Chad Runyon is an award-winning vocal performer, conductor, and instructor.

Posted August 28th, 2013
Filed under Essays

Controlled Breathing: Strategies for the First Entrance and Between Phrases

The concept to “breathe early” is common, but to do so on a set beat gives the concept some structure.  The singer will engage in the piece sooner by counting (not just listening to the intro), breathing makes the singer a physically active participant before phonation and breathing calms nerves.

1) When a first entrance is preceded by an intro, use the time to begin controlled breathing. The inhale should reach it’s peak just before phonation—i.e. avoid inhaling and holding the breath, waiting to come in.  A more frequent bad-habit is to wait too long, and inhale the nanosecond before the first sung pitch.  This creates panic right before the first phrase, the breath isn’t full and the soft palate and larynx don’t have time to assume their proper positions.  Breathing early creates calm and guides the palate and larynx into position naturally — lifted palate and lowered larynx.

Given a hypothetical 4 bar intro, in 4/4, try something like:

Bar 1: Intro begins, attention, we’re starting, exhale to prep for …

Bar 2: inhale slowly beats 1, 2, 3, 4

Bar 3: exhale slowly beats 1, 2, 3, 4

Bar 4: inhale slowly beats 1, 2, 3, 4 in the shape of the first sung vowel

Bar 5: Sing

The same strategy applies mid-piece, when an entrance is preceded by a long interlude.  Set a controlled breathing strategy here as well.

2) When a phrase begins without an interlude, or even a rest between phrases, prepare the body for the next inhale by not over-singing the final note of the previous phrase and lifting the sternum in anticipation of the next breath.  After a phrase nears completion and the last note is being sung, exit elegantly—this often means, decrescendo.  A frequent bad-habit is to hold the last note of a phrase too loud and too long.  It takes time to release the body to receive the next breath.   If the body is stuck in singing-support mode, there’s not enough time to release it and get a breath in a short period of time.  That’s not to say the last note doesn’t need support, it does — but the body can prepare for the next inhale by taking pressure off the final note, lifting the sternum and thinking ahead to the next inhale.