Basic skills for singers: Breathing through the nose
Many people request a compilation of my responses to this question, so here
Because of the overwhelming amount of responses (and length of them!) I have
decided to give a generalized compilation, including my own thoughts. If
anyone wants the actual list of responses, please e-mail me and request them
directly. I feel that if I were to post them to the list as a whole it
would be too long for the average reader. Thanks!
The original message:
"Hello choral educators! I am a music education student, and I will be
heading out to student teach next spring.
I have a question that has been in my mind since I started studying with my
current voice teacher. My voice teacher instructs her students to
exclusively use their nose to breathe in. She says this is because you are
able to take in more air and keep a more open throat, and not dry out the
chords by taking a mouth-breath. When I am performing in a chorus, I still
continue to use this technique, even though the rest of the choir breathes
through the mouth.
Do any of you practice this breathing method with your choir? What is your
opinion on using nose breathing in a chorus? I really appreciate your
Thanks so much!
This has been something that has I have been wondering ever since I have
been studying with my private teacher. I know that I have improved with
her, and I continue to improveshe told me about the awe from the voice
faculty members here after one year with her, about how better I got. I
sing the way she teaches me in every setting, including the chorale and my
musical theatre voice lessons. So, I wondered how and if choral directors
might use her German style of teaching in a choral setting, especially
pertaining to nose breathing.
I was amazed at the array of responses I got. I received everything from I
understand why, but I dont do it, to I teach a combination of both, to
thats preposterous and ridiculous! Get a new voice teacher!
I was surprised at the range of tone within the responses. Most people were
very professional, but a few sounded a bit cross and close-minded, and I am
not sure if I can say rude, even. Here is an example:
"That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. I've never heard of *any* chorus
breathing with their noses instead of their mouths, and I produce some of
the finest choirs around for recordings. Breathing through your nose does
*not* insure an open throat, whereas proper mouth breathing will There are a
lot of odd singing theories out there, but this one takes the cake."
While I myself cannot claim to be any sort of singing except, I feel that
this response narrow and without much thought, merely a first reaction. I
do not consider nose-breathing to be dumb, because I could have not
asked the question if such a philosophy did not exist, and I did so
educational purpose and expected to receive equally educated responses.
The majority of my responses were very professional. Some people outright
disagreed that breathing through the nose had any value. Many suggested
teaching a combination of both nose and mouth. The most agreed upon
technique was breathing in through the shape of the next vowel to be sung.
For those who were against nose breathing, I am glad that they were at least
able to defend their statement. Most often it was because of the annoying
sniff that can occur when needed to take a quick breath. I wholly agree.
My teacher is able to take a catch breath through her nose, but I still
continue to take catch breaths through my mouth. It is like a reflex for
me. I do breath with my nose when given the amount of time to do so.
There was only ONE person that thought that nose breathing could work in a
choral setting, someone who has been teaching for forty years. Here is the
"I have long been an advocate of nasal breathing, but you must assure that
singers don't "sniff" when they do it. They need plenty of time to breathe,
so it works best for initial breaths. I teach my singers to use nasal
breaths when they had two or more "counts" (assuming a moderate tempo) in
which to breathe; otherwise, they use "catch" breaths through the mouth. It
all has to be quiet no "sniffing" or "gasping" allowed!
The benefits of nasal breathing are many. Warming and moisturizing the air
are just the beginning. One of the chief benefits is that singers can be
encouraged to develop a more focused sound "in the mask" as they become
aware of the air stream flowing up through the nose and then down into the
lungs. I tell my singers to imagine the tone flowing out in the opposite
direction that the air flowed in."
For the sake of argument, I am glad I did receive one person that advocates
nasal breathing. While I think I am deciding it may not be best to do
exclusively in a choral setting, there is some logic behind it so it would
not be an issue at all.
I think that this e-mail contained perhaps the most profound statement of
all my responses:
"I tend to recommend mouth breathing with the inhalation coming into the
mouth through the shape of the next vowel to be sung. Many of the singers
find this useful. There are others who employ the nose breathing method.
In the end, I encourage people to use the method that gives them the BEST
(I emphasized the latter half of the statement for dramatic effect.) A
teacher is there to guide his/her students, but in the end, all people are
different. What works well for one person may not work well for others.
One must keep an open mind and try different techniques. That is why I
value the responses from choral director veterans the mostthey have been
there and found what works for them. However, what works for them might not
work as well for me. Or, one kind of breathing might be working for only
half the choir, while the opposite works for the remainder. This idea
applies to everything one encounters as a teacher. Why else would we
education students be reminded we must find more than one way to explain a
concept to our students? Everyone learns in a different way, and applying
this to my question, we must inhale in our own way.
In conclusion, I think as long as the students are supporting and not taking
shallow breaths, whether they breathe in through the nose or mouth is not as
essential. I must agree that if nasal breathing proves to be too noisy,
even with some training and experimenting, then perhaps this is not the best
technique. We must not be afraid to try, because who knows, it may work
Again, if you got this far and would like the actual list of e-mails, all
you need do is ask and I will send it to you directly!
Thanks so much for all of your help!!!