Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Breath for the long notes

Long notes can be challenging to hold, and to hold in tune and with resonance instead of just being eeked out. I had an interesting question emailed to me about breath for long notes and got permission to share his question and my answer here for your benefit, too.

Andrew's question:

My name is Andrew Hawcroft, I'm 34 and currently living in Galway, Ireland. I am trying to make my break into the world of professional musical theatre at this age and I'm working hard at achieving my dream. In two weeks I have been offered a tour of Ireland singing musical theatre numbers in a cabaret show. At least it's a start. My dream role is the Phantom like so many other male singers, but I urgently need advice, and if it's not taking a liberty, I'd like to ask you.

To improve my ability to hold a long lyrical line, I have taken to holding my breath for as long as possible, maybe up to 2 minutes without undue strain, several times over throughout the day. Is this a wise thing to do? I feel I have better breath stores but I dearly wish I had a stronger feeling of 'compression' and I don't know how to acheive it. I am a serious weightlifter/powerlifter and I know this is frowned upon in the singing world, but its not going to change, it's part of who I am, but I wonder if this is unduly affecting me. I haven't that power and vocal strength I wish I had. Sometimes I get short of breath and feel I am breathing very shallow, even though I am a gym addict and am very strong and fit. Am I doing more harm than good? It feels like my 'bellows' are too expanded.

Sincerely, Andrew Hawcroft

My answer:

Hello Andrew...
I think your breath problem may be that you are not efficiently using the breath you have. Try to imagine, as rock teacher Jamie Vendera puts it, that you have an "inhalation sensation" when you sing. Here's a couple of ways to practice it:
  • Imagine and try to sense that you are inhaling instead of exhaling as you hold a note. Of course you are exhaling, but hold back that air pressure so much that it feels like you're inhaling. While "inhaling" the note, try raising your eyebrows and relaxing your jaw and it should feel like no breath is going forward, but great resonance floats your tone out.
  • Put the palm of your hand very close to your mouth. Now try holding a note, but letting as little breath as possible get on your hand.
  • Imagine a mirror right at your mouth. Hold a note, but don't leave a breath mark on the mirror. (You don't need a real mirror for this, just imagine it.)
With your breath efficiently compressed, your eyes active and your jaw relaxed, you should get volume from the rich resonation of sound from your open throat. No pressured tone will sound as beautiful.
Let me know how these suggestions work for you. And best of luck with your musical theater career! - Judy

Ok, folks, chime in about holding notes out. How do these suggestions work for you? What else have you noticed about having enough breath for the vocal chore to be done?


  • At August 25, 2008 at 10:28 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Dear Judy

    Thank you very very much for your help. Very useful suggestions. I've alway wanted to be able to hold a very long lyrical line without loss of tone. I will let you know if any career developments. Oh God, let there be developments!

  • At August 25, 2008 at 10:29 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Just a useful (possibly) tip. I have found in the last few days a useful way of strengthening the intercostal muscles for stronger singing. I'm a powerlifter so I suppose I sought out the equivalent of breathing techniques for singing.

    Just sit in a straight backed chair and using good, low diaphragmatic breathing, steadily inflate a party balloon with long slow breathes (3 attempts per 'inflation') 10 times over, 2-4 times a day. So far it seems to have helped immeasurably. A little too early to tell, and I'll let you know if I'm still alive in two weeks (if not, disregard this sage advice.)

    I have an audition today for Tony in an amateur West Side Story. I don't know if at 34 I'm too old, or whether this pro tour I'm in will prevent it , but auditions are always good to experience.

  • At August 25, 2008 at 10:29 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Very interesting... I will try it! I think you are strengthening the intercostals that hold your ribcage open, as well as your lower abdominal wall. Tell me, when you do this, aren't you also slightly tensing your glutes?

    Thanks and best wishes for your audition!!

  • At August 25, 2008 at 10:30 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Hi Judy. Yes you are tensing them, at least at the end of the blow.

    Just had the audition. Laden with Lloyd-Webber sheet music (I was going to sing 'Music of the Night' my favourite song to sing) I trundled in to be told to sing 'Maria' unaccompanied. I sang 90% of it reasonably well,(I was noticeably stronger so bless the balloon!) but the big belt in the middle was too short as I didn't take a breath going into it, and frankly nerves slightly rattled the high falsetto at the end. I don't do enough auditions I guess. Good experience though. I did the end again for them and it was better. Callbacks announced next week.

    I'm actually really trying hard to break into the professional actor/singer circuit after a life of 'proper' stuff. It's tough though. I'm also a writer of children's fiction and film/TV screenplays. All the easy careers! Hope this singing trio tour happens. Saw the producer's play at the Galway Town Hall Theatre last night. Very, very good which is promising.

    Best wishes

  • At August 27, 2008 at 12:30 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Hi Judy
    Just a little input-

    One of the other situations that can occur is not being prepared at the precise time of the beginning of the long note. Singing a song that requires a note to be held, I will try to anticipate it a few bars in advance which will allow time to fill the diaphragm with enough air to last several bars at a time. Take advantage of the song ,utilizing to the full extent breathing room.

    Also be careful not to over sing the song.
    Thanks Wayne

  • At August 27, 2008 at 12:32 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Yes, Wayne, I agree that setting up for the long note is vital. Just mentally intending to sing that long can cause you to naturally get enough breath in, and if you conserve and compress that breath properly, it will be more than enough.

  • At October 1, 2008 at 4:52 AM , Blogger Kelley Ann Hornyak said...

    In my experience it's definitely about the way you use the breath you have, like you said Judy. I have noticed a big difference however when I do a lot of underwater laps in the pool--that seems to give me much more lung capacity. Any type of aerobics in general will have that effect for me too, though not quite as strong as when I'm swimming a lot.

  • At October 4, 2008 at 5:05 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Yes, I agree, Kelley- to the point that I make sure I do some aerobic exercise before a performance.


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