Breath: The Secret Power Behind Your Voice

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Vocal Coaching By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: Singing » Vocal Coaching
Last updated: 10/05/2017
Tags: breathing, communication, finding your voice, spoken voice, vocal coaching

“Breathe in.” 

“Take a breath.” 

Asking people to do this tends to result in a heave of the shoulders, a puff up of the chest and suddenly you are confronted by ranks of stiff, soldier-like bodies in front of you who appear not to be breathing at all. To breathe as nature intended is not unnatural to us, it is how we were born, it is how babies and toddlers breathe and is the foundation for all life, movement and voice and is a right we all have. We start off life able to do it easily and simply, but it is something which can be lost for various reasons as we move from childhood to adulthood. Just listen to the sound of a baby crying and understand it is the breath which powers that strong, strident cry. 

To work on a voice, especially for creative, artistic purposes, breathwork is fundamental. And to work on breath, you need to free the body from unnecessary tensions. A spine which is slumped, or which is overly curved can impede and inhibit the free movement of the breathing muscles. A neck which is habitually poking forwards will make it harder for the body to let the breath in and will encourage the muscles in the neck and shoulders and chest to get involved unnecessarily. Often voice coaches encourage people to unpick unhelpful habits which may have been hindering their voices. If we can open up our bodies, encouraging good alignment and create space internally, then we make space for the breath which powers the voice and provides the impulse for movement. 

It is the complex and subtle interplay between breath and the vocal folds housed in the larynx, which creates voice. Too little breath and our voices can be breathy, quiet or unfocused; too much breath and the voice can become strident and harsh and hard to listen to. Of course, it depends on the quality of voice you are looking for, but the need to be in control of the breath is absolute. 

But breathwork is not just fundamental for creative and artistic purposes, but also for everyone.  For the business person facing a difficult meeting, for the parent who needs to make the children listen, for the therapist who needs to listen clearly and objectively, the list goes on...   It is the secret power which everyone can tap into, regardless of training, background or purpose. The most charismatic and truly powerful person in the room, is most likely to be the one who is more in touch with their breathing.

So, tips on breathing as nature intended: sit in a chair, feet flat on the ground, feeling the bum on the seat, let the torso reach up out of the hips. Roll the shoulders round a little, let the crown of the head float up and the back of the neck be long, the front of the neck be soft. Do a secret, silent yawn as if you don’t want anyone else to notice (this opens the throat, allowing air to move unimpeded through the mouth, nose and throat). Place a hand lightly on your belly around or just below your belly button and blow out comfortably through lightly pursed lips. As you blow out, pull the abdominal muscles in towards the spine. When you get to the comfortable end of the out breath (no need to squeeze hard so other parts of the body get involved – still keep that body long and strong), just let the abdominal muscles release, the belly will spring back to its original position and breath will have been drawn into the body with no effort at all. You will have taken a breath with no sense of effort! Keep practising for a few minutes at a time. Notice the sense of calm, of space inside your body, of ease. 

Now add sounds to the breath: start with a sustained fffffff as you pull the abdominal muscles in, then sssssssssss, then shshshshshshshsh. You can move onto vvvvvvvvvv, zzzzzzzzzzzzzz and zhzhzhzhzh (the sound in the middle of “measure”). Then take it onto words – count out loud slowly, allowing an easy breath between each number:  “one” breath “two” breath, “three” breath etc.  Then you can build up, counting “one two” breath “one two three” breath etc.  Then read aloud from a book or presentation with this exact same easy breath between phrases.

Practice, especially when you have a potentially difficult situation coming up which will probably make your breath faster, higher and more shallow.  Practising this type of easy deep  breathing will allow you to tap into the secret power of your breath and help make your voice full, resonant and able to communicate exactly what you want to say.  It’ll make you feel great, too.

Victoria Woodward Vocal Coaching Tutor (North London)

About The Author

I love working with people and their voices in all aspects: learning an accent, preparing for an audition, delivering a presentation, giving a wedding speech - these are all things I can help you with. Looking forward to meeting you.

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