Friday, February 16, 2007

Breathing and Support

My years of teaching have lead me to arrive at a handful of what can be characterized as valid assumptions based on experience. At the top of my list of assumptions is that the most misunderstood area of singing technique involves breathing and support. I find this to be interesting because breathing is so basic to living. Everyone breathes. We start when we are born and keep it up until we die. We do it without thought or plan. And yet, for some unknown reason, the moment we begin to study singing, we get confused.

When I begin with a new student, I ask a few pertinent questions to find out what the student may or may not know. This gives me a better idea of how to best address the needs of the student. My first question is, "What do you know about breathing and support?" The answers vary to some degree but I have yet to start with a new student, no matter what their educational or performance level, who knows enough about anatomy to have a clear idea as to how we breath.

A new student recently answered my question by stating that he had been told that he was supposed to breathe into his diaphragm. I asked him if he knew where his diaphragm was or what it looked like. The answer consisted of a few "um"s, and some inaccurate pointing. This was someone who had studied for over six months with a "reputable" teacher. Both the teacher and the student had been breathing all their lives, and yet the subject of breathing had not been covered in depth during six months of lessons.

I don't think that this entry can possibly address the subject as effectively as can be done on a personal level. But I will try to lay a foundation that may be helpful. The first thing that must be addressed is the absolute need for a student of singing to have a basic knowledge of the anatomy and function of those body parts directly involved in the singing process. My job is to make this interesting and to help the student develop an appreciation for the subject. If a student isn't interested in how or why things work, I don't think that I can be of much help.

The next concept for the student to understand is what I call my second rule, "It's always simpler than it seems." Breathing for singing is just not that much different than breathing to stay alive. My students have ranged from the totally un-studied, to gold and platinum award winning recording artists. And in every case, taking a breath before singing an exercise usually involved some sort of process. The un-studied are easier to deal with because they have a relatively clean slate and a minimum of bad habits. The simple truth is that the whole thing is very uncomplicated.

In my next entry I will go into a bit of detail and discuss some of the exercises that may help to simplify the concept of breathing and support. Just don't hold your breath!

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