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Basic skills for singers: Breathing through the nose

Many people request a compilation of my responses to this question, so here
it is.

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
input!

Thanks so much!

Hallie Parmenter
louve12(a)hotmail.com"

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 improve—she 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 don’t do it,” to “I teach a combination of both,” to
“that’s 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
response:
"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
PERSONAL RESULTS."
(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 most—they 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
after all.

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!!!

Hallie Parmenter
louve12(a)hotmail.com
on March 2, 2005 10:00pm
Please i am a chorister in a catholic church choir and i will like to recieve tips or technics on how to conduct a choir . I will appreciate it if i can recieve some guidelines to help.
I could also be reached through e-mail(henryassumpta2002@yahoo.com).
on June 9, 2005 10:00pm
Here is a lesson I plan on using to teach my Jr. High Choir in the fall. I would appreciate your comments and feedback. My main area of musicianship is at the piano, however I have always partcipated in choir throughout my jr. high, high school, and college years. I was recently asked to start a Jr. High Choir for a group of homeschoolers. Our first year just ended very well but I am looking to build each year on the lessons previously taught.

here is the lesson plan:

Breathing through your nose is a very effective way to open all of your body's vocal resources. Resources are the things that give us what we need to perform a task. When singing, the resources our body provides are as follows, in order from head to waist:

Sinus Cavities, located throughout the areas of your head surrounding the nose, mouth and ears.
Larynx, Pharynx, and Tracheal Tube
Lungs
Intercostal Muscles
Diaphragm


- Exercise #1 - Go ahead, close your mouth and take a super deep breath in through your nose, as if you are preparing to dive into the deep end of the pool and stay under as long as you can. You will feel each of the areas of your head that I mentioned expand and fill with air. You should also feel expansion around the back and sides of your neck, your lungs, and your waist. Also, pay attention to how long it takes you to completely inhale as much air as you can. And another thing, have someone use a stopwatch to keep track of how many seconds you are able to hold this nice deep breath.
- Exercise #2 - Now, pinch your nose closed and open your mouth. Breath in as deeply as you can through your mouth. How long does it take you to completely inhale as much air as you can? Have someone use a stopwatch to keep track of how many secods you are able to hold this nice deep breath.
- Exercise #3 - Finally, open your nose and mouth at the same time and repeat the exercise as in #1 and #2

Observation:

Which excercise produced a stronger feeling of breath support? (1)
Which excercise gave you a more relaxed feeling? (3)
Which excercise provided a quicker supply of breath? (2)
Which breath left your mouth and vocal chords feeling dry and cool? (2)
Which breath felt shallow and weak? (none of the above)

Conclusion:

Each breathing technique is important to use at certain times during a song or vocal exercise, as long as each breath is not shallow or surface oriented. Technique #1 is called a deep, cleansing breath which is important at the beginning of a song or a particularly long vocal phrase. Technique #2 is vital during a phrase that requires you to gather more breath before it ends without causing a complete break in the sound. We call this stagger breathing. Technique #3 is the way to breathe in between phrases that are moving at a steady pace without intense dynamics. This is called normal breathing. It is the way most people breath all the time.

The most important thing to remember about breathing, no matter what technique you use, is that you want to avoid weak, shallow breaths. Learning to control your breathing will completely transform the sound that you produce. IF YOU ONLY RELY ON BREATH THAT COMES ONLY FROM YOUR THROAT OR THE TOP OF YOUR LUNGS, YOU CAN BE SURE THAT THE SOUND YOU PRODUCE WILL BE WEAK, SHRILL, SQUEAKY OR NASALY SOUNDING. IF YOU LEARN TO USE THESE DEEP BREATHING TECHNIQUES, THE SOUND YOU PRODUCE WILL BE CONFIDENT, STRONG, AND RICH IN TONE QUALITY.
on November 11, 2005 10:00pm
i find your teachings as resources that will change forever the life of a singer.pls kindly lay a foundation for me to grow on as touching this area.
on April 2, 2006 10:00pm
I always instruct choir members to breath in through the nose because of the fact that the internal lining of the nasal cavity is provided with natural humidifiers that humidify the air as it goes down to the lungs. In the contrary, the air that we breath in esp inside the hall is usually dry. Taking in dry air through the mouth is detrimental to good vocal production. I hope this concept is helpful.

saturn_dagwase@yahoo.com
on April 2, 2006 10:00pm
I remember back in my college days when I used to sing in a concert chorus, we were always being instructed by our mentor to breath in through the nose. Since a concert usually takes hours of continuous singing, I never find my throat being sore every after performance. This is a good experience that I had which makes me believe that in long performances instructing the choristers to breath in through the nose is beneficial. As a physical therapist, I also instruct my patients to breath in through the nose during and after exercises because of the filtration capacity of the minute structure within the nasl cavity which purifies the air that we take in and brings more oxygen to the lungs thereby resulting to better endurance. I believe good endurance is also needed for every singer during long performances esp in the choir.


saturn_dagwase@yahoo.com
on September 18, 2006 10:00pm
I am starting a 5-11 choir and I find this discussion to be helpful. I am going to use the Doreen Rao musical experience and it deals with sometimes nasal and and sometimes mouth breathing for warm-ups.
Pacita C. Salon
Beckley and Daniels.
WV
on November 12, 2006 10:00pm
I studied with a private teacher who's number one student was her husband and he was a principal bass at The Metropolitan Opera in New York, not a chorus member, a principal. She taught me to breath thru my nose for all the same reasons that the positive responses you received mentioned. Great question, Great technique.
DH
on January 22, 2007 10:00pm

If you regulary shows your choir the importance of the body and the resonans in form of exercises,then automatically the question about breathing with the mouth or nose will be out of discussion.I think it
on February 10, 2007 10:00pm
I read your messages and am so glad for it since i am a catholic chorister.I would like to get in touch so often with you so that I grow in singing.I don't have so much technics and don't speak english very well(DRC).Thanks
on May 31, 2007 10:00pm
HI,
i'm beginning a church choir and its a challenge for me. However, the main purpose is not to entertain but evangelise. Can you assist me with some tips in sifting out the altos/sopranos etc from the bunch of people i have. I would really appreciate your advice.

thanks
on June 7, 2007 10:00pm
I do know that you can breath through your nose and your mouth but both of my singing coaches that have gone very far in their career have taught me to breaththrough my mouth. I am a student in a 4th grade class. I do believe that breathing through your mouth is the best thing because often you have a very plugged up nose. My music teacher at school says to breath through your nose, but he is expecting to not have sniffles.
on March 15, 2009 10:00pm
Why would you breath through your nose if you need to raise your soft palate in the breath? Think about it.