I was a 3-year-old swimmer…
She made an impression on me. Margie Cranston was my swim teacher and my first teacher. I remember her classes so well. Her swimming class was so much fun! And beyond all my years of singing training, wind instrument training, and yoga training, I still remember Margie’s breathing exercises for swimming.
Margie had us hold on to the side of the pool with both hands, put our faces in the water, then roll our head to the side, keeping our left ear in the water. Inhale, head turns to the side—inhale through nose and mouth. Then exhale into the water—exhale through nose and mouth. Again and again, inhaling with head to the side, nose and mouth, and exhaling blowing bubbles into the water, so the bubbles came out of your nose and mouth on the exhale.
I still think about this type of breathing with singing. Leaving the nose and mouth open for the inhale, and open for the exhale as well. Some college teachers use the ‘pant like a dog’ exercise, which works great too, to keep everything open.
A few years ago I thought I’d test out Margie’s method in the pool. I tried swimming just inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the nose while doing a lap of freestyle. Then just inhaling through the mouth and exhaling through the mouth. Neither really worked, and it actually slowed down my speed.
I worked with a singer a few years back who inhaled just through her nose, and exhaled through her mouth. It was not too efficient, as she had to close her mouth, or put her tongue on the roof of her mouth to inhale for every breath, then switch each time to exhale. It’s a lot of excess motion, which is really too time-consuming to do while singing, and too inefficient to do for each line of a song. Singers who shut down their nose and breathe just through the mouth while singing get a closed or nasally sound, and have trouble accessing their high range much.
So to be a speed swimmer and an efficient singer, keep everything open and free when you sing. Do you have another way of thinking about your inhale and exhale for efficient breathing?
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