Breath Control

Most breath-control problems stem from a lack of understanding of phrasing and from overlooking breathing pauses. Others are caused by simply delivering at too high a volume level, not taking in enough breath at every opportunity, and not staying relaxed. Anxiety is the mortal enemy of breath control.

Let’s talk about pauses first. Pauses give us obvious openings to breathe, and if the pause is a long one, a chance to grab a big breath. Most long sentences can be broken up into several shorter phrases or clauses that can stand alone, and can therefore offer many breathing opportunities.

Now a word about loud delivery. Many stage actors (as mentioned in a previous chapter) as well as amateurs who are new to voiceovers, often project the message as they would on stage. This is a surefire way to run out of breath. Delivering at a comfortable, relaxed, conversational level will conserve your breath in a way that may surprise you.

Keep your breathing relaxed and try not to overdo the intake. Don’t rush it, either. I have heard many broadcasters (mostly from reading too fast) take short, quick gasps for breath that are frequently quite audible. The use of electronic compression often exacerbates this phenomenon. Easy does it. Try to pitch the breath as low as you can by making the opening in the back of your throat as wide as comfortably.

One way you can build up your breathing stamina is to take a script – any script – and read it in an easy, relaxed, albeit expressive manner, while eliminating all of the pauses. The ideas to take a comfortable breath in the beginning and go as far into the script as you can. Try using the same script for a few days for this exercise. Each time you read it aloud, mark how far into the script you ran out of breath. The next time you do it, try to go a word or two or three further. Over time, you will be amazed at how far you can go without a breath. When I first started this myself, I could only do two to two and a half lines. After working on it for several months, I was able to do fourteen to sixteen lines. Many of my students have achieved similar results.