I think that at least 50% of singing is knowing how to breath and how to spare the breath. When one reads the old masters of bel canto (Mancini, Tosi, Garcia, Francesco e Giovanni Lamperti), they all agree with that, and always emphasize the importance of breathing exercises.
Montserrat Caballè, for example, declared that at the beginning of her training, for 8 to 9 months, her teacher had her practicing ONLY breathing exercises, so that the muscles were used to the task they had to do. And she always states in her masterclasses she is unable to proceed her daily obligations before facing 20 minutes of breathing exercises.
By observing singing teachers today, I myself believe this breathing issue is much overlooked and, when it is taught, it is done the wrong way, I mean, pushing down and out (when it is only a natural and discrete reflexive response of a well-developed apparatus, a slight resistance), hyperextension of the rib cage, and other “inventions” that I feel end up giving a feeling of choking. It seems that the student is preparing to become a professional diver. It creates only tension on the voice, I feel.
I know of many singers that dare to sing difficult repertoire (beyond their reach) who don’t have a clue of how to breath. They usually repeat what their teachers say, defending it is useless to train at all, a position that contradicts the teachings of old school.
I would like to pose a question here. What the Swedish/Italian school has to say about the practice of breathing in terms of muscular training? I have read for years the articles of Mr.Jones about the concepts of the school, but I feel it is particularly difficult to put in practice the “breathing to the small of the back”. My question is: practicing the intake of air based on this principle and expirating slowly is enough, or one must also keep the chest (la fontanella, solar plexus)CONSCIOUSLY up all the time? I always thought it should be acquired with time and practice, when one gains strength and not by imposing this position to the torso.
I beg your pardon for my english. I’m a 27-years-old brazilian guy and still learning…
Thank you for your comments. I agree with your first statement to a degree. The problem is most people don’t know what it means to spare the breath. But you can describe what I’m talking about that way. Unfortunately, at the same time I see too much emphasis on breathing and breathing exercises. What I mean is there are too many people who place too much importance on the breath itself. Now, learning how to coordinate our breathing is very important, and Lamperti is quoted as saying the breath should be a year in advance of the voice. But that does not require exercise of a building or strengthening nature, the breath doesn’t need to lift anything with its flow. It is more about developing flexibility and coordination in the posture and breathing muscles in order to sustain the necessary suspending and compression of the breath. I encourage people to look at what happens naturally to our body when we have positive emotional responses. When we are excited and celebrating, joyful, enthusiastic; emotional conditions that we can imagine would stimulate singing in nature; the body responds with an uplifted condition. There is a gentle stretch in the torso and an opening in the ribcage. This uplifted condition corresponds to an inspired feeling. Along with the lift in the sternum and ribs the abdomen takes a slightly drawn in position. It is important to note that when doing these things we need to watch out for the unconscious tendency of thinking, “If a little is good then more is better”. This invariably leads to over-doing things and destroys balance. Remember that balance is the objective in everything we do. If we keep the abdomen drawn in as we inhale, the sensation of the breath is felt in the lower back. This must never be an extreme thing. I have heard some people claim that if the abdomen is kept in while breathing that you will be forced to take a high chest breath. This is just not so. Even while keeping the abdomen drawn in there is still enough flexibility for there to be a slight expansion in the abdomen, along with the lower back and the lower ribs laterally. This becomes much easier to accept when we realize that we don’t need a maximum amount of breath in order to sing. We should always breath positively but comfortably. Because of the emphasis on the breath there tends to be quite a bit of over-breathing. This is just about equal to the amount of under-breathing there is. Our objective is to find that balance in the respiration that we can comfortably suspend the breath and allow the vocal folds to vibrate freely and intensly resulting in an accoustically productive tone. I agree that there is a general ignorance to the natural coordination of the breath that was demonstrated by the older, great singers. What tends to happen is an exaggeration of what comes natural. And instead of allowing things to come naturally we are encouraged to exercise deliberate action on our body and over-ride the instinctive reactions that would happen to fulfill our desire for tone. That is ultimately what singing should be, an instinctive reflex of the body to fulfill the desire for tone to express emotion.