I’m just embarking on a PhD specialising in breathing methodology. My intention is to draw together the disparate, scientific research with a view to highlighting commonalities. I’ve decided to blog my research journey as a way of motivating myself to study. I’m also hoping that it will enable me to remain ordered.

Research conducted by Iwarsson et al (1998) is premised on the belief that breathing strategies can be used to modify phonation. This is a widely held assumption within singing pedagogy and clinical voice therapy and this study seeks to examine the evidence behind this notion.

The study draws on a number of research studies including Fink and Demarest (1978), Brancatisano et al (1983) and Stanescu et al (1972) to establish the link between variations in lung volume and phonation.  The study proposes that lung volume impacts on the degree of glottal abduction and length of the closed phase of the vocal folds.

The study examined 18 males and 14 females aged between the ages of 21 – 54. None of them had experienced voice training and none of them were singers. These subjects were deliberately chosen so as to eradicate the possibility of trained behaviour that ‘may conceal mechanical effects of breathing behaviour on phonation.’ (1998:p 425). During the study, they were asked to phonate at different pitches, at different lung volumes with varying degrees of vocal loudness. During the inhalation, all subjects were asked to expand their abdominal wall. It was argued that such an expansion ‘is a safe sign of lowering the diaphragm.’ (1998: p425)

The results indicated that a decrease in lung volume resulted in an increase in the closed quotient and a subsequent decrease in peak to peak flow amplitude and glottal leakage. Conversely, with higher lung volumes, there was a lower closed quotient and a greater degree of glottal leakage. ‘ This suggests that the overall glottal abduction force is greater at higher lung volumes than lower lung volumes.’ (1988: p430)

Although all participants were asked to expand their abdominal wall, the researchers noted that the behaviour of the abdominal wall varied greatly between subjects when phonation was initiated. This makes it difficult to draw any conclusions in relation to breathing strategies employed.

Nevertheless, the results of the study may have implications for both singing pedagogy and clinical voice treatment. With regards to the latter, the researchers suggest that hyperfunctional voices may benefit from phonation after a deep inhalation whereas this may not be beneficial to hypofunctional voices. Presumably, this relates to singing pedagogy as breathy voices would benefit from lower lung volumes and pressed tones would benefit from higher lung volumes. It is also interesting that the study was conducted with untrained voices and therefore may prove to more be relevant to the training of amateur singers as lower lung volumes seem to enable a longer closed phase of the vocal folds.

Interestingly, the researchers cite a study by Shipp et al (1983) who conducted a similar study with highly trained singers and discovered that adduction was greater at higher lung volumes. In other words it found the opposite to Iwarsson et al (1998). This can perhaps be explained by the lengthy training that enables highly skilled singers to engage other musculature to compensate. ‘It seems reasonable to suggest that singers more carefully compensate for changes of mechanical conditions than non-singers.’ (431) This perhaps suggests that different breathing strategies should be employed for trained singers and untrained singers.


Jenny Iwarsson, Monica Thomasson and Johan Sundberg (1998) Journal of Voice. Vol 12, No 4, pp 424 -33. Singular Publishing Group.

Cited in the above:

Brancatisano T, Collett P W, Engel LA. Respiratory movement of the vocal folds. J Appl Physiol 1983;54 1269-76.

Fink BR, Demarest RJ. Laryngeal biomechanics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978: 15 – 43

Shipp T, Morissey P, Haglund S. Laryngeal muscle adjustment for sustained phonation at lung volume extremes. In Proceedings of the Stockholm Music Acoustics Conference 1983. Stockholm: Royal Swedish Academy of Music (1985);46 (1):269-77

By Debbie Winter

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