The Breath of Life...
I made another "discovery" a few weeks ago whose results were made very apparent while teaching voice lessons this past week. Again, this is something I've known for a long time and even practiced on myself, but it was made evident again, when teaching one of my lovely students, Eva. She is a senior in high school and while she does not plan to study music at this point, she is very dedicated and loves to sing; not to mention, she has a beautiful voice with lots of potential.
For the past couple of months, she had been struggling with the clarity of her high notes. She has such a free sound and an extremely high range - "Queen of the Night" material. Her high tessitura requires little work, yet we were getting so much phlegm at about her high C and above. While it was not an issue all of the time, and we were getting some very clear notes about half the time, I was blaming it on allergies and her diet. Over the ensuing weeks, she cut down on dairy and told me that she wasn't having many allergy issues, yet the phlegm kept coming back. It finally occurred to me that the way in which she was inhaling was gravely affecting her onset and phonation.
I had thought about this a few times prior, but unfortunately, had just not put two and two together. (Yes, teaching, like singing, is a lot of trial and error.) Needless to say, during her lesson this past week, it hit me - like a freight train. This was something that I had struggled with for years, and had to conquer myself, and have observed that many singers deal with this problem. So, it's not surprising that the discovery was that she, too, was a "victim" of her breathing habits. The great thing, is that she decided right then (see post called "The Decision"), that she was not going to be a victim to her unhealthy breathing habits any longer. When I explained to her that the way she breathes directly determines the kind of sound she is going to get, she decided that she wanted clarity and freedom in her sound, and so she was going to breathe with clarity and freedom. Before this decision, her breathing was fast, shallow and extremely husky - almost grinding. It was very audible. And not just when she sang. She breathed that way when she spoke as well.
She determined that she was going to discontinue the unhealthy habit of husky inhalation and allow her breath to be quiet and inaudible. The results were fascinating! She did a complete 360 degree turn-around with her sound in a few short minutes. The phlegm went away and in a few short exercises, she was free of its chains. We then had a lesson this past week. Because she was getting over a cold, her sound was a little airy due to the swelling of her chords, but there was no phlegm to be found and her sound was much more healthy. She also commented to me that her speaking voice had obtained more clarity (which I also noted) and that her friends were commenting on her efforts to make the positive change.
This change did not come without mental concentration and focus, however. In order for this to count, Eva had to unlearn a very old habit so that she could re-learn a new one. She had to carefully scrutinize her every breath (literally) and make the conscious effort to slow down when she inhaled, and to release the tongue so that it would not be in the way of her breathing. This allowed her to access the complete breath, as well as prevent the collection of phlegm in her throat and on her chords that was getting in the way of the sound. (Not to mention, probably a breeding ground for bacteria that causes sickness - more on that in my next post.)
Congratulations, Eva! You're on your way to discovering the freedom that comes from healthy singing!
In my next post, I am going to discuss more about how what we eat, how we breath and how our habits outside of singing directly affect our singing. Stay tuned!!