OOKING FOR A SPEEDY WAY to help your choir (or yourself) get into good placement for singing? One of the best ways I know of to prepare singers for phonation (basic sound production) is the yawn breath. I mentioned the yawn breath in my most recent article, but that probably wasn’t the first time. Nor will it be the last.
I’ve found that when running a rehearsal, it’s helpful to be able to combine several concepts in one short phrase. Once you’ve taught your choir what that phrase comprises, you can simply repeat it to remind them to do several things well at once. “Yawn breath” is just such a phrase. I teach it to students as young as four years old so that it will become ingrained as they advance.
The yawn breath is as simple as it sounds. You simply pretend you are beginning to yawn, and you take a deep breath into this space. It’s not about what you do so much as what you let happen in the process:
- Let your jaw drop. Don’t force it down. Ideally, the jaw will go down and back, but I generally don’t teach the “and back” part to my choir because I don’t want them to fixate on it. I’ll only mention it to a singer who seems to be jutting his jaw forward as he breathes.
- Let your tongue settle low in the mouth and throat. Again, don’t force it down. Consciously retracting the tongue into the throat will result in a distorted, almost comical sound. You may find it helpful to picture the whoosh of incoming air dissolving all the tension in your tongue.
- Let the soft palate rise. The soft palate is that spongy part of the roof of the mouth, right in front of the uvula (oh, how I’ve longed to work that word into an article). Don’t force it up to its maximum height; just be aware of how it naturally wants to rise a bit as you yawn.
- Make a sound in this relaxed, open space. Try singing a note on [a] or [o] in comfortable range. Be careful not to let any tension creep in between the end of the breath and the onset of sound.
Word of caution: It has been said that the yawn breath should actually be called the beginning-of-a-yawn breath. This is true. The goal here is not to stretch the mouth and throat open the way we do when we’re at the height of a yawn. Instead, we’re aiming to simulate the very first impulse of a yawn.
Another word of caution: Many books and articles condemn the concept of teaching a choir to sing as if they were yawning. I agree completely. Not only do we want to avoid holding the mouth or throat open in an unnatural, overly muscular way, but we also don’t want to force sound out the way we do when we’re trying to speak through a yawn.
In summary, I’ve found the yawn breath to be a very valuable rehearsal tool. Just be sure to explain it carefully so that it doesn’t result in distorted phonation.