Breathiness in young debutants
© John Nix 1998
Most beginning singers, especially female ones, have a breathy quality to their tone. This is perfectly NORMAL in a young or undeveloped voice, for a number of reasons.
In young or beginning singers, the interarytenoid muscles are typically undeveloped. These are the muscles which close the gap (the "mutational chink" in young singers) that occurs between the arytenoid cartilages when the muscular portion of the glottis is closed.
These muscles enable a singer to have a firm closed portion of the vibratory cycle, and as I have mentioned in a previous post, a firm closure and a long closed/open ratio is PART of what creates a rich spectrum of partials and a ringing sound. But, and this is a big BUT, forcing these muscles to work is a big no-no in a young or beginning voice. They need to develop at their own pace. I would refer you to a good discussion of this topic in Barbara Doscher's Functional Unity of the Singing Voice, pages 43-44.
Using lots of vocalises with front vowels, particularly the [i] and
[e] vowels, is NOT recommended for young female voices, not only because of
acoustical reasons, but also because this is forcing a firmer adduction and
a higher air pressure on a young instrument.
As another lister has already mentioned, young singers lack coordination between body alignment, the actuator (the lungs and breathing system), the vibrator (the vocal folds) and the resonator (the vocal tract). With correct guidance and time, they gain the muscular coordination they need for singing, and the breathy quality clears up. As they gain better awareness of their postural balance, their breathing becomes more efficient; as their breathing becomes more efficient, they phonate and resonate more efficiently; as they phonate and resonate more efficiently, they breathe more efficiently, and so on.
Learning proper resonance adjustments can take a number of months or years, and so both the teacher and the student need to be patient. All these changes take time, and as a teacher of many a young singer, I must say that one cannot rush a young singer into a more mature sound.
In short, be patient, address their breathing and body alignment and resonance issues, and let nature take its course.
Adjunct Voice Faculty
The University of Colorado at Denver