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Breath Activation

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Aubrey Maneth

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Producing a resonant, projected sound has a number of components, of which good breath control is one. (So improving breath control has to be achieved alongside the other factors if you want to observe an improvement in resonance and projection).

I recently discovered a great diagnostic exercise. It came incidentally from another thread on this forum.

You simply sing a single note on one vowel (perhaps, -ah- ), loud and clear, and hold it steady for as long as you can. Keep any vibrato to a natural minimum.

Record yourself and play it back.

Listen to the recording carefully. You will be able to hear at any point if your larynx jumps, your embouchure wobbles, your diaphragm or posture wavers. It will cause a wobble in the note.

(Don't use vibrato to hide the wobbles!).

You can use this feedback to practice relaxation and to iron out any twitches in your breath control. It will train you to correctly isolate the moving muscles groups (diaphragm, trunk, intercostal etc.) from the steady parts (larynx, embouchure, mask, etc., [and perhaps tongue, depending on which technique you use]).

The note should last long enough for you to hear what gives first as you start to run out of breath. That will help prioritize what to work on.

If 5 seconds is what the student is able to do, then start there. Eventually they should be aiming for 20+ seconds.

I am not a coach. Just my own observations and tuppence worth! ;)

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@Aubrey Maneth: What genre are you talking about?

The first question is answered by good appoggio (see video below).

The second question is more vocal modes or Formant tuning. Dampening gives you more Formant 1 tunings, or chesty weight. If you're talking about contemporary genres, I suspect he's not singing top-down enough, adding whimper through the cry reflex, using cry vocal mode, getting good resonance around Formants 3 and 4. This is only one way the voice should be lifting though. Good horizontal embouchure will also help, regardless of genre. But in contemporary voice, you need more soft palate resonance involved. The tongue can control the vowel resonance. The first thing I have students do is place a finger on their bottom lip and try to sing up and over it. The next thing is to touch their upper back molars with the side of their tongue while keeping the tip of the tongue close to the bottom front teeth. This activates resonance more in Formant 2. If he's over compressing or constricting, focus more on a Wind & Release onset (start with an "h"). However, activating the cry reflex should eliminate a lot of the tension. Also, start in lighter mass, top-down phonations and build resonance on top of it.

If more classical in genre, then you want things more open in the throat, utilizing opera vocal mode more, opening up the throat and pharynx a bit, while singing towards the crown of the head and then outward. This could be visualized as a hook going from the back of the neck and then around the top of the head before reaching the mask.


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