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Proper Breath Management When Singing

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This is one area of singing that has always confused me a bit. I've been studying and practicing for about 4 years now, and I am a decent singer with power throughout my range, but my voice can be inconsistent, and I believe that the main issue I'm having is with breath management. It's one of those things that I know is important, but I don't quite know enough to apply it effectively and consistently.

The reason it confuses me is that I have read many different things about "proper" breath management/support for singing, and it just seems like there isn't much consistency with vocalists and teachers on what the proper way is. All I really know about it is how the basic physiology works. I hear some say there should be little to no conscious effort involved, and I hear others talk about all the different muscles involved. When I was a senior in high school, a classical singer came to our choir class, and she mentioned something about using pelvic muscles to push. I don't know a ton about classical technique, so maybe it's something different, but to me that seems like it would be a bit unnecessary and possibly even bad to push like that with so much muscular force.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that when the diaphragm is in the inhale position, the muscle is tense, as opposed to the exhale position where it is relaxed. So if I inhale I have to "hold" the breath, and when I relax completely it all rushes out on it's own quite rapidly. I imagined it being like a balloon. When you blow it up is when the air pressure is higher, and opening the neck (the airway) will allow all the air to rush out. If you pull the sides of the neck while the air is rushing out, it makes two folds in the rubber that vibrate a high-pitched squeaky tone, which seems remarkably similar to the way the voice works (minus resonance).

If this is an accurate analogy, shouldn't that mean that the goal of breath management is not to push at all, but rather to keep the diaphragm stable and to control the speed at which the diaphragm relaxes, thereby controlling the rate of airflow needed for any given phonation? You wouldn't really want to push the air up and out, but you wouldn't want to feel totally relaxed either; you would want to use surrounding muscles to stabilize and control the diaphragm so it relaxes slowly and at the rate you want rather than pushing. Right? 

By the way, I do have The Four Pillars of Singing and the appoggio techniques have helped me. I just feel I'd be able to better understand and apply the techniques if I understood the physiological and technical components more precisely.

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In regards to "swelling" the note or "amplify the formant" (which is a misnomer). To get louder, you'll always have to increase the resistance and pressure at the vocal fold level. It's physically imp

Seriously? With all due respect Maestro, that was ludicrous. Sure, Daniel is a great singer, but I'm not going to make a blanket statement about anyone that pretends that anyone can sing anything and

well i remember bolton when i was a kid and he was in a rock band called blackjack he was always soulful. like a Paul rodgers,steve marriot,rod stewart etc. All blue eyed soul singers, just because th

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If this is an accurate analogy, shouldn't that mean that the goal of breath management is not to push at all, but rather to keep the diaphragm stable and to control the speed at which the diaphragm relaxes, thereby controlling the rate of airflow needed for any given phonation? You wouldn't really want to push the air up and out, but you wouldn't want to feel totally relaxed either; you would want to use surrounding muscles to stabilize and control the diaphragm so it relaxes slowly and at the rate you want rather than pushing. Right? 

By the way, I do have The Four Pillars of Singing and the appoggio techniques have helped me. I just feel I'd be able to better understand and apply the techniques if I understood the physiological and technical components more precisely.

Yes, that is also my understanding of breath management and how I apply it.

Congratulations, you have earned a beaker.

 

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Basically, but there will be times where you are pushing but that is also in a controlled way, depending on the requirements of a song, and how you wish to sound.

Is that when you're going for a more distorted sound? Because when I'm doing clean singing it always seems like my problem is that I'm using too much air. Especially in my middle range, my voice might break or it just feels strained, and the main solution always seems to be that I needed to use less air. Like my vocal folds were straining because they were trying to maintain good closure with the excess air pressure, which in turn caused the muscles around my larynx to squeeze and restrict to hold them together, which either doesn't work or it sounds bad. I do feel a pushing sensation when I do it right, but more like I'm pushing/pulling down and outwards in my abdomen rather than pushing the air out.

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No, not for just distorsion.  You may want an intensity, power or resonance spike (dynamic contrast).

We need to be clear when you say "less air."  When I refer to less air, I'm not referring to the inhaled volume of air, whether that's a lot or a little. I mean it in terms of the air you allow past the vocal folds. You want your support muscles to hold back air from bombarding your vocal folds. You bascially need to develop to a point where the air is placed up against vocal folds (your onset) regardless of air pressure. Air pressure can very easily change as you sing for many reasons.  You have to be in control of the expelling of the air.

If you were to place a candle near your mouth and sang a strong note, you will not see that flame flicker very much if at all!  If it does, you are singing with improper or inadaquate approximation of the vocal folds. It's a balance of air pressure and fold tension which if too slack is not good, and too tight is not good. 

Balance and control.  

 

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CVT is really big on like no air ever outside of falsetto/neutral. I like the sound of a little air in the voice and I find if I lean top down into their curbing thing, I can have a little room for air in the spot in between. I've heard Dan doing what sounded like that too. I find balance boring and mechanical, so I like to lean one way or another depending on expression although averaging on a balance is probably a good idea. I wonder how CVT would try to explain what Brian Mcknight does? Anyway, this is one off my favorite 'windy' performances of all time and would be vastly inferior if he didn't put a little 'wind' in there:

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L holmes just remember the power of the voice comes from resonance. if the registration is balanced and you are allowing for good resonance, low mid and high clarity in the tone and its not breathy the power will be there and you will just swell to get louder if you are looking for volume. the placement will stay the same . now if the registration is not balanced which therefore doesn't allow for good resonance then you can push and yell and try as hard as you would like but its not going to be very loud or pleasant.

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Yes. You can swell the tone but you are talking about one the hardest thing to do vocally. Most of the time I just hear singers yelling or pushing the high notes not actually singing them. Sometimes because a teacher was yelling at them screaming "more support more support harder harder"  Technique is about skill not push. Just like Brazilian Jiu jitsu it's not the bigger stronger guy that wins its the one with better technique. 

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Yes. You can swell the tone but you are talking about one the hardest thing to do vocally. Most of the time I just hear singers yelling or pushing the high notes not actually singing them. Sometimes because a teacher was yelling at them screaming "more support more support harder harder"  Technique is about skill not push. Just like Brazilian Jiu jitsu it's not the bigger stronger guy that wins its the one with better technique. 

Yes, amplify formants.... don't try to shout at high notes.

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Yes. You can swell the tone but you are talking about one the hardest thing to do vocally. Most of the time I just hear singers yelling or pushing the high notes not actually singing them. Sometimes because a teacher was yelling at them screaming "more support more support harder harder"  Technique is about skill not push. Just like Brazilian Jiu jitsu it's not the bigger stronger guy that wins its the one with better technique. 

Now the swell thing you showed me has probably been in the top 3 if not number one most useful voice exercises I've ever used. But I'd have to say that for a very long time, I've always been attracted to a certain kind of shouting, screaming, and intensity in music. If I wanted to point out a vocal that sounds particularly 'powerful' to me John Lennon in Twist and Shout would be one of many examples:

Now, I've always been attracted to vocal performances like this. What attracts me the most is the sincerity. It sounds like he is really, really shouting because that is the emotion he is expressing. I can swell into something kind of like that, but by the time it reaches intensity and sincerity, it's pretty compressed and/or a bit pushy/shouty.

Twist and Shout:

https://app.box.com/s/ompmx3mdtvw8fwog8sthzz8tslpqx4ip

I remember stumbling across a vocal teacher that teaches extreme vocal techniques, and says she advocates that screaming and extreme singing should feel like meditating:

https://www.melissacross.com/

The other day I remembered her name and looked at her website, and a list of bands she has taught, and for my tastes it was like a list of bands that that didn't have like 1 percent of the sincerity to my ears that Lennon has in Twist and Shout. I started realizing, maybe that is the problem, meditating and manufacturing 'sounds' that resemble screams and shouts but aren't really an extension of the primal reasons why someone might scream or shout. 

Other guys that sound really sincerely shouting or screaming to me: Iggy Pop Raw Power. Joe Strummer on anything. Levi Stubbs on anything. David Ruffin on anything. Ruffin was described by Rod Stewart as an 'extremely' loud singer, like a foghorn on the Queen Mary.

I think in order for it to sound real to me, there has to be at least some of the primal mechanisms that would compel someone to shout or scream involved in the process. Why would someone make an extreme sound if it wasn't an emotion?  I'd rather push/shout/compress/get louder if that is sincere, than meditate and manufacture a sound that is supposed to 'sound close enough to trick listeners.' As a listener, I often feel like it's put on to try to manipulate me and it leaves me irritated and wanting it to stop.

So while technique is good and all, does singing ever just sound fake to you too? Technique can and does kind of serve as a guard rail to keep me from pushing too far, but if it wasn't for sincerity in singing, I'd probably stop singing and stop listening to much singing. It would just sound like people meditating sounds on pitches. And the people who meditated the most emotionally manipulative sounds would be successful. I'd be left in the cold with no more music that appealed to me.

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Just thought id pop in and share the video that helped me the most with breath support. 

Also a tip for beefing up the tone without shouting..... When recording your singing session (wich you should always do) put the recording device in another room. I have noticed sometimes if the device is in the same room the recording may sound weaker because it cant pick up all the frequencies( or at least that's my guess). Your voice is often stronger than you think....

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Yes. You can swell the tone but you are talking about one the hardest thing to do vocally. Most of the time I just hear singers yelling or pushing the high notes not actually singing them. Sometimes because a teacher was yelling at them screaming "more support more support harder harder"  Technique is about skill not push. Just like Brazilian Jiu jitsu it's not the bigger stronger guy that wins its the one with better technique. 

That's what I believe too. It's getting better and better at pocket aim skill with the correct throat shape. You call it swelling and yes you can swell, but you also can punch into a pocket it but it's a controlled punch and it has to be perfect in the pocket ot near perfect..  It's not in any way a scream.  Just listen to guys like Michael Bolton.  There's this controlled punchiness to the vocals. 

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pocket aiming skill,throat shape, punch etc.  just more confusion.  And most of the time I just see a lot of words but not much demonstration. I too love strong sounding singers, but most strong sounding singers if they have good technique are using just that "technique" not just throwing it out there blindly. Michael Bolton has had longevity because he practiced technique .some naturally have good technique. Some use excuses . Some have deterioration. But if you can stick it punch it or whatever want to call it you should be able to swell on it. If you can't that is a sure sign your registration is off

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Just thought id pop in and share the video that helped me the most with breath support. 

Also a tip for beefing up the tone without shouting..... When recording your singing session (wich you should always do) put the recording device in another room. I have noticed sometimes if the device is in the same room the recording may sound weaker because it cant pick up all the frequencies( or at least that's my guess). Your voice is often stronger than you think....

Thanks for sharing that video, I've never heard it explained this way before.

Also, what is "swelling" and "pocket aiming"?

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So swelling is getting louder, but a better term because it focuses more on resonance rather than pushing and shouting. That makes sense.

My main problem that I believe is due mainly to improper breath management, and possibly also improper placement, is that I have a hard time bridging in my upper-middle range. I can bridge from 100% chest voice into my middle range where it is still mostly chest voice with some head voice qualities, but once I'm past the middle and it starts leaning more into head voice, my voice wants to totally let go into 100% head voice, and then it's hard to bridge back into chest voice. It feels like I'm struggling to hold onto the chest voice qualities which causes squeezing and more of a shouty tone.

I'm not sure if that makes it clear what my issue is, but I have noticed that when I focus more on proper breath management the bridging becomes easier and it's overall easier to sing in my middle range. There have been some random days where somehow I had almost no problem and was singing relatively quite well for the day, but always the next day I can't do it anymore. Since focusing on breath management more seemed to be helping I wanted to do a little more digging which is why I came on here. I have noticed some improvement, not huge, but I figure I'm on the right track now.

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Bolton? It takes balls to admire Michael Bolton. He's kind of a joke where I come from. This thread on the Prince forums summarizes popular opinion about him:

http://prince.org/msg/8/271391?&pg=1

I don't agree with following the masses on anything, so I admire anyone who is honest about their inspirations, but myself I've never understood Bolton as an artist. For me it feels like he is imitating the 'sound' of soul music while making it lighter by removing any darkness, tension, oppression, anguish, and threat, it sounds neutered.

Ruffin sings somewhat similarly on a mechanical level but he makes it believable. Growing up as abused child living in a racist society whose only power he ever had was his voice. It makes so much sense he would be channeling demons almost therapeutically me and roaring out to the world in general. 

I have no idea what Bolton is channeling or who or what he is roaring at? I'm sure he has real life situations, but when I hear it, it sounds like he channeling old soul records in a soft rock middle of the road kind of setting. Sometimes I feel like the only person on the forum who finds little power in the size of the voice with 90 percent of the power of a voice being the emotional expression of the voice.

I've heard whispering that sounded way more powerful than a lot of these guys. Different strokes for different folks. I respect it, but I still don't fully get it. If someone strains out the fattest note to Happy Birthday is that now the most powerful voice? What does power even mean to people?

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I did some pocket swelling last weekend. I found a pocket and swelled in it and the technique was awesome. Dan, have you ever done any pocket popping? You should try pocket popping it will make you hit high notes like Gordon Lightfoot. Currently Im working on pocket popping with bullseye aims to the swells. Can you do those Dan, can you? I'll bet you can... 

 

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CVT is really big on like no air ever outside of falsetto/neutral. I like the sound of a little air in the voice and I find if I lean top down into their curbing thing, I can have a little room for air in the spot in between. I've heard Dan doing what sounded like that too. I find balance boring and mechanical, so I like to lean one way or another depending on expression although averaging on a balance is probably a good idea. I wonder how CVT would try to explain what Brian Mcknight does? Anyway, this is one off my favorite 'windy' performances of all time and would be vastly inferior if he didn't put a little 'wind' in there:

That is interesting Killer... I was not necessarily aware of that vibe with the Danes. If that is the case, I have to whole heartedly disagree with them! Adding respiration to the phonation is a common technique that many people do and in fact, it is something I teach from time to time. At TVS we call it "bleeding the glottis", or allowing a little bit of respiration to escape FOR THE PURPOSE OF, EFFECTING THE SOUND COLOR.

Glottal bleed does the following to vocal sound color:

1. It makes the voice a little bit darker in sound color.

2. It adds distortion to the sound color, in very small measurements, which in turn, adds darker color to the sound.

3. It has the sympathetic benefit of releasing constriction, in the event that constriction is setting in. Anytime you relax the glottis, you get a reduction of constriction.

4. Glottal bleed techniques tend to be very helpful with female singers that quack too hard above Bb4... get a woman to glottal bleed above Bb4 and it can help remove the choking ducks.

5. At higher levels, with aggressive sub-glottal pressures, it can be used to activate a really awesome vocal distortion effect we call "Decompressed Overlay Distortion" at TVS.

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Getting back to answering the original post... I better stay on point or Chief will give me a warning...

Respiration is managed and balanced when Bernoulli physics is optimized and thus, amplification of the formant is optimized. We recently had some discussion about this when I asked about the sensation of amplitude in the voice when things are super balanced. We called it ""Vocal Tract Reactance or Impedance Feedback Looping".

To the extent that you can do that... your respiration is optimized when singing. 

Other elements of managing breathing might include:

- Inhale through your nose, not your mouth to arm and moisten the air. Its a bit of an anal idea, but it may help some people.

- Sing phrases, not notes or words... generally speaking, commas "," in lyrics, are good breathing cues.

- Attack & Release and Wind & Release Onsets, have the sympathetic benefit of training great diagphramtic strength. 

This could probably go on, but its 2:00 in the morning... 

:woohoo:

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In regards to "swelling" the note or "amplify the formant" (which is a misnomer). To get louder, you'll always have to increase the resistance and pressure at the vocal fold level. It's physically impossible to enhance the volume without increasing the source input. Whether or not you want to use the word push or force when teaching is another debate, but physically that's what actually happens.

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