This Is A Voice

Golden Nuggets 7th March - troubleshooting breathing in songs, leaking and brain fry

March 07, 2022 Jeremy Fisher and Dr Gillyanne Kayes Season 4 Episode 6
This Is A Voice
Golden Nuggets 7th March - troubleshooting breathing in songs, leaking and brain fry
Show Notes Transcript

Breathing exercises are fine but what about when you have to sing a song?
Is breathy sound in singing always bad? Can you sing healthily with abducted vocal folds?
What's the difference between breathy and leaky sound?
And should you be breathing in through your mouth or your nose?
Dr Gillyanne Kayes and Jeremy Fisher dive into the answers to all these questions in this Golden Nuggets.
 
This is part 2 of our Golden Nuggets on breathing - it's such a huge topic for singers and singing teachers, and we have so many resources already in the Learning Lounge, in our books and in this podcast series.

And in Inspiration of the Week Jeremy talks about overwhelm, the prefrontal cortex and finding yourself doing strange things
 
You can go straight to the Learning Lounge and dive into 600+ videos and resources on singing, voice and performance, including our Troubleshooting Breathing webinar, here https://vocal-process-hub.teachable.com/p/the-vocal-technique-learning-lounge

Or check out the video version of this podcast on our YouTube channel here https://youtu.be/rb7TVvB-TaQ 

Read Dr Emma Kavanagh's article here https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/oct/24/invisible-threat-had-pushed-us-to-limits-small-wonder-our-brains-overwrought

Or sign up for the newsletter to read Jeremy's articles on superpowers and brain fry here https://vocalprocess.co.uk/build-your-own-tilting-larynx/

, Jeremy:

this is a voice podcast with Dr. Gillyanne Kayes and Jeremy Fisher. Welcome to this week's golden nuggets for the 7th of March. And the focus for the week of 7th of March is... [close up of a group of acapella singers. Wondering if we're going to carry on with last week's topic because they still don't know everything about it and have tried lots of different techniques, but are none the wiser]... Breathing and trouble shooting again. Okay. Gillyanne, why are we doing this again?

Gillyanne:

Oh yeah. I think that's a really good question. Why are we talking about something that we do automatically all the time?

Jeremy:

That's true. Why aren't we talking about something we do automatically all the time.

Gillyanne:

Because in singing it's different, even in speech, it's different, we have different breathing patterns and I'm just off the top of my head think about how you breathe differently for yoga, how you breathe differently when you're running. How you breathe differently when you're swimming under water? Yeah. So we do have that capacity to adjust and control the breath flow. And we need to do that in speaking, for emphasis, for length of sentences, to signal that we want to interrupt someone and all of that. Ways of using our breath, holding the breath for consonants, for plosives, using more breath for fricatives, et cetera, et cetera. And that's just talking about. Breathing and speech for prosody. But when we get into singing where we have to an extent, we have defined lengths of notes. We have duration.

Jeremy:

Oh yeah. Either the if you're talking classical or written music, the composer has decided how long the phrases are on what the lengths of the notes are. And if you're talking a contemporary commercial music, it's usually the original singer. Who has decided to do certain things and then everybody else does a cover version of it.

Gillyanne:

Yeah. So it's all about how you manage those breathing patterns within the context of the music you're going to sing. So, What we're focusing on more in this particular podcast is how we purpose techniques that we might teach people as part of breath management, how we purpose that within the context of the song. I mean,

Jeremy:

You've just used the phrase, breath management, and that's really what we're doing. You know, We're making them a breath of work for us, either just the length of the phrase that we want to sing, but also the colour of the phrase we want to sing and how much subglottal pressure we need for a particular sound, or breathy sounds.

Gillyanne:

You're talking here about how the vocal folds help us control the breath, but they don't do the entire job

Jeremy:

Very much. And whether breathy sounds are good or bad, and whether you're breathing nasally or orally. And I think that's a massive question to start with.

Gillyanne:

Yeah. I'm just going to say about, breathy sound I'm breathy. My voice is breathy. I've been told my voice is. There are many times when that is incredibly useful

Jeremy:

Oh yeah, and also breath for emotion and what happens if you're working with people who are breath challenged, and there's a lot of breath- challenged people at the moment around with COVID and

Gillyanne:

lung health. We've got a couple of podcasts on that

Jeremy:

we do. And we'll tell you about that later. So Gillyanne is going to disappear and is going to come back in a moment. Okay. See you then. Breathing exercises are all very well, but what about the Song? In Webinar 16 troubleshooting breathing, we give solutions for problems in song context, including running out of breath, can't get enough in, breathy sound and noisy in breath. When we first recorded this webinar back in 2014, we asked our subscribers for their questions about breathing and these were the top four problems they wanted solving. In the webinar we analyze the problem, and sometimes there's more than one cause and give solutions for each of the causes. Here's a short excerpt, Webinar 16 Troubleshooting Breathing. right running out of breath, why it happens and what to do about it. So it could be, oh, this is me. Yes, I'm on. Um, it could be that you're wasting air because you've got rather loose adduction. So if you're in that Marilyn Monroe type, voice quality, you're going to need a lot of air. So you can do one of two things you can take in more air, since you're using it, or you can change the abduction. You can change slightly the sound of your mic. That's right. Adjust what you're doing at the level of the vocal folds. If your sound is very breathy, for example, you might find it useful to use some glottal onsets. It might be that you actually have a tight abdominal wall. Uh, you tend to get myself a lot with, uh, some kids and also with teenage girls in particular, they're not allowing the air to drop in. So do the hand on the belly and feel that you can allow that, uh, recoil to happen. Don't try to type this in Jeremy, but an excellent exercise for someone who is a reluctant recoiler is to get them to breathe right out and keep on and on, pulling their belly in and pulling their belly in, which is what I'm doing now until they get right to the very end, and eventually... they will have to let go. Very simple and very useful exercise. Sometimes we found people run out of breath because they're actually tanking. Now, what do we mean by tanking? Jeremy? Just tell them. Um, tanking is where you top up on top up and top up and top up on top up and top up. And you'd actually release the air and it feels like you ended up drowning in air. So one of the things that you have to do is get the air out. So, um, you could, for instance, do aspirate offsets the breath offsets so gasp, it sounds like a gasp, but it's very interesting if you did this, uh, And you actually finished the vocalizing and lose the air at the end. Funnily enough, this is one of the things that adds emotion to singing. And I do encourage my singers to use gasp offsets, makes things, send them much more intense than they actually are. So use gasp offsets it's a terrible name, but it's actually what you're doing, uh, or breath offsets. Um, and also strangely enough, uh, breathe out, even if it's silent between phrases. Yeah. You know what? Sometimes I might get a student to do with that. I'd get to sing their phrase and then afterwards go tchhh. So they can hear themselves breathing out and having to release, um, uh, add a fricative afterwards to monitor the breath release. Yeah. Excellent. Good. Can't get enough in. Yes. Well, your first place to go would be tight abdomen again. sometimes you can't get enough in because you're actually trying to breathe with the throat muscles. So we would consider that that would be using false vocal fold activity as in. So the techniques for that are the silent laugh and the silent breath, which I've described in chapter five of the singing and the actor book, and also on the DVD, constriction and release. it might be to do with poor posture. If you find that you've got someone who's standing in such a way that he or she is locked, particularly in the thoracic and in the chest region, sort of holding yourself up, you're not going to get the ribs just expanding with the inbred. Yeah, it might also be that you've got someone who's collapsed over the abdominal wall. It could be that you're not finding space for the in-breath within the musical phrase. and we've already experimented with, uh, shorter and longer breathing spaces. I sometimes find that, uh, when people are thinking about the emotional content of what they're doing, and I'm wanting to be very spontaneous, that they don't plan the in-breath early enough. Did you know, your vocal folds also help control your breath? Balancing breath flow, subglottal pressure and vocal fold resistance is all part of breath management. Discover when you need more flow, when you need more pressure and when you need to hold back. We talk a lot about breathing in different contexts, in different genres and for different vocal and emotional effects. Gillyanne started the written conversation in Singing and the Actor, and Jo Estill complained that she talks about breathing for singers. And 16 years later, we were still sharing exercises on breathing tone on sets and the hover breath in our technique book This Is A Voice. Now you can watch us teaching these onsets, exercises and application in songs on the Learning Lounge in Best Practice Update, Mastering Musical Theatre, Webinar 16 Troubleshooting Breathing, and many more resources. Check it out. Is breathy always bad? Using breath with less adducted vocal folds is not in itself unhealthy. Check it, our Troubleshooting Breathing webinar on how to manage breathy or abducted sounds healthily. We decided early on in our joint teaching that we were going to differentiate between breathy and leaky singing. Not that either of them are necessarily wrong, but we found that people understand abducted sounds in a different way depending on the words we use. Telling someone to be breathy will often result in them pushing air through the vocal folds or devoicing until there's almost nothing there or speeding the airflow up so that it's used up quickly. Whereas the word leaky leads many people to a slower airflow, a more subtle use of abducted vocal folds, and the warmth or velvetiness to the sound that many people don't even realize is breathy. Why did we decide on the word leaky? Because when we coached in Sweden 15 years ago, we found that one of the Swedish words for breathy, lckande, also means leaky. And we liked it! Nasal or oral. There are lots of question marks over nose versus mouth breathing for singers. It's all about understanding the purpose and the timing of your breathing. Check out our two podcasts on breathing. Here's a quick excerpt from the second episode we did on this topic And Breathe!

Gillyanne:

Well, we've had some interesting questions come up actually about breathing and I thought maybe we'd start with some of these. Okay. Great. And the first one is from Sally Martin Brown who is on our Teacher Accreditation Training Course. And she's a choir trainer as well as a singer. And her question is, which is best breathing through the nose or the mouth.

Jeremy:

Oh, okay. Well, that's the, that's the one question that we're going to be dealing with for the next three hours because this is such a big topic.

Gillyanne:

And she had a specific reason for asking it. Um, there's a relatively new book out, uh, by an author called James Nestor. And I forgotten what the title of it is, the lost art of breathing?

Jeremy:

It's called Breath, The New Signs Of A Lost Art

Gillyanne:

Thank you. I'm glad somebody did their research there. And she said she found some of it very interesting. And so what she'd started doing was experimenting with her choral singers and asking them to breathe in through the nose sometimes instead through the mouth. And she found that there was a beneficial effect. So I think the first thing I'm going to say in terms of practical investigation was I went off down a rabbit hole. As soon as I saw this question there, I was humming around the house, um, and humming on an M. So that deliberately I couldn't open my mouth and doing little vocal exercises with that, you know, just little kind of repeated note exercises, and then following it up by singing the same exercise on a vowel. And what I found was it was quite efficient in sort of conditioning vocal, fold behavior, you know, at, at the beginning of the day, getting the vocal folds closing nicely. So I felt that. There was a coordination between the vocal folds and the breath going on. And that may be something about using the nasal breathing to begin with helped me regulate that.

Jeremy:

That's a really interesting thought I want to, before we go any further on this, because this is a real rabbit hole that we could go down. I just want to backtrack and go. Let's talk about the difference between oral and nasal breathing and what we're actually talking about. So, I mean, it sounds obvious with oral breathing, your mouth is open. You're breathing in through your mouth and the air goes straight down into your lungs and with nasal breathing. Your mouth can be open or closed, but the idea is that then the air goes in through the nose. And, um, we're going to talk about why that may or may not be useful because in certain circumstances it is useful in certain ones it isn't. But th the interesting thing for me is when people talk about nasal breathing, they assume that the mouth is closed and it doesn't have to be

Gillyanne:

no, absolutely not. For instance, if you just position your tongue onto the roof of the mouth behind the front teeth, as if you're about to say, nnn, that's the nasal consonant so you don't need to close your mouth

Jeremy:

three days for consonants in the English language where, uh, No, hang on. I'm going to rewind on that. There are two nasal consonants in the English language where your lips are open, but no air is escaping either in or out of your mouth. And that's the N and the NG. And with the N if the tongue is exactly what you said it is, which is up on the roof of the mouth, behind the alveolar ridge and with the NG, the back of the tongue has risen and the soft has come back down. So actually the blockage, if you like, is it the back of your mouth? And it's the way that we can tell whether you're doing an M an N or an NG, because they all block the mouth exit in some way, but they block it in different places.

Gillyanne:

Something else that I found out that was interesting about nasal breathing and it is to do with the positioning of the tongue, uh, because, you know, maybe it's something that we don't think about in a conscious way, but the tongue is actually resting up on the roof of the mouth in most cases of people with nasal breathing. And this is thought to have beneficial effects, which would go on to later. So that was my sort of first experiment, um, in answer to Sally's question, which is, it could be useful I think for particularly helping avocational singers to balance their pressure- flow relationships. Because by doing the nasal breathing, maybe they're taking less air in, in the beginning. And, um, then particularly when you're singing on a hum, which was what I chose to do to experiment, then you're kind of adjusting that pressure and flow relationship because there's a smaller outlet through the nose. Dear listeners. I wish I could show you the eye roll that Jeremy is performing right now.

Jeremy:

I've done a series of eye-rolls for a couple of minutes only because it's not a, not anything Gillyanne is saying is, is incorrect, but it's interesting that we assume. And what I want to know is, is the input of air through the mouth, does it create a different pressure from the input of air through the nose? And so I'm looking at the physiology and going, yes, actually it might because if you think about the, the width that you can open the jaw and the width that you can open the lips and therefore the size of the tube that you're actually breathing in and out of that is much bigger than the width of the nasal cavities and the nasal. Um, what do they call them? Conchae, the nasal conchae. Uh, we all have six nasal conchae unless we don't. So the nasal conchae or passages that are, I think I've got this right. The, the, we can always cut this out if I haven't got this right. But, uh, they are the passages and we have three on each side, three per nostril, um, that take the air up and down into the throat.

Gillyanne:

Now I have a nice factoid, and this is from the article from Nursing in General Practice. And we'll put the references at the end with you talking about pressure and flow with my experiment. Yes. Nose breathing imposes approximately 50% more resistance to the Airstream as compared to mouth breathing.

Jeremy:

There you go.

Gillyanne:

This results in 10 to 20% more oxygen uptake.

Jeremy:

Oh that's interesting.

Gillyanne:

That's why everybody is banging on quite rightly about the importance of nasal breathing in everyday life, nasal breathing, during sleep sort of, uh, prevention of sleep apnea, et cetera, and nasal breathing. As we go into it later, uh, as a way of calming the sympathetic side.

Jeremy:

Okay.

Gillyanne:

So, you know, maybe there's something in that.

Jeremy:

There's a lot of pluses in there.

Gillyanne:

There are a lot of pluses in there, cause that doesn't mean that, you know, in mainstream singing where we have to sing long phrases, according to certain musical patterns, et cetera, that we're always going to have time to breathe in through the nose.

Jeremy:

Yeah, I want to talk about timing later, but I want to come back to, I mean, we were talking when we were, when we were sort of building what we're going to talk about today. Uh, we were talking earlier about the idea that people might be mixing up physiology, um, breathing for health, uh, breathing for sound, uh, yoga, breathing. There's a lot of different breathing things

Gillyanne:

for sort of mindfulness, relaxation, meditative breathing. Yeah. Yeah. That. That we ha that breathing has different functions. Well, it has,

Jeremy:

yeah, it has different functions. It also has different desired outcomes. People can get very tied up with one of those functions or one of those, um, outcomes and then attempt to put it across the board.

Gillyanne:

So there are, they're applying it as a hard and fast rule.

Jeremy:

If you're working with people who are breathing challenged, check it out. Two podcasts with Feeney, cave, singing lung health and COVID and Carrie Garrett, long COVID parts, one and two. Right. Gillyanne's back. Let's talk about inspirations.

Gillyanne:

So what's your inspiration for this week, Jeremy?

Jeremy:

It goes back a couple of weeks. Actually. I wrote an article called, Hey, I've got a super power, have you? And I was reading about Dr. Emma Kavanagh who'd sparked off the thought in the first place. And she wrote an article for the Guardian in October, 2021. And there was one line that really jumped out at me, which is the kettle does not go in the fridge, good grief.

Gillyanne:

I love that.

Jeremy:

And it's so accurate when you are highly stressed when you're overwhelmed, when there's a lot of things coming at you in life, you find yourself, you suddenly wake up and you find yourself about to put the kettle in the fridge.

Gillyanne:

This is when there's all that background noise going on in the brain.

Jeremy:

Totally. And the prefrontal cortex. And I've got a quote from her article. "Our prefrontal cortex, that sophisticated part is losing out in the great brain battle. It shows less activity when we're under stress. And so we become more error prone, finding rational thinking harder, decisions too complicated to process. And so when the limbic system is in charge, what is left is emotion and a woman's sitting on the bottom step crying over a lost shoe." I so recognize that it's really interesting. There's a certain level that you go, I can deal with this. I can cope with that. Everything is fine. It's tricky, it's awkward, but it's fine. And I'm working hard and then suddenly it's almost without warning, you hit that level and then you go, whoa, I have no idea. I don't know what to do

Gillyanne:

this article first appeared last year didn't it very much in the, in the throes of the pandemic, not Jeremy's article, but Emma Kavanagh's yeah.

Jeremy:

Yeah. And it's a really interesting situation where you go, I can't cope with anything more. I don't know how to deal with it. I don't know what the answers are. I can't even think rationally anymore. And that's when you do find yourself, I think in the article I said about to pour the kettle into the tea caddy. Um, I know Gillyanne likes strong tea, which she does, but that's maybe a bit much. And it was very interesting to read that it was even a thing. I didn't know it was a thing. I just lived with it all my life.

Gillyanne:

So maybe if you find yourself doing something daft like that, or bursting into tears for no reason, suddenly you've seen a fluffy kitten and off you go.

Jeremy:

Stop.

Gillyanne:

Yeah. Give yourself a moment.

Jeremy:

Stop.

Gillyanne:

Quite a long moment in fact

Jeremy:

sometimes it's an afternoon, sometimes it's 10 minutes. Sometimes it's literally just breathing in and out three or four times. And somehow that enables the system to reset in a certain way.

Gillyanne:

Or something that works really well for me is to do something active, go out. I go out, I go for a walk. I go on a little route march pump, pump my arms up and down to get rid of that adrenaline.

Jeremy:

That's a really good way. And one of my favorite ways is actually to read a book, even if it's only a chapter of a book. So I come out of the world. They are actually two different ways of coming out of the situation that you're in.

Gillyanne:

You get lost. Don't you get completely involved in that? I can't even speak to him at that moment

Jeremy:

I AM on the Starship enterprise. Yeah. We hope this is going to inspire you to look after yourself. Remember, breathe and switch off occasionally. this is a voice podcast with Dr. Gillyanne Kayes and Jeremy Fisher.