Sunday, June 26, 2011

Are zombies taking over your choir? How to breathe like a human being

I’m beginning to worry that zombies are taking over my choir! Have you noticed how the living dead always have husky breathing?


Photo by theogeo

Well, the singers I come across seem to be doing the same thing. What’s that all about?

I don’t know about you, but whenever I come across a zombie they’re always breathing heavy and wheezing like those weirdos who make silent phone calls. Must be something to do with being dead I guess.

But you listen to a baby (or any other normal live human being) breathing and it’s kind of silent. And that’s the way it should be.

now for the scientific bit

Imagine that you have a drainpipe going down from your mouth into your belly. It’s big and wide and clean and empty.

At the bottom of the drainpipe is a big balloon. When you breathe in the air rushes down the pipe and fills the balloon up. When you breathe out, the air leaves the balloon and comes up the pipe and out through your mouth.

When you decide to make a sound some sound-making apparatus at the top of the pipe kicks in and uses the air passing through it to make sound which comes out through your mouth.

But when you breathe in, you don’t need this sound-making gear at all. Your job is to make sure you get everything out of the way of the air coming in. You need a clear, empty pipe so the air can pass through quickly and easily.

If anything gets in the way when you breathe in that’s when you turn into a zombie. It begins to sound like someone with bad asthma: a husky, creaky, spooky, wheezy sound as the air goes down the pipe. Pretty ugly, and completely unnecessary.

sometimes your brain gets in the way

When doing breathing exercises in my warm ups, I sometimes point out that people are sounding a bit wheezy and zombie-like. After I’ve pointed it out, it usually stops. The breathing becomes easier, quieter, more relaxed and more efficient.

So far, so good.

But then I say:

“Next time you breathe out, add a little sound – maybe a sigh or a hum”.

All of a sudden everyone is wheezing again and we have a room full of the living dead (with bad asthma).

What’s going on here?

Basically the brain is getting in the way. It registers that you’ll be making a sound in a moment so brings the sound-making apparatus into play too early, whilst you’re breathing in, instead of waiting until you’re breathing out. It’s unnecessary and inefficient.

Once I’ve pointed this out (and with some practice) singers are able once again to breathe in silently before making a sound.

There are several advantages to being able to breathe in silently:

  1. tiny wheezes add up to one big distraction – even if you only make a tiny wheezy sound, when you’re in a large group this soon gets amplified and between every sung phrase is a huge asthmatic intake of breath. Not nice.
  2. the more you open up the easier it is – if you open up your downpipe and get rid of all blockages and tensions, the easier and quicker it is to get the air in (all ready for singing long phrases and giving you excellent support for your voice).
  3. you will be able to take more air in if you don’t begin to engage the sound-making apparatus too early.
  4. you won’t sound like a zombie – which can easily scare an audience and even your fellow singers.

singing anatomy in a nutshell

So that’s it. A complicated anatomical singing lesson broken down into downpipes and sound-making gizmos. That’s all you need to know.

Oh, yes, and a little bit of self-awareness. Next time you go singing, just check in with yourself and see if you get into bad zombie habits or whether you’re breathing in clear and easy and silently. You know it makes sense. You don’t want to frighten the others!

I’d love to get some feedback. Does what I’ve said make sense? Has it helped at all? Do you notice zombies in your choir breathing like the living dead? Do drop by and leave a comment and share your own experiences. Thanks.


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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