Matt Edwards

Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute

Mix it up Monday: Take my breath away

CCM Bannder no dates

5536940055_Top_Gun_answer_2_xlarge Young women often struggle with breathiness in their head voice and it can prove rather frustrating for both teacher and student. I’ve observed a number of masterclasses where the teacher says that the student is not using their breath correctly and proceeds to teach the student to take a larger breath and do a combination of abdominal maneuvers to correct the fault. However, this strategy will often fail to produce the desired results because the issue is not caused by a lack of breath pressure but rather the use of too much pressure when phonating.

During breathy phonation in the head voice, the vocal folds will vibrate along the anterior

Mutational Chink

An example of a posterior chink. Source:

portion (front), but will separate in the back. This is called called a mutational chink because it is commonly found in singers whose voices are changing. This condition is caused by a weakness of the interarytenoid muscles, which are responsible for bringing the arytenoid cartilages together and closing that posterior portion of the vocal folds (Vennard, 1967, p. 63). If a weakness exists in these muscles, they are incapable of resisting the air pressure created by the respiratory system during phonation. Therefore the greater the air pressure, the breathier the voice will be. This is why the strategy of using more breath and abdominal contraction often fails.


Instead of using more breath to adduct the vocal folds, try using less. Ask the singer to inhale, then exhale 80% of their air and then sustain a single pitch in their head voice. Try this several times. If the breathiness is reduced or disappears, then you will know you are dealing with a muscular weakness in the adductor muscles. As you begin strengthening the adductors, you will want to sing with as little breath as possible. When the singer can phonate easily and without excess breath, slowly begin to increase the amount of air they are using. Eventually you will return to normal respiratory function, but the excess breathiness will subside.

There are of course other factors to consider when working with a singer who is struggling with breathiness. It is important to remember that young voices take time to develop. Do not rush this process, doing so could lead to excess tension that will be difficult to get rid of as the student ages. Instead, focus on musicianship, acting, and style while you wait for the voice to strengthen.

Thanks for reading, if you are not already following the blog, please sign-up on the bottom right of this page. Have a great week! ~Matt




8 comments on “Mix it up Monday: Take my breath away

  1. natsontario
    August 22, 2016

    great explanation, Matt!


  2. Maria Damore
    August 22, 2016

    Thanks for this explanation and the diagram and Happy Birthday!


  3. Wendy Jones
    August 22, 2016

    Thanks for this!!! Perfection. 🙂


  4. Maggie Burton
    August 31, 2016

    Thanks, Matt! Most of my students are at an age where this is happening. This is helpful.


  5. Pingback: Mix it up Monday: Balancing breath and tone with lip trills | Matthew Edwards

  6. Pingback: Mix it up Monday: How to allow placement to reveal itself (pt. 2) | Matt Edwards

  7. Pingback: Mix it up Monday: Inhaling too much air | Matt Edwards

  8. Elena Blyskal
    October 25, 2021

    Hi, Matt! Thanks so much for this – your advice is working for many of my students.

    This post is several years old and I don’t know if you still see the comments, but just in case: do you have an approximate timeline for when we should start to increase the air, and by when we “should” approach normal respiratory function? (x number of weeks, etc.?). Thanks again!


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This entry was posted on August 22, 2016 by in Breath management, Mix it up Monday.

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