Internationally renowned Swiss vocal coach Robin De Haas is an expert on breathing for singing. He spoke to iSing about the important role breathing coordination plays in preventing vocal strain and achieving optimum performance.
Robin De Haas is a man on a mission: he wants to educate singers and vocal coaches on the importance of Breathing Coordination.
De Haas’ interest in the subject matter grew from his own frustrations as a classical singer. After struggling with ongoing vocal problems, he began exploring different methodologies and techniques. His curiosity was piqued by the work of the late Carl Stough, whose work on breathing coordination had helped top athletes, opera singers and people with lung disease. De Haas met Stough’s personal assistant Lynn Martin, who was continuing Stough’s work, and a fruitful collaboration was born.
The pair together developed MDH Breathing Coordination, a methodology that assesses how each part of the body that is connected to the breathing function is working and then addresses any imbalances.
Importantly, the method takes an individualised approach. De Haas is critical of some of the advice meted out to singers about breathing. During his own singing career, he was often told to “breathe into his spine” or to “breathe into his back”, imprecise advice that did little to help address ongoing vocal problems.
De Haas’ work on breathing coordination has attracted international attention and is to be the subject of a documentary. The film will also focus on the challenges he faced as a child. De Haas was born with a cleft palate and struggled to speak clearly (his sister used to translate for him). He was beaten and bullied at school due to his disability and underwent several rounds of surgery in his early years. He spoke to iSing about breathing coordination and his upcoming workshops in London.
What is breathing coordination?
Breathing Co-ordination is a technique that identifies the restriction of movement and limitations of movement in the ribcage in each individual and brings breathing back to optimal function. The assessment is carried out using touch and visual cues and we correct any issues through hands-on technique and imagery. Breathing Coordination is at the crossroads between physical and visualisation work. It’s an educational process; we educate people to breathe in an optimal manner.
What are the most common misconceptions about breath management and singing?
That you must breathe low and breathe in your belly and keep your ribs open when you sustain. The whole idea that support is something that you must voluntarily do rather than allow is a misconception.
How can Breathing Coordination help a singer?
It can improve stamina and reduce the risk of vocal strain and injury. If you have some loss [of function] in the ribs, then the natural phenomenon of support that is crucial to protecting the vocal cords does not occur. In that situation you will go to a voice teacher who will tell you to keep your ribs open, but doing that isn’t going to solve the problem, it’s going to increase stiffness and make the problem worse. With Breathing Coordination, you can identify what the limitations of movement are and correct them. Then you will discover what true support is. You no longer have this push of air under your voice, you start feeling almost a sense of vacuum in that area that will give you an endurance that you’ve never experienced before.
How would a singer know if they weren’t breathing well?
You would hear the inhale and feel strain. If you use too much air for singing, your vocal cords are constantly trying to get together and there is too much air fighting them, leaving them tired and strained. When I was a classical singer experiencing vocal problems [because I wasn’t breathing properly] my voice was fatigued, hoarse, airy after about ten minutes of upper register singing.
What can a singer do to get started with breathing coordination?
Here are two tips.
- As you are sitting or standing for singing, gently oscillate your spine. Move it left and right with tiny circular movements, this stimulates movement at the point where the spine attaches to the ribs.
- Sing a seriers of different vocal onsets in front of the mirror and watch if your posture changes. Look for things like the head going forward, and the ribs collapsing. If these things are happening, try and stand still. Even if at first it makes your onset weaker, resist the temptation to do these things. The first that will happen is the voice will be worse but try and bring volume back in without adding the physical compensation.
How can people find out more about breathing coordination and a practitioner?
Visit www.breathingcoordination.ch. You’ll find lots of information and a map detailing where breathing coordination practitioners are based around the world.