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What Do Breath Control Problems in Singing Sound Like?

You hear all the time that to sing well you need to learn breath control. But what do breath control problems actually sound and feel like in singing? Here are 7 common vocal issues that are related to breath control.

1. Unwanted Breathiness

If you’re having a hard time getting a solid tone when you sing, it’s because you’re exhaling too quickly through your notes. In you exhale too fast, you won’t build up as much subglottal pressure (that is, pressure underneath your vocal folds), and your vocal folds will just blow open instead of getting full closure as they vibrate. This is not to say that all breathiness is bad. It’s often very useful for stylistic ends.

2. Lack of Control

If you’re experiencing control issues, like going flat a lot or missing notes even when you can usually match pitch easily, it’s very likely that your breath control could be better. Try these support exercises to make managing your air easier.

3. Weak-Sounding Voice

As with unwanted breathiness, having a weak voice is often directly related to breath control. Breath is one of the main power sources behind the voice, and without enough subglottal pressure built up, your voice will most likely sound fairly weak.

4. Limited Vocal Range or Weak Head Voice

If your range caps out early on or gets weaker and weaker, you might not be getting the breath support to make it to those higher frequencies.

5. Sounding Shouty

It may sound like the total opposite of everything else we’ve discussed, but shoutiness can also be a breath control issue. Your power source should come from holding back air, not from forcing a bunch of air out of your lungs. Not only is that not good for your vocal folds, but you probably won’t get the tone you’re hoping for.

6. Extreme Register Breaks

This is an offshoot of some of the other ones we’ve discussed. Extreme register breaks often happen when people are pushing out too much air in their lower range, hit a wall, and then break into a breathy falsetto when they can’t tense their thyroarytenoid muscle (the muscle in your larynx responsible for shortening your vocal folds) any longer.

7. Vibrato Problems

If you’re experiencing a machine gun vibrato, a slow wobbly vibrato, an uneven vibrato, or an unwanted lack of vibrato, you’re likely also experiencing breath control problems. If you aren’t supporting well, you might find yourself with a vocal wobble. The lack of support may also result in some unwanted tension that can also lead to an overly fast vibrato. If you aren’t letting air out at a consistent rate, you may find yourself with an uneven vibrato. An even vibrato is the combination of a number factors falling into place, including a particular balance of breath support, freedom in your throat (retraction of your false vocal folds, to be precise), and a tilted thyroid cartilage.

Knowing vocal issues that are caused by breath control is just the first step. To begin to learn breath control, check out this post on how to find your support muscles.

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