Look, if you ask your voice teacher how to get rid of breathiness, you’re probably going to get some elusive answer about using “better support.” And you know, that’s not exactly wrong. It’s just not all that helpful. It’s also not the only answer or even the best one, depending on your situation. Try these 5 quick fixes for unwanted breathiness.
1. Be a Brat
Or a cackling witch, or a duck, or a crying baby. I don’t care. Just twang it. All of these images are just ploys to help you narrow your aryepiglottic sphincter, the top tube in your larynx, or voice box. It’s a weird name, but I bet you’re pretty familiar with the sound.
If anatomy isn’t for you, feel free to skip the next part, but I just couldn’t leave it out.
It’s not an accident that narrowing your aryepiglottic sphincter helps reduce breathiness (even when you’re in falsetto). It’s speculated that narrowing your AES creates back pressure on your vocal folds (that is, pressure from above your vocal folds instead of below), creating a longer closed phase for your vocal folds. This alone will help to reduce breathiness.
Please note that this narrowing is on a continuum. You don’t have to go all the way into cackling witch territory to reap some of the benefits. Go as far as you need to for the particular results you’re after.
Okay, it’s a little cheesy, but bear with me. If you can’t seem to get a particular note out without using more air than you intend to, try inhaling the note. Literally inhaling! I’m not speaking in images here. You can get sound out while inhaling.
This has a few benefits. First off, it’ll get some key muscles working, like the ones surrounding your neck and the ones above your soft palate. Stabilizing larger muscle groups makes the small ones work more efficiently. It may feel effortless at the level of your vocal folds, but there’s lots of work going on in other places.
Secondly, it simply preps you to sing the note without blowing out air. Hey, if you can get it while inhaling, you can get it the normal way (but without pushing all your air out).
The singhalation will help in part, but you want to get some torso action happening too. Stand like you’re Superman. You should be so stable in your torso that no one can push you over. Don’t think of sucking in and getting smaller. Think about your back widening and getting taller. This posture will help your external intercostals work, and your diaphragm remains in a low position longer (keeping the air in your lungs).
4. Whimper Like a Puppy
The whimper helps facilitate a tilting of your thyroid cartilage in your larynx. Yeah, I know that sounds intimidating, but seriously. Just try the whimper thing. The reason this helps reduce breathiness is that wherever your vocal folds happen to be, the tilt helps bring them closer to an approximated thin fold (or an unbreathy head mix).
5. Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract Exercises
This just means that your mouth is partially closed. It can be anything from lip trills, to tongue rolls, to singing through a straw, to humming, to singing on an “ng.” For the latter three, you’ll have to do a little more self-monitoring to make sure you aren’t leaking a ton of air. The first two, if you’re able to do them, should basically take care of itself.
If you have any questions or comments, we love hearing from you!
Molly is the founder of Molly’s Music. She is a dedicated singer and pianist whose musical journey spans 2.5 decades, with stops along the way to sing for the pope, pass Certificate of Merit at the highest level, study with Gwen Verdon and Ben Vereen, and record an original album.