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The Effect of Conducting Gestures on Choral Breathing

Conducting gestures have a substantial impact on how singers breathe, not just when. Effective breath gestures assist the singers in taking deep, quiet breaths, and maintaining an open throat and expanded ribcage while doing it. Conversely, poor breath gestures can constrict the throat, raise the larynx, lower the soft palate, and generally encourage high, shallow, clavicular breaths. In turn, these breath problems contribute to ineffective breath support and control, pitch problems and decreased vocal stamina. Do you see how all this stuff is interconnected?

I favor breath gestures that expand outward, mimicking the release of the abdominal and lower back muscles. I also open my mouth, keeping it tall and narrow, which is what I want the singers to imitate. I keep my hands relaxed and elbows comfortably bent, creating a rounded shape. My hands do move slightly up, in preparation for the downbeat, but only a little bit, and only after I've expanded them laterally. I'm also careful keep my head level; I don't lift my chin when I lift my hands.

The worst type of breath gesture, and the one I've seen most often, involves a sharp snap up; the hands go up, the shoulders go up, and the chin goes up. This sets the singers up for failure: a noisy, clavicular breath made with the shoulders and upper intercostal muscles, which are almost impossible to employ for breath support during singing. That's really the issue: whatever muscles the singer uses to take air into the body are also involved in exhalation (in this case, during singing). Because singing involves extended exhalation, the airflow requires constant support to remain at a steady rate; we want to use the largest, most powerful, easiest-to-control muscles possible for this, and none of them are in the shoulders or upper chest.

LOTS more on breathing topics in future posts. Keep yer eyes peeled!

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