The quest for the indisputable facts about singing.
Breathing is easy. We breathe all night long in our sleep. It seems that our body is better at it than we are. This system is autonomic or unconscious. We are not the driver. We are passengers on the breath bus. Journeying through life on the perpetual motion, our lungs are billows, inhaling and filling, charging oxygen through our pipeworks, the veins, powering our muscles and organs.
Singing is breath. Breath is singing.
(For more on the six fundamentals of singing, READ HERE.)
As I was exploring how to articulate this, and how to find an answer that qualifies as an indisputable truth about breathing, I asked my students how they approached this subject...
I listened to answers about where they felt like they were breathing into (their bellies), how they inhaled (opening the bottom ribs, breathing into the lower back, stomach release,) or exhaled (from the diaphragm). I heard them discuss support (a feeling of strength around the solar plexor), posture (lifting the clavicle), yawn breaths and imagery (pulling the sound from deep inside you or throwing it at a wall) and physical movement (lifting).
None of this was necessarily wrong but I wanted to finesse; to find a clear truth to build from. A checkpoint to which we could always return. I wanted to find a statement that couldn’t be misconstrued or replaced. A fundamental truth to BREATH in relation to sound production.
I tried to sing whilst removing all of these pieces of advice: I breathed high into my lungs instead of my belly. I could still sing. I tried singing with horribly tense shoulders. It wasn’t optimum but (by being careful to stay released around the jaw) the sound was relatively free. I tried singing with bad posture, with a low soft palate, going against all the advice above. It might not have been optimum but I could still sing. I could cheat, find another way around.
Nothing so far was fundamental or an indisputable truth.
So if we knew that your singing voice is vibrating air particles of breath then what is the one thing that singing could not happen without?
For a long time, I played around with this, singing breath out fast and slow, in fits and starts, increasing and decreasing the flow of pressure. All seemed possible and related to a stylistic choice in singing but I came to release that there was one thing that was indisputable: where there was output, there had to be input. The air had to be constant; a constant flow, and what was more, as soon as that flow was constant, it was connecting to my body.
I could dispute, where I felt it, sometimes, around my solar plexus, or my lower stomach, or the sides of my ribs, but, to attain the flow of air the vocal cords needed to make sound, the body had to get involved.
I tried not connecting the sound to my diaphragm or lower stomach. I couldn’t. Even if there was no movement at the commencement of a phrase, soon a feeling of connection grew around my lower stomach to help the remaining air exit the lungs.
Where there is singing there is a constant flow of air connected to the body.
To take this into practise, we can look at any sounds that do just that: any sounds that engages a consistent flow of air through your cords connected to your body.
These sounds are primarily ones that we can’t get wrong and come under the category of SOVT, or Semi-occluded vocal tract. This fancy acronym basically means half closed mouth. The closure, provides resistance so the body connects with the breath, creating a consistent flow.
As you do these exercises (more details on how below) focus on just the indisputable truth: ‘singing requires a consistent flow of air connected to the body’. By doing this, you teach your brain and body how sound production should be. The brain starts to create new pathways, using this new efficient approach, ready to unconsciously translate this practise into your singing.
In addition to this subconscious, or body memory element to practise, you are also consciously gaining awareness to the sensation of always breathing out and always connecting the body to the breath so you can consciously bring this practise into your singing.
You can use any closed mouth sound but the most common is the lip trill. Here’s a video on The Lip Trill or you can watch the video on breathing below.
Rachel Lynes -vocal coach
These articles aim to simplify and clarify. My aim is to give you clear exercises that make a big difference.