Let’s Get Serious About Breath Support

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on November 5, 2015

Blowing BubblesI’ve written many posts on breathing, but I think it’s time to take it up a notch.

Breathing is the energy for speech, and not having good breath support is like driving a car with watered down gasoline.  It won’t take you very far.  Good breath support means you can control your exhalation.

You want breath support that will allow you to talk for a long time on one breath of air and also use that air to indicate emotional changes, and rate and volume variations.  Breath support also prevents trailing off at the ends of your sentences, which can lead to the dreaded glottal fry (click here for more on glottal fry).

Let’s begin with a very simplified look at how the lungs work when we breathe.  When talking about breath support, I like to think of the lungs as balloons.  We have the ability to hold the neck of a balloon and let the air out very slowly or we can release the neck and let the air burst out.  We do much the same things with our abdominal muscles when we speak as we do with our fingers on that balloon.  The abdominal muscles allow us to control the release of air.

But it takes some skill and training to be able to get that abdominal control of the breath.  Let’s look at some hardcore exercises that will help create that support.

First, the basic exercise I love for building breath support is to take a deep abdominal-diaphragmatic breath (if you aren’t familiar with this type of breathing, click here for my video that has a full explanation) and then on one exhalation count out loud as high as you can.  You should be able to count to at least fifteen.  If you can (or can’t) keep doing this exercise and try to add a number each day.  Over time you should be able to get to twenty-five seconds or higher on one breath.

One thing that can sabotage your breath support is for air to escape when it shouldn’t, like before you begin to speak or when you pause.  Try this exercise.  Inhale using abdominal-diaphragmatic breathing.  Now, using your pulse as a guide (find this by putting your index and middle fingers on your wrist below your thumb), count out loud for five pulse beats.  After five, pause for a beat, and then continue to ten, pause, and count to fifteen.  You should be able to do this on one breath of air.  If you can’t, pay close attention to see if your exhaling before you begin or at the pauses.

Make these exercises part of your week so that your breath support stays strong.  Get serious about breath support!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Terry Anzur November 5, 2015 at 10:46 am

Another great column, Ann. But for professional broadcasters, I don’t think 15 is high enough.

Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. November 5, 2015 at 12:39 pm

You’re exactly right, Terry. You’ll note that I recommend working up to 25 on one breath of air. Most of my clients have been able to do that. If they’ve been trained on a wind instrument or been a singer, they may be able to go even higher.

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