Airy, or breathy, voices are all the rage. They’re so popular that to say that eliminating airiness is an important pillar of technique seems a little crazy to me. Notable singers and bands who incorporate breathiness into their singing include Regina Spektor, Dido, Florence and the Machine, Norah Jones, and Ellie Goulding. That’s why the next installment in our Vocal Fringe Techniques collection teaches you how to sing with an airy voice.
Listen to these three clips of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The first is the famous one of Judy Garland singing the song in the movie The Wizard of Oz. Notice how clear and bell-like her tone is.
The second clip is of Ingrid Michaelson, who tends to let a little air into her voice.
The third is an alternative rock group known as The Innocence Mission. Listen to how much air the singer, Karen Peris, lets out while she sings, almost as if she’s singing in a whisper.
How to sing with an airy voice:
For some singers, it’s obvious how to sing with an airy tone. Sometimes it even feels uncontrollable. But I’ve also had well-trained singers with gorgeous, powerful voices who came to me to ask how to sing with breathiness. If you’re a trained singer and want to learn to sing with air, you’re probably going to have to practice the opposite of what you’ve been told your whole life.
As you sing a note, instead of pressing into it with a cry and restricting your exhalation during the note, allow yourself to exhale through the note. The faster you exhale, the airier you’ll sound, so if you only want a littler air, you’ll still need to restrict your exhalation…just not as much as you would for a clear, bright airless sound.
Singing with an airy voice is not an excuse to stop using diaphragmatic support. In fact, you’re going to need even more of it so that the sound doesn’t end up out of control. Be careful to never sing too loudly while singing with an airy voice, as this can damage your vocal cords. Artists who sing this way rely on amplification to be heard.
Play around with how much air you can let out while you sing without deflating. Try letting out very little, like Judy Garland, and then maybe a little more, like Ingrid Michaelson. Can you get as airy as Karen Peris and still maintain control of your voice?