How to breathe well, Part Two.
Jul 24 2015
NOTE: This is the second post in a two-part article. Click here to read part one!
To summarize what we said last week, good breath control is an important skill in voice acting, one that comes more naturally to some people than it does to others. Expert breath control takes an understanding of your body and all the physiology involved, along with observation and practice. Basically the point is to relax, stand correctly, and understand how to use your torso. But (we suppose this is the good news), there is no one “right” approach that is correct for everyone. Ultimately, do what is consistent with actual physiology and produces desired results for you.
Did you miss last week’s article? Click here to read last week’s article — How to breathe well. It’s easy, and it isn’t.
How to catch a quick breath almost silently
Now that you’re relaxed, and have the most basic understanding of the basics, let’s turn to practical matters – taking a quick, quiet breath during a script.
First, forget the thought of “inhaling.” Instead, we’re just going to let the air “enter” your airways. And for that to happen, the airways must be open. Don’t lower the tongue fully. That opens the front of your mouth, but closes it at back. Instead, keep the tongue loose, letting the air flow around it.
However, don’t even think of air “flow.” Simply “accept” the air. If you open the passages, and lower your jaw (don’t t****t it forward), you’ll acquire a breath without even trying – enough at least to sustain a phrase of moderate length.
This is our own description of the technique, but it jibes with the process as summarized by Jeannette LoVetri, voice coach and Director of The Voice Workshop:
Breathing in quietly means that the vocal folds are separated one from the other and that the air goes in because there is a drop in air pressure inside the lungs when they are emptied. (Outside air pressure is higher, so it rushes in due to the vacuum in the lungs). You don’t have to pull air in, you can just relax and allow the air to go in all by itself.
Here’s yet another way to think of it. (BTW, we’re no longer quoting Ms. LoVetri.) You know what it is to whisper, right? Unfortunately, some people don’t, so pardon if we belabor this a bit – breathe out and close your throat just enough that your breath becomes “hissy” (noisy). It’s the same as whispering, except without words. Now, relax your throat and expel another breath, this time as quietly as possible. It might take a few tries, each quieter than the one before. That difference is what we want to achieve when inhaling. You should be able to do the same – noisy and quiet — when inhaling. The noisy inhale is what to avoid.
For further insight, read the articles “Releasing the Muscles of the Throat” and “The Incredible ‘It’” at http://somaticvoicework.com/category/uncategorized/page/22/
Breathe for the phrase
As singers are well advised, “breathe for the phrase.” In other words, decide where to take your breaths, and don’t take more air than you’ll need. In VO, you have the added advantage of pausing, taking a deep breath and deleting it later, but don’t depend on that. The point is to reduce the amount of work required of you or the engineer, remember?
Again, from Jeannette LoVetri:
In speech as well as in song, when working professionally, we don’t always have all day to allow that really relaxed, easy inhalation to follow its own path of least resistance. It is sometimes necessary in read copy or in singing to take a large breath in a short period of time. Learning to inhale silently is a developed skill for most people. It would be equivalent to learning to pant silently. Keeping the upper body quiet (not moving) helps, good posture helps, being able to keep the ribs open and firm helps, allowing the belly to move helps. But in the end, learning how to inhale quickly and silently requires patient practice. If there is another way, aside from increased awareness, I do not know what that would be.
Want to increase your awareness? Consult with a coach.
To really understand breath as serious singers do, some serious coaching or training is recommended. You’ll find entire books on the subject, and plenty of guidance online, but to fully learn about efficient breathing – and to learn it efficiently – talk with your voice-over coach, or ask for referral to a good voice coach.
Note that although coaching disciplines overlap, a voice-over coach is not necessarily experienced as a voice coach, and a voice coach is not necessarily a singing coach, and vice versa. And as with any subject, someone who knows how to do it themselves might not necessarily be a good teacher, or good at teaching you.
Basically, you simply want someone who can help you learn to breathe efficiently, as easily and unobtrusively (if not perfectly silently) as possible. Also, they should be familiar with your needs as a voice-over talent. If you want to extend your training to further develop your vocal capabilities, that might be fun. You might enjoy learning to sing opera or address multitudes without benefit of microphone. It will expand your voice over “toolkit” and could even open up new genres for you. But it’s not necessary.
What comes after inhaling? Why, exhaling, of course! Or, in our case, exhaling in the form of speech. Controlling the amount of air expended in speech is another learned skill, which we’ll leave for another time.
Meanwhile, find ways to work breath control into your usual daily voice over practice. As always, the ultimate goal is to communicate effectively with your listener. A key part of that process is that you be easily understood. And to that end … well, here’s Ms. LoVetri, one more time:
We understand language best when the muscles that effect articulation work easily and accurately.
When you practice easy breathing and free, accurate speech, it becomes a habit. So get to work at relaxing!