Singing with a breathy voice means that your vocal cords don’t come together fully when you sing. As a result, excess air escapes along with the tone. It sounds like a rush of air is escaping along with the sound, and the excess air dilutes the clearness of the vocal tone. Once you understand how this works, it’s easy to identify it in other singers.
Why is Breathy Singing Bad?
While singing with a breathy voice can be used stylistically, it is usually a sign of poor technique and will most likely damage your voice over time. In breathy singing, the excess air that goes through your vocal cords dries them out. If you always sing with a breathy voice, your vocal cords are prevented from being able to properly come together, and any sort of sustained or prolonged singing will become difficult if not impossible. Additionally, breathy singing could permanently damage your vocal cords. The more you dry them out, the breathier you will sound. Naturally, to compensate for this, the untrained singer will force more air through so that the sound is not lost completely. This only perpetuates the problem and is like whispering when you’re losing your voice.
Whispering and Losing Your Voice
If you ever lose your voice due to illness, whispering will only make it go away faster and for a longer period of time. Rather, if you speak with a low, quiet, but clear tone (and only when necessary), you could preserve your voice for longer. Otolaryngologists advise against whispering when on vocal rest or when losing your voice. Breathy singing is almost like whispering constantly when you’re losing your voice: eventually it’ll dry your vocal cords out completely and your voice will be gone entirely.
Technique and Breath Support
In most cases, breathy singing is a sign of poor technique and poor breath support. Without knowing how to control your airflow and without using your abdominal muscles for breath support, your singing will suffer. Your voice will sound weaker, and as excess air escapes without contributing to your sound, you will be forced to breathe more often. However, with good breath support, there is less air pressure on your vocal cords. The air can be used more effectively without scraping or drying out your vocal cords, and it can be released steadily and slowly to produce a clear tone. Well-trained singers (particularly in musical theatre and opera) know how to do this and can hold powerful tones for what seems like forever. How? They have learned how to produce sound with strong breath support, no escaped air or breathiness, and maximal use of the air they have. These skills allow trained singers to create a more powerful, sustained, long, and clear tone with less air. Many professional Broadway and opera singers don’t even need a microphone to be well-heard because their voices are so clear and powerful.
Breathy Singing Can Used Sparingly and Stylistically
While frequent use is not healthy for the voice, a breathy voice can be used in moderation to enhance your performance. A soft, breathy voice can change the emotion of the lyrics you are singing. However, it should not be used for the entire piece or for frequent, regular singing. In fact, if you maintain a clear tone for most of the song and then slip into a breathy tone in only one or two well-placed sections, the effect is even more powerful. Still, singers in training should avoid doing this until they know how to maintain a consistently clear and even vocal tone.
Learning to Sing Healthy and with a Clear Tone
Over the decades, various singers with breathy voices have become well-loved for their unique sounds. However, singers with a perpetually breathy sound all seem to inevitably end up injuring their voices, developing vocal nodules, having to severely limit the amount of times they perform, or quit singing altogether. Eventually their breathy singing catches up to them and they simply can’t do it anymore. Breathy singing may sound nice while it lasts, but it just isn’t healthy for your voice. Personally, I think that in nearly all cases, breathy singing does not sound as good as singing with a clear, strong tone. If you want to be able to sing long term, learn to sing healthy. There are plenty of examples of Broadway and classical singers who have maintained a decades-long singing career, which simply isn’t possible without good technique. By developing a good, clear tone without a breathy sound, your singing will be more controlled, it will come easier, it will sound better, and you may even be able to extend your vocal range.
Training Your Voice with Voice Lessons
In singing lessons, I teach my vocal students how to maintain a clear, balanced tone and get rid of a breathy sound. This begins with breath control exercises like lip buzzes and continues with diction training and other vocal exercises. For example, humming instead of singing the words to a song can help you find a clearer and stronger tone. If you are interested in learning more about how to control your vocal tone, get rid of breathiness, and sing properly without damaging your voice, please contact me for voice lessons! I’d love to help you.