Recently I have been to a masterclass with a very competent Italian soprano and voice teacher, Ms. [Name Deleted]. What she said to me was quite shocking. She said that my voice came out tiny (even for a soprano leggero) and that the kind of sound emission I was using was never going to work in an actual stage. My speaking voice was actually louder than my singing voice. The notes were all in tune and in the right place, she said, but mainly I was using almost no breath to sing. “You’re holding it all back” she said “Unfortunately, I cannot teach you to sing using your breath effectively in 4 days, you’re going to have to work out for yourself. Unless you learn how to breathe properly you’re never going to actually sing. Take it slowly and focus solely on the fiato”. At that moment, I felt terrible. But she was very kind, and gave me a bunch of breathing exercises that are quite extreme (mainly to learn how to use the abdominal muscles correctly and push the air out). I have been working on them for these past weeks and trying to activate those muscles – now I am starting to open my rib cage independently. However, I am having trouble coordinating the breathing with the actual singing. After I vocalize, I am noticing that my throat is starting to feel sore. And I know this is not a good sign. I am scared that I might be “spingendo la voce” in order to make up for weak muscles, but I cannot be sure without some actual professional help.
There is a lot of truth in what you were told at the Masterclass. I did a search for the teacher and found a couple results. One was a recording, the other her web site, and if it is who you worked with I wouldn’t be too set on trying to accomplish what she recommends. The singing I heard was quite pushed and over-blown. But the basic concepts she told you are correct, if they are correctly applied. From what you said it sounds like they are causing you to force the breath and overpower the voice. This is the danger of placing too much emphasis on the breath without knowing how to coordinate it. The part that is missing, and is the most important part, is the role of the larynx providing a stable opposition to the breath. This is felt as a “platform” of resistance at the bottom of the neck or the top of the chest because we don’t feel the larynx itself or the vocal cords because of the lack of nerve endings there. This allows us to use the strength we get from the breath without forcing it out causing the tone to blast. The body functions the same for singing as it does for coughing, grunting, clearing the throat, laughing, crying. Any number of bodily functions are in the same “family” as singing. We need to learn how to function in that natural manner when we sing. The difference being that we are singing instead of doing these other functions. But they are all based on compressed breath. The difference in the sensations between compressed breath and loose breath are clear to us when we experience them. Loose breath feels like a flow of breath, compressed breath feels like the breath is static but there seems to be a flow of tone. The “platform” of resistance that I mentioned has a very subtle feeling. It can easily be overdone with the help of the tongue, but this does negatively affect the freedom of the vibration and subsequently the tone. So we should be able to notice if we fall into this trap.