Soap Box: Noisy Breathing

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Okay, so I’m sure nobody ever chooses to breathe noisily on purpose, but it’s still irritating when you hear an otherwise reasonably enjoyable performance preceded and punctuated by the sounds like Davros from Dr Who.

There are multiple reasons why it is irritating.

First, it’s because it’s a symptom of constriction. However good the sound is at it stands, it would immediately be better if the singers deconstricted. So, it’s a sign of a vocal issue that’s holding them back.

Second, it’s so easy to fix. Sure, it’s an ingrained habit, but it simply requires attention to disappear. Simply asking the singers to rate their breaths on a scale of 1-10 for quietness on a regular basis raises awareness of the issue, which then pretty much fixes itself. There aren’t many substantive improvements in performance that can be gained so cheaply and quickly – why pass up the opportunity?

Third, of course, it sounds lousy. Nothing more to say on that.

And fourth, it betokens such a lack of attention. Don’t the performers notice it? Do they all turn their ears and brains off between phrases? It’s as if they only care about the sounds of their own voices, not the overall musical effect. There’s a lack of respect there: for the music, for the audience.

You see, the music includes everything that happens right from the start of a piece until the end. This includes those moments when the voices stop phonating, whether briefly for a breath-point or longer for some rests. The moments of silence are part of the music, and need to be performed as part of the music.

Indeed, when you stop thinking of the breaths as simply places to tank up or die, and start thinking of them as part of the continuous artistic shape of the music, they become a lot easier to manage. They start to have purpose and meaning and beauty. You know, like the stuff that audiences like to listen to.

I agree with Liz. I have heard some good music spoiled by breathing sounds. It is particularly obvious on recordings of amateur choirs but less so on professionals' recordings.

Breathe correctly of course but what about trying this? Before you take a breath, put the tip of your tongue just behind your top teeth. Now open your ears, listen and breathe.

As a singer, it is rare for us to hear ourselves as the audience does. Not a bad idea for rehearsals is for your conductor to invite you to listen from his or her position.

Thanks for your comment, Johann. That's a good tip for breathing technique - thanks for sharing it!

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