“…this fear of not having enough air, this convulsive clinging to the material air, it is the crudest enemy of a correct respiration process.” (Valborg WerbeckSvärdström, Uncovering the Voice, p.173)
Breathing shouldn’t be an issue for you as a singer. If it is, then it blocks both your vocal identity and your vocal freedom. Singing can hardly be enjoyed and done well when there is a permanent worry of running out of breath at some point while singing. Also, bad breathing technique is likely to have a negative impact on your vocal cords, especially if you try to inhale as much air as possible too quickly.
The ideal breathing technique for singing is when you breathe naturally, which can only be done when completely relaxed. Babies and children can still breathe like this. It is called diaphragmatic breathing. This type of breathing is also recommended as a way of calming nerves, lowering blood pressure, and dissolving anxiety – in fact, as ways of dealing with stress.
The diaphragm is a special type of muscle located between the chest cavity and the stomach cavity. It divides the respiratory system from the digestive system. When it moves down during inhalation and up during exhalation, it works like an air pump and also gently massages the inner organs around it. When we laugh loudly, we always breathe diaphragmatically, which is why laughing is mostly good for our health!
However, the natural breathing I help you with is not just about deep abdominal breathing. There is also natural breathing which expands the ribcage sideways and causes “breathing to your back”. When we are in a state of awe or engaged in smelling the roses, we are activating this other type of breathing which is most beneficial for singing, as well as for our health. It can be compared to what is called “calm breath”. The inhalation happens without a struggle, peacefully and naturally. The exhalation is at least three times longer. (A trained opera singer can sustain a tone for at least 30 seconds!)
Supporting a tone from the diaphragm means using your respiratory system like an air pipe. If you cannot use your diaphragm during singing, you engage in a vocal a production which distorts the voice in one way or another. Your tones are either breathy or too tight. Both can cause problems with vocal cords.
Valborg Werbeck-Svärdström came up with a wonderful exercise, which she called the exercise for forgetting breathing. It is a process in which natural breathing is reactivated and you don’t need to think about breathing at all, because your body does it well and by itself. According to Werbeck breathing exercises have to be carried out together with vocal sounds otherwise one cannot reach the experience of effortless singing.
Professor Rudolf Vasek promoted singing on “residual” air after he discovered that healthy vocal production doesn’t need any more air than speaking (about 500 cm3). Also, while inhaling during singing, you draw in the air naturally through both your mouth and nose.
I often do a test with my clients. I get them to sing a tone first with a full breath and then with half of the air being exhaled before starting to sing the tone again. The results are amazing. The first tone is usually longer but by no more than five seconds. When Rudolf Vasek’s method is practised regularly, your voice is capable of sounding in perfect resonance while using the same amount of air as you do while speaking.
Natural breathing cannot be explained in words – it has to be practised. However, natural breathing is the foundation for uncovering your authentic voice. Without breathing naturally you will never be able to find your true voice! Yes, anybody can sing without breathing correctly, but the result will always be a vocal sound that hasn’t fulfilled its potential.