A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Breath

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BREATH. Various signs are used in vocal music to indicate the places for taking breath, they are usually ’ * / ”. The management of the breath is of the greatest importance in singing, as by it a good tone is formed. The two essentials are (1) the power of controlling the quantity and force of air as it is expired; (2) the power of directing the vibrating column of air. By too great pressure of breath the form of the waves of sound most favourable to a good tone is disturbed, while too little pressure deprives the tone of strength. A certain quantity of breath will produce a tone in perfection, and any increase or diminution of that quantity will result in loss of quality or power. The old Italian masters of singing made the management of the breath a matter of primary consideration; they required their scholars in practising their exercises to do so piano, and to breathe at first as in speaking; the places for doing this were carefully and distinctly marked; if it were found that the pupil emitted his breath with too great a pressure or too rapidly, so as to crowd or impair the sound, he was taught to hold it back, and only when he had acquired a knowledge of and a feeling for pure tone was he permitted to attempt to take larger breaths, and shown how to gradually increase the breathing capacity of his lungs. The breath is the basis of a full rich tone in singing, and on the management of its vibrating column of air depends the great charm and beauty of vocalisation, no less than the power of successfully executing phrasing, according to the dictates of a poetical and intelligent mind.

[ W. H. C. ]