Many singers and singing students share this with me during our singing lessons. They always discover that they run out of breath when singing, and when they breathe in more to counter the effects of being out of breath, it makes them feel worse, and strangely enough, even MORE out of breath!
Most singers who report that they run out of breath often, are usually producing what we call an ‘airy’ or ‘breathy’ singing tone when singing.
So, why is it that, even when singers breathe in more when they sing, because they feel like they are running out of breath, it does not help them at all, but can even worsen the situation?
In order to solve this mystery, we actually do need to understand how our voice works, and how ‘more breath’ may not actually be the best solution!
Our voice is produced at the level of the true vocal folds, and these come into vibration when our breath passes between them. The frequency of these vibratory cycles then determines the pitch of the sound that is produced. Without breath, there would be no sound. And this is why a lot of singers and vocal coaches focus on breath training, and doing breathing exercises to train the abdominals and the breathing muscles to be stronger and more controlled.
However, this is only part of the picture. Remember that the vocal folds and the breath have to work in tandem in order to produce a good and solid tone when singing. If the breath is strong, but the vocal folds are not fully in contact, there will be a lot of breath lost or ‘leaked’, and hence, the voice will sound airy and weak.
Similarly, if we don’t have enough breath in our body, we may start to constrict when we sing, and that also causes us problems and may hurt our voice in the long run as well. The breath and the voice have to work well together in order to produce a good and healthy sound!
Most singers who report that they run out of breath often, are usually producing what we call an ‘airy’ or ‘breathy’ singing tone when singing. This in turn causes them to leak more breath during voice production, and hence, they will feel the need to take in more breath to compensate for that breath loss.
However, the problem with breathing in more is that it creates more tension in the body, and the vocal folds have the added responsibility of having to hold back that excess breath in the body. This makes the whole vocal system very tense, and will make it harder for singers to sing freely. And without training the vocal folds to manage that excess breath, the additional breath is still lost, and the singers constantly feel out of breath again.
Alternatively, what these singers should be doing, is to train themselves to be able to create solid tones without pushing excessive breath. By reducing the amount of breath that they use when they sing, they remove that constant need to breathe in more, and they also allow the vocal folds to work more efficiently and to produce more sound.
This will then be the smarter way to resolve the paradox of breathing and feeling more and more out of breath. We need to look not only at how much breath we take in, but also, how we use that breath that we have in our body, so that we can produce a good and solid sound without excessive breath force.
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