Debate Response To User “mwb2 - Baritone, Opera / Classical" - Part 1

This Debate will be organized in the future into several different blog posts. I intend to create a massive "Breathing" article going into excruciating detail as to why singing support is largely a myth.

Check out part 2 of this debate!

No. There are dozens of different schools of thought on classical singing. There are Italian traditions, French, German, etc., etc. You may not know that much about the history and development of operatic technique from 1600 to today, so it may seem monolithic and rigid to you, but that doesn't mean it's what it is.

So you understand the French School’s methodology of breathing right? That breathing is largely an unconscious process that doesn’t need to be discussed. So the question becomes as follows: 

How can two singers achieve the same result when one singer is employing a “rule based” breathing technique and the other not employing one at all? I’ll explore this question as we continue with objective evidence.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDWHNfzW9x8

"It's not difficult. It's only professors who make it seem difficult. It's something instinctive -- a child knows how to do it. You need only to analyze how you breathe... find the position where your vocal emission is optimal, and when you find this position, just maintain the tension. It is not necessary to force. Find the balance between tension and relaxation.” -Roberto Alanga, Operatic Tenor

"Opera News: Advantage, Alanga The Newest Star Tenor"

Source: http://www.operanews.com/operanews/_archive/596/Alagna.596.html

Roberto Alanga employs a “natural” breathing technique, in line with the French School. Is this less effortful approach science based? Or would he be better off  arbitrarily and mindlessly following mainstream operatic rules?

"Caruso famously remarked that he took no more breath to sing opera than to have a normal conversation."

Subjective experiences while singing are almost always wrong. Caruso also once participated in a study which analyzed the position of his soft palate while he sang. He was ADAMANT (as classical singers tend to be) that his raised soft palate technique was ESSENTIAL to good singing.

The research revealed his soft palate was lowered while he sang. Caruso angrily refused to allow his name to be associated with the study. Whatever Caruso or the pre-scientific Italian school believed about singing is irrelevant as it was based on subjective opinion.

Source: "Effects of Nasalance on the Acoustics of the Tenor Passagio and Head Voice."

http://scholarlyrepository.miami.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1087&context=oa_dissertations

Caruso was successful because he was passionate and dedicated to his craft. Not because classical technique is “refined, powerful, and flexible.” His technique was wrong and rigid as I will continue to demonstrate.

"Classical singers don't necessarily use more lung capacity than country singers, for example."

Non‐singers and country singers have been found to use only slightly higher lung volumes than those used by speakers (Hixon et al. 1973; Hoit et al.1996; Cleveland et al.1997). Professional operatic singers, on the other hand, use notably higher portions of their vital capacity.”

Source: “Musical Theatre and Opera Singing - Why So Different?"

http://www.speech.kth.se/prod/publications/files/3003.pdf

"The basics, and even most of the finer points, of breathing for singing can be totally consistent across styles--there is "physiologically efficient" breathing and then there are many other ways of breathing. Breathing for classical singing should be physiologically efficient. This efficient breathing can be beneficial (though not required) to many, may other styles. There's no such thing as "rock breathing" vs. "Broadway breathing" vs. "country breathing," which is what it seems like you're suggesting."

I’ve already addressed this but I’ll continue. There are several reasons why classical breathing technique does not and will never translate to contemporary.

 

1. Belting requires a significantly higher subglottic pressure then opera singing. Subglottic pressure is the amount of pressure necessary beneath the vocal cords in order to set them into vibration.

Source: “Musical Theatre and Opera Singing - Why So Different?”

http://www.speech.kth.se/prod/publications/files/3003.pdf

 

2. The higher your lung volume, the lower your larynx. Contemporary styles tend to use higher larynx positions than opera; breathing will be significantly different as a result. This explains why contemporary singers use less total lung volume than opera singers on average.

"The statistical analysis revealed a significant result for VLPN, such that high LV was associated with a lower larynx than low LV. Effects of lung volume on the glottal voice source and the vertical laryngeal position in male professional opera singers”

VLP = Verticle Laryngeal Postion 

LV = Lung Volume

Source: "Effects of lung volume on the glottal voice source and the vertical laryngeal position in male professional opera singers"

http://www.speech.kth.se/prod/publications/files/qpsr/2003/2003_45_1_001-009.pdf

There are many reasons why belting technique is significantly different than operatic technique. It’s a HUGE mistake that contemporary singers are attempting to apply 200 year old “scientific rules” (such as apoggio technique) to singing techniques in 2015. What’s next, are singers going to start using leeches to cure laryngitis?

Classical breathing technique is just inherently wrong. There are many, MANY studies showing that opera singers have no idea how they’re supporting or what support even is.

Example 1: Classical singers engage the exact same respiratory musculature when asked to sing “supported” vs “unsupported.”

"Breathing patterns were variable and not significantly different between supported and unsupported voice. Subjects in this study believe that the supported singing voice is resonant, clear, and easy to manage and is produced by correct breath management.. Singers adjust laryngeal and/or glottal configuration to account for these changes, but no significant differences in breathing activity were found.”

"Physiological characteristics of the supported singing voice. A preliminary study."

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7757150

Example 2: Operatic singers were asked to perform a piece of music “supported" and “unsupported.” The results were recorded and played back to trained singers, singing students, and voice specialists. 

"According to the results, it seemed impossible to observe any auditory differences between supported singing and good singing voice quality. The acoustic and physiological correlates of good voice quality in absolute values seem to be gender and task dependent, whereas the relative optimum seems to be reached at intermediate parameter values.”

"Evaluation of Support in Singing"

http://www.jvoice.org/article/S0892-1997%2804%2900120-1/abstract

For the sake of my own sanity (as I have already spent probably 100 hours researching the topic to death) I will link a page which summarizes some of the existing data.

http://www.performancescience.org/ISPS2009/Proceedings/Rows/024Collyer.pdf

Singers have no idea what method of support they’re actually using.

"Subjects' descriptions of how they thought they breathed during singing bore little correspondence to how they actually breathed."

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3157022

Breathing techniques vary widely amongst singers in general. And singers tend to “support” using their natural breathing habits regardless of their perceptions of how they sing.

"Bringing Breathing Science Into The Voice Studio” (This isn’t a study but it’s a sourced summary of several studies. I’m getting lazy)

http://www.nats.org/_Library/ICVT7/ICVT7_09_Collyer_Breathing_science_handout.pdf

Breathing technique varies widely depending on emotional stimulus.

"Bringing Breathing Science Into The Voice Studio” (This isn’t a study but it’s a sourced summary of several studies. I’m getting lazy)

http://www.nats.org/_Library/ICVT7/ICVT7_09_Collyer_Breathing_science_handout.pdf

Singers also breathe and support differently in the practice room vs. in performance setting.

(no source. I’m being lazy. Just believe me on this one.)

Honestly, I could go on and on. I have SO many bookmarked studies on this topic and have spent close to 100 hours researching this particular subject. At a certain point the answer is obvious and further research is just beating a dead horse. 

So at the end of the day you have two options.

Option 1: Follow a “rule based” breathing system endorsed by most operatic teachers. Even though you won’t actually breathe the way you believe you will, you must subscribe to either an intercostal method or an abdominal method. Then argue with other classical singers about which method is better deposit neither party understanding what they’re even talking about.

Option 2: Just breathe. Your body is going to do whatever it wants anyway so why over-complicate the process?

Option 2 is clearly the superior method. So why do so few classical singers adopt such a method while so many contemporary singers are? Because classical singing, in general, is rigid.

Check out part 2 of this debate!