E.M. Pekerskaya "Vocal guide from A to Z"

You should always remember the words of great singer and vocal coach F. Lamperti, who said that a singer should first "learn more with his mind, not with his voice, because once ruined, it couldn't be fully restored." A good mind is the key to success, it is just as important as a good voice. Breathing is the integral point of singing process. A good singing is "a masterful control of exhale", but to "breathe out masterfully", you should first learn to "breathe in."

Imagine a burning candle in front of you that you have to blow out. What will you do? Without pausing to think, you'll calmly pick take a deep breath and blow on the flame. Right. Now repeat this again and see what you are doing. The air fills the chest (lungs), and then is sent out in a directed flush. A similar process should occur when you speak or sing, in each new phrase. First come an inhalation, and then a projected exhalation.

It has been already mentioned that the ribs form the rib cage that contains the heart and lungs. When the lungs are filled with air (when breathing in), they get more volume, widening the ribs - this is called the costal-thoracic breathing. Well-known vocal teacher I.P. Pryanichnikov advises to "learn to take a deep breath into your lungs." Let's begin to do it with help of some simple breathing exercises that develop and strengthen the respiratory tract.

1. Place the palms on the rib cage (on the sides, fingers to the centre of the chest) and take a deep breath (up to the navel). Do not lift the shoulders. Your hands will feel the ribs widening under the pressure of air coming into your chest (your lungs). This means that you got a decent amount of air. Exhale. Your hands should feel the ribs fall.

2. First go with your tongue around the roots of the upper front teeth. From the back of the teeth begins the hard palate. Feel this area: the roots of the front incisors, the hard palate. And now inhale (control your ribs with your arms), feel the volume of the air coming into your lungs, and as you exhale count in a clear, loud voice (1, 2, 3, 4,..,), while trying to feel the zone at the roots of the incisors, that you have touched with the tongue. In this area we project our airflow and our word sounds there, use your imagination to do that. Imagine that the hard palate is very "high", like a cupola of an umbrella or a parachute. Such a speech with breath support (and a correct inhalation) is called well placed. Watch how the ribs smoothly fall as the air is consummated, they go down without pushes, as the air from the lungs is used for the pronunciation of sounds, words.

Great teacher M. Garcia said that the chest has no other purpose, as the source of air for our voice; it is not meant to force it and to push it out.

For a better control of your breath during exercises, and then while singing, I ask you to keep your palms above the lower ribs. Please note that with the right inhalation the lower ribs are widening not only in their sides, but also in the back. This movement of the ribs shows that you breathe totally correct.

3. Very deeply, sharp and fast take a breath through the nose (into the lower ribs). Make sure that your shoulders do not lift. Exhale sharply and actively through the mouth. What are the advantages of this exercise? It is activates the respiratory system. You breath is very active and consciously controlled. Vocal coach Lukanin recommends this for the correct placement of the larynx and the tongue. This is a good massage of folds by the active air flush. When you go to a singing class, do this several times even before coming in, then the class you'll be fully ready, as this exercise not only activates the tract, but also fixes your attention on the voice building system as a whole.

4. Take a breath actively (through the mouth), as you exhale, pronounce the syllable DA-DA-DA ... while "feeling" the roots of the front teeth, the "fissure" between the two front teeth, through which comes the "thread of sound." Your tongue hits the hard palate near the roots of the upper incisors in staccato rhythm. The lower jaw is loose, but doesn't fall." Use your imagination: your hard palate, where the tongue hits, is very high like a dome of a cathedral, so the "A" sound (in the syllable "DA") gets the volume, beautiful like a voice of the person speaking in the church. Keep the breathing smooth, without rises and falls.

5. Lie down on your back, put one hand above your ribs, and the other one on your stomach. Take a deep breath. Hands will feel the ribs widening (under the pressure of air that has filled the lungs), your stomach goes forward (your lungs have pushed the diaphragm, and it pressed the abdomen). While exhaling, count: 1,2,3,4 ... freely and slowly. Your vowels should be sustained, but you don't have to push all the air out. Count smoothly, rhythmically. The sound should be rounded and beautiful. The main thing in this exercise is breathing: a full inhalation and a smooth long exhale. You should have sound sensations similar to those described in exercise 4.

6. It is a slightly more complicated exercise. Everything is like in the previous one: lying position, control of inhalation and exhalation, counting with rounded and sustained sound. This time however count with double figures: 21, 22, 23 ... The main point is not the duration, but the quality of inhalation and smooth of the exhalation.

7. Take a deep breath into the mouth, and exhale through the nose actively and with a groan, to make the volume of air in the chest "fall" dramatically and quickly. This "moan" when you exhale can be compared to a sigh of a large animal in the stable (a cow or a horse). You should not bellow, just do a "sigh-moan." Or imagine that your chest is a kick, resonating in your moan. The "moan" should be projected towards the upper teeth, with the lips having a sensation of tickling (vibration), and your throat is large, free. Why compare it to a cow? Because she has big hips and a powerful breath. We have to learn the freedom and natural character that we have almost lost, from the nature, the animals. In this exercise, the moaning should be performed on a tessitura comfortable for you, somewhere in the lower register.

8. Take a deep breath into your mouth. As you exhale, hum the sound "M" on a comfortable tessitura. Lips slightly closed, not compressed. Hands should watch the breath. Sound should resonate in the chest, in the head, "fill you" with its volume. The pharynx should be wide, connecting two resonators: the head one and the chest one. The sound is sustained. Then replace the sound of "M" with "N", "V", "Z". Requirements and conditions are the same as with the sound "M".

9. Everything like in the ex. 8, only join a vowel: "MAA ...", "... VAA." Make sure the shape of the sound stays the same and breathing is not torn.

10. Complicate the exercise number 9. Utter two syllables, the second emphasized, the vowel of the second syllable should be sustained, listen to it: "MA-MA." All the time check your feelings as well as your breath control. Listen to your weighty sound that "fills" the space of your body from the hard palate (the head) to the lower ribs, passing through the broad and open throat. (Like water poured into a jug through its neck). Tessitura should be comfortable. Syllables should be pronounced slowly with no pauses between them. Breath should be taken, when it ends. Make sure that the change of syllable or vowel does not change the colour, size and strength of the sound.






This exercise develops the duration of breath; it makes able to "hear the effort", that must be applied so that different vowels sound in the same way, even. The exercise helps to feel the upper and lower sound support, its upper support, the cupola - its head, its basis - the chest and the diaphragm.

11. Blow on an imaginary candle.

Place the palms above the ribs. Inhale and start to "blow on the candle." Notice how wonderful the nature coordinates your actions: the air gradually and smoothly comes out of the lungs; the ribs do not fall instantly, but gradually, as far as you blow. While singing, you should also have this natural exhalation, when the inhaled air is distributed to the entire phrase, and not exhaled with its first sounds.

This exercise gives a very good idea of the respiratory process in singing, coordination of all processes. Do it more often, do not hurry, be careful, don't cause constriction. Sometimes it can be performed while singing, to prove your sensations.

Another important tip. When you begin to "blow on the candle", pay attention that between the inhalation and the exhalation (the blowing itself) should be a second delay for the transition from inhale to exhale. You should make a short pause but don't stop or let your respiratory tract constrict. This pause is very important, it should remain as instant and natural as usually, that it switches between inhalation and exhalation also in singing.

Now, pay attention to your lips. Look in the mirror. You are blowing on the candle, your lips are intensified (particularly the upper lip) just enough to let the flow of air in and to direct it to perform the action: blow on a candle. Your face should not be distorted and it should not lose its naturalness, lips are active, but constricted. The main point is to stay natural and retain harmony, no extra efforts or constriction. The mirror can be of great assistance. It is very important to retain this natural coordination of so many small processes while singing and not to lose anything, but put it on the level of consciousness, perform it as a conscious and controlled action.

To achieve perfection and freedom in breathing, you should often return to this simple exercise. It is said that "the art of singing is the art of exhale", so we should gradually master it.

All of these simple exercises develop the costal (rib) breathing; they give first impressions of the singing position and resonators. Skills worked out in these exercises, are fixed with simple vocal exercises, or rather transferred to these vocal exercises.

When you achieve stability in the sensations while costal breathing, only then you can pass to the diaphragmatic breathing and its practice. Don't hurry, since a premature shift to the diaphragmatic breathing will only lead to constrictions and make the beginner "pull" the abdominal muscles, "push", and this all will not speed up the learning process. The constrictions also are not a thing that can be easily removed.

Yes, the diaphragm is the biggest muscle of the human body, and it is of a particular importance in the functioning of our complex "machine ". For example, doctors often call the diaphragm our venous heart; in such great amount it contributes to blood circulation, as it separates thoracic and abdominal cavities, protecting the heart and lungs from accidental damage, for example, if we stand upside down.

We have already mentioned that when the air enters the lungs, the chest is widened by the ribs, and on its bottom by the diaphragm. The cupola of the diaphragm contracts and descends under the increased pressure of the lungs. In turn, when the diaphragm, it contracts pushes down on the abdomen, so the abdomen bulges goes forward as a consequence of inhalation!

That is the way it goes when you breathe: ribs widen, and the stomach goes forward.

To breathe correctly while singing the right posture is important: a straight back and good bend in the lumbar section of the spine, as the diaphragm is attached to the upper lumbar vertebrae with its fan-shaped muscle bundles. The lumbar section is a kind of support for the diaphragm in its reduction. Therefore, it is important that the lumbar vertebrae are well fixed.

The most difficult task of singing breath is to master a controlled and adjustable exhalation, which implies a skilled diaphragmatic breathing and control of the diaphragm, as it is the diaphragm that helps to regulate and to distribute the exhaled airflow, as well as to keep singing with a necessary volume of the thorax. Singing means a skilled exhalation, but not all professionals do have this skill.

In the beginning, it would be useful to learn not to exhale all the air at once with the first sounds of a phrase, but to distribute it to the end, gradually giving a smooth flow, which provides a smooth sound.

Let's return once more to the "candle" exercise, but this time we will control breathing with our hands.

Place one hand on the ribs and the other on your stomach, take a breath, "blow on the candle" and "look" with your hands how the diaphragm reacts. You should feel how it keeps the air like a piston in a cylinder, preventing it from "spilling" in the first moments of exhalation. Try to help with the stomach to accelerate, intensify the throw out of the air (abdominal muscles push it). Please note that the stomach rises gradually, and the thorax does not fall, it is deployed as you breathe. The diaphragm, straightened when inhaling, does not change its shape instantly with the exhale, but returns very, very slowly to its original, cupola like state, this process helps to breathe out while singing.

In singing the volume of the chest (thoracic cavity) should not decrease sharply, that this is the paradox of the singing breath, the breath is spent, the air goes out, but the volume of the chest does not decrease.

Now feelings obtained from "blowing on the candle" can be repeated again with the sound, that means you should sing any convenient sound on exhale, sustain it, keep hands on the ribs and watch the functioning of the exhalation "mechanism". Make sure that your abdomen is not constricted, not pulled, not stuck out like a "watermelon".

Abdominal muscles and the diaphragm help to regulate the singing breath, the chest resonator (thorax), without changing its shape during phonation, makes the voice bulky, powerful. This is what is called the vocal support of the diaphragm and the use of thoracic resonance, the chest.

According to S. Fuchito, the accompanist of E.Karuzo, the great singer systematically trained his breath by doing some special breathing exercises for mastering the control over the flow of air. As a breathing exercise to control the smoothness and efficiency of phonational exhalation, F. Lamperti recommended the singer to "put a burning candle in front of his mouth. If the flame doesn't move during the phonation, it means that the breathing is done in the right way".

A similar technique was used by famous Russian tenor Dmitry Smirnov. Instead of a candle he took an ostrich feather that he held at a distance of 20 centimetres from the mouth while singing.

Breathing supports the sound, it cannot be improved on the sound, and there is no contradiction, because these processes have an interaction.Developing breathing support is impossible without sound, and vice versa.

The exercises that we did in the beginning are preparatory exercises. They strengthen, develop muscles, give an idea about the mechanism of professional breathing.

Teacher M.E. Tesseyr compared the process of singing exhalation with a fountain jet, which, due to its constant pressure, can hold a light ball. The ball does not fall because a jet of water supports it. The sound should also never "fall"; the jet of breath continually supports it. If the phrase is long, you purse the bottom of the abdomen. This effort gets the remainder of breath, and you can safely bring the phrase to the end.

Vocal exercises aimed to improve exhalation should be very simple and be performed in a quiet tempo. You should sing with an even power of sound. In this work, self-control is very important, with hearing as well as with muscles. Help yourself with the hands to control the correctness of processes. Alternate these simple breathing exercises with vocal ones, not to lose the clarity and freshness of feeling. Remember, "ending the sound, the student should not pull out the remaining air by lowering his thorax or allow relaxation in the diaphragm, that means to preserve the "vocal form" of his instrument, the body. Initially it is difficult to achieve this, but this the only way to a beautiful cantilena singing ". (M. Garcia)

Such control over the preservation of "vocal shape" and the gained technique of replenishment of the spent breathing during pauses or between phrases is a guarantee of a smooth, professional sound.

Beginners often have a weak or a forced breath. Undeveloped muscles, lack of inhalation, a sluggish exhale, cause a weak breath, so there are no support in the sound. Forced respiration is due to excessive activation of the respiratory muscles, breathing is noisy, with over breath, the exhale has excessive pressure. A few words about the noisy breath. This noise comes from the flush of air passing through insufficiently opened folds (cords) and from poor disclosure (extension) of the trachea and bronchi channel. Noise is ugly as well as bad for the vocal folds since it causes dryness. To overcome this limitation the attention should be constantly fixed on the noise accompanying the breath. Quiet breathing can be achieved with a good yawn and deep, even breathing.

Now sum up all the aforesaid.

What skills a beginner should develop?

1. During the singing you should stand comfortably on two legs. Be sure to keep the corps straight and the shoulders wide, the head should be loose. These conditions are necessary to ensure that all the muscles and muscles of the body have the same pressure, and tis state can be achieved if its position is active and loose.

2. Never sing on a full stomach, as it deprives the diaphragm of freedom and mobility, "propping" it from below. There should be a pause for at least an hour between dense food and singing lessons. Vocal coach I.P. Pryanishnikov says that singing with a full stomach can be accompanied by a "rocking sound".

3. Breathing should not be noisy, other sounds are nor acceptable when taking breath.

4. For beginners, it is better to take your breath through nose and mouth or through nose with your mouth open, it assures the best disclosure of the larynx (the work of researchers and L.D.Robotnov and P.Organov showed that this type of breathing widens the trachea and large bronchi). V. Barsova believed that "an immediate, deep breathing with your mouth closed, cannot be done." In addition, this type of breathing (mouth + nose) is less noisy. In the pauses, if possible, you should breathe through the nose to give the mucosa moist since it gets dry when breathing through the mouth.

5. Take a full breath (into the lower ribs, the diaphragm), but not over breathe, as an excessively deep breath can cause constriction. Everything should be natural and without excesses.

6. There should be an active exhale at the end of a musical phrase, as it gives a natural automatic inhalation. Beauty of sound, usefulness of artistic expression, vocal endurance depends on the ability to distribute breathing. You should remember two rules from the very beginning: not to over breathe and breathe.

7. Finishing the sound, the student should not push out the rest of air by lowering the thorax or relaxing the diaphragm, i.e. he must maintain the "vocal shape" of the body in the pauses between exhalation and inhalation, and that guarantees the smoothness and the support of his sound.

8. Make sure to make the pause between inspiration and the beginning of the sound (exhale) instantly, but remember that this moment of breathing "delay" is extremely important:

a) It organizes the exhale;

b) It helps to ensure that there is no aspiration that dries the throat and interferes with an accurate intonation and a precise sound attack;

c) It prevents from producing an exhale with a sound KH

d) It eliminates the loss of all breath at the beginning of sentences;

d) An instantaneous delay before breathing out is the point of coordination of all respiratory organs, as well as of volumes of sound formation.

9. Never train your singing breath without sound, say at least one word, and sing at least one sound.

10. Breath should not be produced at the last moment but a little bit earlier.

11. Inhale as invisible as you can to the eye and ear of listeners.

12. Try to work out a long breath (singing exhale), to make the phrasing beautiful, and not to break it with frequent inhalations. Frequent resumption of breathing results in loss of cantilena, it breaks integrity.

13. Breath is taken in the intervals or in those moments when it doesn't contradict to the musical or lyrical content.

14. You should not forget that the breath is also a means of expression:

a) cheerful music associates with an easy, fast breathing;

b) dramatic music implies a heavy, slow breathing;

c) in passionate music that transmits suffering, the breathing is irregular, noisy.

But in any case the performer should not forget that the breath is the basis of singing and he should not overrate the expressionistic value of singing at the expense of breathing, its volume, its operating function.

15. Never do breathing exercises if you are tired, as a weak breath causes a trembling sound (lamb sound).

16. You should be able to use any pause for breath, to decrease fatigue, to resume an active full breath.

As a result of hard work on building a "musical instrument" (body), on complex coordination of multiple muscles and mental processes during sound production a serious, intelligent, patient, and talented musician achieves the success, giving joy to him and to the audience.