out of his chair after watching Lawrence of Arabia, you may suffer from pressed phonation. This occurs when the cords squeeze too tightly together, restricting air flow. Singing for a while with a "breathy" tone can help correct this, and thus will require that you breathe more often.

So now you know when to breathe and when not to. It's so simple, right? Not quite... So many factors go into singing well, and it is imperative that you find what works IN YOUR OWN BODY. What someone else experiences as "easy", you may feel is the hardest thing in the world, and vice versa. Please don't let anyone tell you when you SHOULD or SHOULDN'T breathe.

Play around, feel it out for yourself, but don't invoke the wrath of Beethoven! (I heard he was touchy...)


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