Here’s a question I get, in one form or another, on a regular basis. “Should breath be coming out when I speak or should I exhale when I stop speaking?” Once you know something about how your voice works the answer is easy. But first, let’s talk about sound, then voice, then we can answer that question and explore the implications. To get any sound, even a pin drop, you need three things. You need a vibrating material. You need power to produce the vibration and you need a medium to transmit the vibration. Take this acoustic guitar. What’s vibrating? The strings.
What powers that vibration? My fingers. And how does that vibration reach your ears? It travels through the air. Your voice works on the same principles, just different details. What’s vibrating? Your vocal folds. What powers that vibration? Breath flowing through your vocal folds. How does that vibration reach the listener? Again, it travels through the air. You are a wind instrument, just like a flute, a trumpet or a saxophone. Out-going breath is the power that produces the sound vibration. If there’s no breath flowing through the instrument, there’s no sound.
So yes, breath has to be coming out when you speak. If you stop the breath, you stop the sound. If you’re like most people, you know that in your head, but you’re not using that knowledge when you speak. You’re focused on thoughts and words and language, not breath. The average person isn’t using enough out-breath to produce sound optimally. When there’s not enough wind power, muscles have to compensate. Instead of breath easily flowing sound out of your body, muscles start squeezing out the sound. That leads to a weak voice, harsh tone and vocal fatigue. You have to learn how to let breath do the work. Out-breath is your power. In voice training, there are two main challenges related to breathing.
The first challenge involves how you get breath into your body. You have to learn how to take a proper breath as you’re speaking. Most students anticipate that challenge. The other challenge involves how you use that breath to produce sound. Most students are not expecting that challenge, and yes, it is a challenge. If you’re used to speaking with very little breath, it feels strange to let lots of air come out with the sound. It feels like too much. Plus, conventional wisdom encourages you to make each breath last as long as possible. Have you ever been given a paragraph to read aloud and you’re told to see how far you can get on one breath? It’s often one of the first activities you’re given in a speech-related class.
The assumption is that a good speaker can say more words on one breath. Stop doing that. It’s counter-productive to good vocal technique, especially in the early stages of your training. Learn to cultivate a generous out-flow of breath when you speak. Exercises such as lip flutters [demonstrate], straw phonation [demonstrate] or even just a voiced sigh of relief [demonstrate] are all good ways to develop that skill. I’ll link to some of those exercises in the description. Once you know how it feels to use a generous out-breath on a single sound, “huh,” try vowels, “hoe,” then simple words, “hello,” then phrases, “Hi, how are you?” When you learn to speak on a generous out-breath, you’ll find a voice that is naturally strong with a clear, resonant tone. Speaking will feel easy and pleasurable. Your delivery will be well-paced, expressive, and engaging for your listeners. Thanks for watching. Leave a comment and tell me how you learned to speak on the out-breath. I’ll see you in the next video. Which Way Should My Breath Be Going?