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As featured in The Harmonizer.

Breathe Life Into Your Singing

Bel canto (Italian for “beautiful singing” ) was the standard of singing technique from 1800 to about 1840, and is primarily concerned with upper body engagement, creating a clear, concentrated, free, resonant tone without force of any kind. Many other singing techniques have come since then, but unless you are an opera singer, these bel canto techniques often yield better and faster results.

There is a famous story about opera legend Luciano Pavarotti as a young voice student. His teacher placed a lit candle in front of his mouth and would tell him to sing while not allowing the flame to move. In essence, Pavarotti learned to keep the tone source steady. This is exactly the type of tone that results in ringing chords in the barbershop style.

The real jewel of the bel canto tradition is its breath mechanics, which are perfect for our type of singing. It may feel odd at first, but understand the body mechanics involved in releasing air over your vocal folds. Think of blowing up a balloon and holding the neck so that it whistles. How long will it whistle? For as long as the gentle air pressure in the balloon is sufficient. In bel canto, the air pressure, stabilized in your ribcage by expanding on inhalation and engaging throughout a phrase, gives that seamless tone-to-tone connection or legato line, just by staying still.

By engaging your body to replicate holding your breath for a few seconds, you can feel the connection required to make consistent, stable tone. Feel how your ribcage naturally engages and stabilizes. Release and gently do it again. This time, when you hold your breath, notice the sensation in your throat; to some it feels like gentle compression downward, to others holding back. Release and relax. That feeling is the vocal folds coming into approximation and closing. What if the question was not “how do I take bigger breaths?” but instead, “how do I take smaller ones?” Less air, not more. This is where this work seems fantastic and unbelievable. The beauty of the technique is that if the ribs engage on each breath, you’ll feel your voice work in an instant. When singers embrace this type of singing, the first comment is often “I made it through the whole phrase and it was too easy. Shouldn’t this be hard?”

By realizing that the primary air management objective is just to sustain gentle air pressure, not to force air through your instrument, you can easily manage your singing. When you are not struggling to control air, effortless delivery becomes more accessible.

The over-pressurization or irregular force across the vocal folds is the primary culprit behind poor quality of tone, inconsistent resonance and intonation, and loss of stability and control. By using this breathing technique, you have the ability to focus on artistry, musicianship and performance. Bel canto offers a transformative experience, as you become an optimal resonating acoustic instrument designed to amplify sound with ease.

Debra Lynn