Kashudo (歌手道): Breath management as a direct means of balancing phonation

The term breath management has emerged over the past half century as a non-committal attempt at avoiding the controversies that exist between different schools of vocal pedagogy. In this particular post, I am using the term to mean precisely what it suggests in the literal sense. How does a singer manage the use of the breath during phonation. I hope by now that a clear thread can be found through the many posts here. I will often relate to techniques discussed here before to illustrate how a specific function can be approached from different angles.

I have repeated here that the voice is pitch-driven and that there are three modes of phonation that represent point on a continuum: 1) Loose (relatively breathy) phonation: excessive air flow, which lowers the close quotient below ideal and require deeper fold posture to make up for the needs of the pitch (frequency). 2) Balanced phonation: fold depth is ideal and therefore so is fold closure. No air is wasted. There is a balance between pressure and flow. 3) Pressed phonation: the folds are brought tightly together slowing down the vibration cycle. To maintain pitch, fold depth is reduced and fold vibration is quickened.
If we consider the interaction between fold posture and breath, it is not only plausible but necessary to utilize the breath as the driving element of the mechanism. But first, we must have a means of sensing breath flow/closure. There are two sensations that have come down to us from traditional schools that are usually used separately to undesirable ends. One is the sensation of vibration in the lower chest. I have had two teachers who used to put their palm to their sternum as a directive to “connect to the chest”. In my experience, this vibratory connection to the chest has the effect of releasing the air. The second is the concept of mask resonance, which in my experience has a direct influence on fold closure. Balancing these two sensations is a very logical and tension-free manner of achieving balance phonation. Pressed phonation (when air is not released enough) is felt directly in the throat. When air is released too much (loose phonation) the sensation of flow goes further down in the chest. Combining this sense of deep flow with the sensation of brilliance in the mask, yields a sensation of an unbroken column of air from sternum to mask, as if by-passing the throat entirely.
The sensation of deeper air flow can be simulated using [ha-ha] on a comfortable pitch (low is easier). The sensation of fold closure can be simulated using the [i] vowel. Once the sensation of balance is achieved, it becomes a single sensation as opposed to two.
It has always been my desire to scientifically back-up the proprioceptive concepts passed down by the great schools of singing of the past. It is crucial that the sensations be understood fully and not partially. A one-sided approach is what usually leads to disaster. There is wisdom to be found in the many catch phrases associated with traditional schools of singing. The wisdom is found by investigating in order to understand the complete meaning behind the catch phrases rather than the simplistic superficiality that they might suggest.
In short breath management in terms of these sensations constitute air flow as represented by the deep chest sensation and efficient release of air as controlled by the fold closure, represented by the mask sensation. For pitch to be maintained when breath flow is efficient, fold posture must be correct.
© 11/23/2009

2 thoughts on “Kashudo (歌手道): Breath management as a direct means of balancing phonation

  1. Great, thought-provoking post.

    I also suspect that the sensation of vibration in the chest may be related to the “tracheal tug” and a resonating tracheal tube below the larynx. This phenomenon allows the larynx to stay low without requiring a conscious and tense lowering action by the muscles of the neck, and the vibrating column of air below the folds probably assists them in their vibration–in other words, easier vibration for less muscular effort. While we lose this sensation on high notes, I suspect the phenomenon is still occurring.

    But regardless, it seems to me the key to this process is balance. In my own singing pulling the voice too high up into the mask or too low into the chest (that these are just sensations is understood) is disastrous in both cases. Fortunately, in both cases by observing the sound you can detect an actual decrease in the overall resonance, so you don't have to guess at the correct balance. In other words, being “too chesty” actually results in a less rich harmonic spectrum, certainly in the upper, but even in the lower partials, than being balanced.

    – Klaus Georg

  2. Dear KG,

    I agree. If I remember Titze's research on tracheal resonance (See Pavarobotti)there is a kind of “wolf-tone” effect around D4-F4. I sense this. Those notes are often the most difficult to balance. There are several mechanisms at work here I think. We certainly agree in the idea of balance between the chest vibrations and the mask vibrations. I am convinced we are dealing with the balance between fold depth and closure driven by air-flow/resistance.

    PS The link to your wonderful website is fixed.

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