Using a Breathy Tone in Your Singing

Using a Breathy Tone in Your Singing
If you want to be heard, sing loud. But if you want people to listen, sing quietly. David Combes explores the aspirate onset – as an effect and a way into singing with a breathy tone.

Many singers will bring breath in behind their tone; like a whisper it creates a real sense of intimacy.

Since the advent of the microphone and the ability to sing very close to a mic at low volumes, the breathy tone has become a vocal effect used throughout contemporary music.

Sting, Norah Jones and Sade – and many others – have all used this effect.

The Naysayers

However, some believe singing with a breathy tone should never, ever be done.

The reason it divides singers is that there are a number of genres, like classical music and musical theatre, where singing with tight cord closure is considered preferable since it helps you to project.

When you sing with a breathy tone, the opposite is the case, you lose vocal power and can only sing shorter phrases because of the increase in ‘wasted’ air.

As a default setting it can be quite limiting – but as a technique it can be powerful

The Power of the Breathy Tone

As a default setting it can be quite limiting – but as a technique it can be powerful.

It is true that singing in this way restricts the voice from projecting and causes one to run out of breath quickly.

On the other hand, it creates a real intimacy; it is like the singer is whispering.

Singers need to be able to turn it on and turn it off at will – and realize that breathy tone can be used in degrees.

Singers can benefit enormously from working on this area with a vocal coach, especially to ensure that singing in this way does not become a default setting.


My Reaction to This Week's Singing Competition Entry

Sandra Hosgood Sandra Hosgood - Lonely At The Top

Hi Sandra, thanks for sending this in. You are an accomplished singer with some solid technique and a voice I could listen to over and over again. Coaching you on this video alone there are a couple of things I would work on with you, which you might want to think about. This is a recording of a performance, not a rehearsal, but there are several points where you get the notes right but are not present in the song; you are looking around the room with no real focus and although it sounds good it feels a little like you are just ‘going through the motions’. With your solid voice, and such a catchy song, you could try connecting with your audience more. You also stay within quite a small part of your voice but sound as if you probably have a huge range, and you repeat several phrases exactly the same, have you thought about mixing it up a bit? Try taking the melody up in some of the later choruses, anchoring down and taking the song further – I’d suggest you treat yourself to couple of 1 to 1 sessions with a rock vocals coach to work on pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.


David Combes

David Combes has backed Beyoncé Knowles, Chaka Khan, Elton John, Annie Lennox, Lionel Richie and many more. He’s sung on several series of “The X Factor” and “Britain’s Got Talent”. His vocals have been in films such as “The Corpse Bride”, “Transformers”, “Pirates of the Caribbean”, “Nine”, and “Pan” (end of 2015). He is also a solo performer and a tutor on the vocal faculty for The University of West London and for The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance. www.davidcombes.com