I’ve written many posts for broadcasters and voice over artists on breathing, but a review is always helpful, especially during these trying times. (Some of you broadcast students at the University of Massachusetts may also benefit from this information.)
Breathing is the energy for speech. 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.
Control 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. First, the lungs can’t move themselves. They are moved by the muscles around them. The main muscle is the diaphragm that forms the floor the lungs sit on. The diaphragm and the abdominal muscles allow us to control the release of air as we exhale.
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 you’re exhaling before you begin or at the pauses.
Make these exercises part of your week so that your breath support stays strong. For the best delivery, get serious about breath support!