Breath Support, a Singer’s Words

I always meet interesting people during vacation visits to my father. While visiting him in S.C. over Christmas, he took me to the golf driving range so he could hit a few balls to enjoy the mild weather.

We had a bite to eat at the public snack bar. Several folks knew him, not surprising considering how much time he spends there. During lunch, one fellow, a retired business man in his 70's, sat down to chat. I had not met him before then.

He seemed excited to publicize his upcoming singing performance of a Verdi aria, one which I had not heard of, at a recital of various artists. I had no knowledge of his abilities, and assumed he was an amateur who took up singing after retirement. Apparently this recital was for talented and professional singers, so my interest was piqued.

When asked how he got into singing, he told us how at age 18, after indepth interviews to guide him in career choices, he was advised to pursue either a singing or acting career, both of which his father summarily nixed. Sadly, there was some bitterness in this recounting, an opportunity and a passion dismissed and missed. (I feel fortunate my father did not make the same decision for me)

He continued, telling us how, while in his early 40's, a professional singer inadvertently heard a few notes of him singing at the end of a tape recording, and had encouraged him to study professionally; and how, once he learned to support correctly, he discovered that he was more naturally inclined to be a tenor rather than a baritone, as his new teacher had predicted.

Since I have been thinking a lot about support recently, I asked him how he described good support. Without hesitation he said with a chuckle, "Think of trying to push down from your gut as if you are sitting on the toilet trying to "go", and then push up from there. That's how Caruso described it! Push down from below and up from there."

I can't imagine a better way to put it. I had heard of pushing down as if trying to "go", but had not heard the critical part about pushing up from the torso.

From my knowledge of the Alexander Technique, I know that the spine lengthens as the air is expelled, so the torso feel itself going up, as the gut muscles from the pelvic floor girdle to create the necessary push from as deep as possible.

I think singers, especially tenors, are the best examples of great support in action. They require the most effective support to hit the high notes. Pavarotti was a clear demonstration of that when he hit his high notes. They sounded low and full, even though they were way up at the top of his voice. Now that's great breath support!

Unfortunately, I had to leave S.C. before his recital experience. I hope his performance went well.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

6 comments for “Breath Support, a Singer’s Words

  1. tara
    November 20, 2009 at

    learn clarinet to understand how to breath as a great singer.

    • November 20, 2009 at

      Thank you for your comment!

  2. Jody Lee
    October 21, 2009 at

    Happened across this from your Twitter.. I agree with what you say, but would like to expand upon one thing. Breath support is also heavily dependent on a relaxed body – if the body doesn’t allow for the air to get low enough and to be able to move the air freely, then a singer winds up pushing against himself, fighting rather than being free of sound. Example – if the lower abdomen muscles are held firm while thing singer is breathing in, the air isn’t going to be able to get in a position low enough to push down or up.

    I look forward to Reading more of your blog!

    • October 22, 2009 at

      Jody- Thanks for stopping by. I completely agree with you. This advice was given with the assumption that the reader is starting with good use.

      I actually have very serious issues with breathing, tension, mis-use. But working through it is giving me a detailed perspective, and hopefully I'll be able to pass one what I have learned.

  3. June 18, 2009 at

    @Juls: Thanks for stopping by and commenting. No, playing clarinet and singing should not be a problem, unless you are supporting wrongly to play clarinet. Clarinet takes more air and support, so there is a tendency to over tense. But if you avoid that mistake, and stick with free blowing mouthpieces and reeds, you should be fine. Support is support. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

  4. Juls
    June 18, 2009 at

    Hello, I ended up at this article from a google search on singing and clarinet. I am currently a singer and beginning to learn the clarinet. I have been told by my singing teacher that playing the clarinet will have a detrimental effect on my singing and that I definitely shouldn’t do both on the same day. If this is true it is probably the end of my clarinet playing. I’m wondering whether you or any of your readers has any light to shed on this?

Comments are closed.