J. P. (Jørgen Peter) Müller.

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water swimmers should acquire the habit of the more hygienic nasal breath-

Beginners often feel out of breath, although they think they have kept
the mouth wide open. They should endeavour to open the mouth as wide
as they comfortably can, or even a little more, in order to get sufficient air.
It is also a common error to raise the head, or to bend it sideways, in order
to keep the mouth clear of the water. It should only be turned, the neck
being twisted. If a swimmer doing the breast-stroke bends his head back-
wards to inhale, or when doing the side or overarm-stroke, he lies on his
right side and bends his head to the left, thereby raising it above the sur-
face, his legs will immediately sink and the pace suffer. In the crawl it is,
of course, still more important not to raise the head, because the very prin-
ciple of this stroke is to keep the feet above the water, acting against the

Swimming under water should only be performed by strong and well-
trained individuals, because it is an enormous strain upon the heart and
lungs. Just before plunging, the lungs should be filled by a full breath after
my method, and the air is only gradually exhaled in small quantities at a
time while swimming.


For Oarsmen and Sctiflcrs.

Some readers will deem it strange that I draw a comparison between
two such apparently dissimilar sports as rowing and speed-skating. But
in some points both of them are specially healthy forms of exercise, because
they are ordinarily performed in fresh, open air, and because it comes quite
naturally to breathe regularly and deeply during the performance. The
reason for this is that the time of the movements in rowing and in speed-
skatiQg is not only generally regular, but also of about the same length; that
is, the double movement of a rowing-stroke (the pulling and the feather-
ing) wiU, in most cases, last just as long as two strides (one with each leg)
on the skates. And both the complete rowing-stroke and the double
skating-stride will, again, last just as long as an ordinary complete respira-
tion (consisting of inhalation and exhalation). Furthermore, if the time
of the movements is accelerated, the harder work of the greater speed will
naturally require an exactly corresponding increase in the measure of the
respiration, because more air is needed. I think it is impossible to name a
third sport or game in which the movements correspond so precisely with a
convenient breath. In all other cases the movements are either much
quicker or much slower, or quite irregular.

Another resemblance is in the work of the legs: a sudden and ener-
getic pushing away of the body's weight, using the whole flat of the foot as
basis. Certainly, in the one case, only one leg is used at a time, in the other,
both legs simultaneously. But it is a fact that muscles well trained in one
of these sports are highly useful for the other. Further, the big back
muscles (latissimus dorsi and erector spinae) are very much used in rowing
and in speed-skating. The lower part of the back is generally the only
point where beginners in both sports suffer from swollen and sore muscles.
But the consequence is that back-muscles well trained by rowing will much
more easUy stand the strain of speed-skating, and vice versa.

I have raced in all sorts of boats for over twenty-eight years. For
more than ten years I stroked the Scandinavian Champion Fours. I am
sure the main reason for our continual success was that I had taught my
crew how to breathe while rowing. And, every time we were lying in wait
for the signal to start, the last thing I asked my comrades to remember was
to breathe deeply both then and also during the first strokes. I presume
that our competitors must have held their breath from sheer nervousness
during the first five or six strokes, with the result that, before half a minute
had passed, they were out of breath, and could not recover it for a few min-
utes, by which time we had usually got ahead by one or two clear lengths.
Besides which I made another rule, in order to be sure that both lungs and
heart were in good working order just at the moment of starting. While
our competitors were always very careful to economise their strength by
paddling out to the starting post, I used to set a rather quick stroke, put-
ting a little more than half power into it. And I always went a few hundred
yards past the starting-post before I turned; and we then made one or, if



the first failed, two starts in the direction of the course. Then we rested
awhile, preparing ourselves and applying resin to the pahns of our hands.
I was careful that this rest should not last so long as to deprive our bodies of
the warmth and our lungs of the elasticity gained by the smart row to the
starting-post. If we were a little too early, I would, therefore, make one
more start, only five strokes, of course. These preliminary short starts be-
fore the real one, and under the very same conditions of wind or stream, are
very useful. I think most rowing athletes have experienced that, when
practising starts, the second or the third will always be much more success-
ful than the first. I have only once started as member of a crew of Enghsh-
men. It w^as in a match for scratch eights on Boxing-day, igi2. We
paddled up against a very hard stream, and had to race back with the
stream. I, therefore, recommended our stroke, an old Diamond Sculls
winner, to make a trial start with the stream. I think it would have proved
useful, especially for people who had never before rowed together. But he
did not do this, so I suppose it is not the custom here in England.

Now, as to combining the time of the stroke with the measure of res-
piration, I make it a general rule that only one complete respiration should
be taken during' a complete stroke (puU and recovery), when the time is
slow and no great exertion employed, and also when the time is very quick;
whereas two respirations may be taken when full force is used without the
stroke being quick. The reason is that the requisite amount of air depends
more on the force applied than on the rate of strokes. If a quick stroke
lacks energy it will not give so much speed nor cost so much effort as a slow
stroke with a more energetic puU. What, in this connection, should be
deemed a "quick" or "slow" stroke depends, of course, a good deal on the
kind of boat. For instance, in a sculling "best boat" a time of less than 24
may be reckoned as slow, in a "four" the limit would be rather about 28,
and in an eight as much as 30 or 32.

Then there is the question of when to inhale during the stroke. The
main principle should be to perform inhalation when the trunk swings back-
wards, and exhalation w^hen it bends to the front. Some special styles
necessitate small deviations, but the principle is generally correct. The
reason is that a free position in the backward swing favours the abdominal
part of the full inhalation; while the bent or even crouched position in the
fonvard swing favours the corresponding part of the exhalation. I must
admit that I have both seen and heard the exactly opposite method recom-
mended. As an argument, it w'as propounded that the hard water work
was performed during the backward swing, hence it was wrong to inhale
simultaneously. It was much better to do it during the easy work of
feathering! Of course, I do not agree to this, but I know very well how
this misunderstanding arose: I have met scores of athletes and sportsmen
who paid attention only to inhalation, scarcely realising the existence of
exhalation, which in reality represents — or ought to do — quite as great
amount of physical work as inhalation. The above-mentioned simple rule
of the distribution of breath in the stroke is illustrated in Fig. 49 and by the


curve A in Fig. 54. It should be applied in light rowing gigs and outriggers
(pair-oars, foujs and eights), always when the rate of stroke is quick, and
also when paddling at a slow pace. But if, in these boats, a hard pull is
combined with a slow stroke, an extra inhalation should be taken in the

_._, ^HAL AT /O/V. - — >'— ^^_-.

~-> N

FlG= 49.


- ^.


Fig. 50.

Fig. si.

middle of the quiet recovery, while, of course, an ordinary inhalation is
taken during the short vigorous stroke (see Fig. 50 and curve B of Fig. 54) .
In very heavy rowing gigs, and in ordinary broad scuUing skiffs with
fixed seats, it is also recommended to take two respirations per stroke if full
speed is wanted. But here the extra inhalation should be taken during the
pull, because this is, by necessity, long and rather slow, whUe the recovery


is quick (see Fig. 51 and Curve C of Fig. 54). Still other modifications are
useful in sculling "best boats" when the modem style is apphed (as taught
by the best Enghsh professionals, Ernest Barry, \V. G. East, Bossie Phelps,
Bert Lee, Albany, and others). Fig. 52 and curve D of Fig. 54 show the
best way of respiring during a quick stroke with hard pulling, and always
when paddhng. As wiU be seen, here again, as in Fig. 49 (and curve A), we
have only one complete respiration to one stroke with its recovery, but the
chstribution is different, owing to the special style — of which the most con-



Fig. 53.

spicuous features are that the legs are fully straightened before the trunk is
swung back, and that, when feathering, the hands, arms and trunk are suc-
cessively swung forw-ards before the seat is moved and the legs folded. (As
the matter stands, I wiU not here give further practical details of this style,
nor theoretical arguments for its superiority, because I am not writing a
booklet about scuUing, but on breathing.) Fig. 53 and curve E show the
most correct manner of taking two breaths per stroke when this sculling
style is combined with a slow rate of stroke, but with full force. The next
best method — and much easier to learn — would here be to take one com-
plete breath during the puUing and one during the feathering (see curve F
of Fig. 54). AH these directions seem, perhaps, somewhat circumstantial.
But I assure you that each method is acquired with a week's practice, and


PULL IN WATER Arrows pointing upwards — Inhalation.
FEATHERING " " downwards — Exhalation.

Cur\^e B.

Curve C.

Curve F.
Fig. 54.


afterwards performed quite subconsciously. And please remember that a
regular, correct respiration signifies less waste of energy and, therefore,
greater stamina.

The air should, of course, as far as possible be drawn through the nose
alone. The Albar apparatus may be of good use, if not so serviceable as in
long-distance running, because, when the hands are engaged with the oar
or sculls, it is not easy to refix the apparatus should it get out of position,
which occasionally happens.


Singing and speaking are in a great measure physical work. It is,
therefore, obvious that the sounder and better developed the physique is,
the more advantageous will be the conditions for good singing and speak-
ing. And it is a matter of course that it is the strength and endurance of the
organs directly engaged during singing and speaking which is of the greatest
importance. Now, the air exhaled from the lungs being the productive
agent of the voice, it is clear that the lungs ought to be well-developed be-
fore singing is attempted. And the abdominal muscles being the most
important factor in controlling exhalation, and therewith the voice, aU
vocalists ought particularly to develop the strength, endurance and mo-
bility of these muscles. It is no wonder that most singing masters on the
Continent recommend — some masters even exact — that their pupils should
perform "My System" (15 Minutes' Daily Exercise), because they know
by experience that it is the best existing means of strengthening the ab-
dominal muscles. The exhaled air, controlled by strong and braced ab-
dominal muscles, can then be utilised at will for the sustaining of a very pro-
longed note, which can be kept at the same level of pitch and tone, or made
to swell or diminish according to requirements.

The lungs are also highly developed by "My System," and especially
by the "Breathing System " explained in the present booklet. AU would-be
singers and speakers ought, therefore, to practice it. My methods will be
found invaluable from the point of view of increasing the range of extensi-
biUty of the muscles of inspiration, thus rendering the chest more flexible.
The vital capacity does not depend upon the size of the chest, but upon the
mobiUty of the chest walls and the elasticity of the lungs, which are greatly
increased by my free and breathing exercises, and also by good sports (such
as rowing) , when performed with strict attention to proper breathing. It is
the difference between the circumference of the chest after a full inspira-
tion and after a deep exhalation which tells. I have met some of the
"strongest" weight-hfters in the world, who have yet died when about
forty years of age. They had a chest measurement of about 50 inches, but
an expansion of only ^ or i inch, whereas several famous singers or first-
class rowing men could show an expansion of 10 inches, even if their great-
est chest circumference be only 45 inches.

I have perused scores of English and German manuals on "The Art of
Breathing for Voice Production," or under similar titles. One advocated
special abdominal breathing; another only clavicular breathing; a third,
a lateral costal method; a fourth, respiration with the back; a fifth, a
hysterical female singing teacher, recommends deep sighs! and so on. All

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of which is nonsensical, and must have done a great amount of harm, di-
rectly or indirectly, by preventing students from learning a good method.
Even the London County Council's "Syllabus of Graduated Instruction
in Singing" is full of errors. Strange to tell, the only commonsense hints
I ever read about this matter are those given by a clergyman, namely, the
Rev. Chas. Gib,^ principal of the institute for teaching the "Gib System
of Vocal Training and Expression," lo, Hugh Street, Eccleston Square,
S. W.

It is obvious that, the more thoroughly the lungs, to begin with, are
filled with air, the greater the potential productive power of the voice will be,
and the longer and stronger the note produced. The best way of inhahng
while singing is that prescribed in "my complete breath," with the excep-
tion that it must always be performed quickly and through the mouth, and,
further, it is, of course, not always possible to rest the hands on the hips
(which position makes the raising of shoulders and upper chest easier).
The reason why the fuU breath must here be inhaled through the mouth is
not only that it can thus be performed very quickly, which is often neces-
sary, but it is really a mistake to inhale through the nose whilst singing, be-
cause the back of the tongue will then rise and partly close the throat, and
the note produced will take a nasal twang.

Exhalation, on the other hand, is, of course, performed quite other-
wise than in "my complete breath. " The elastic force of the expanded and
elevated chest should be held in check by the contracted, or rather braced,
abdominal muscles. Certainly it is impossible to prevent the ribs from
sinking somewhat at the moment when the abdominal muscles are con-
tracted. But after this the chest should be allowed to sink only gradually,
and the volume of air in the lungs can thus be controlled at will by the
momentary relaxation of the abdominal muscles, and can be emitted qiiickly
or slowly, forcibly or gently. Fig. 55 gives a front view and Fig. 56 a side
view of the right pose immediately after completed inhalation. The ab-
dominal wall is very slightly retracted, the muscles being only braced, not
drawn inwards, and the lower ribs fixed. I will take this opportunity of
pointing out that "drawing in" and "bracing" of the abdominal wall are
two quite different things. This wall may be voluntarily either relaxed or
braced in any position between the fully distended and the completely re-

It is, of course, important not to let the air escape all at once. If the
air is to be economised, compression must be continuous, and, until the
student has learnt how to do this automatically, he will never become a good
singer or speaker.

This method was used by the old Itahan singing masters for more than
150 years. But in 1855 it was rejected by the French author, Mandl, who,
in England, was followed by Lennox, Browne and Behnke. Mandl recom-
mended the abdominal method of breathing, in that he maintained that the

' Author of "Vocal Science and Art," and "The Art of Vocal Expression." — William Reeves,
London, W.C.



distending of the abdomen wovdd facilitate the "flattening" of the dia-
phragm and thereby increase the capacity of the lungs.

After all, I am sure that the old Itahans were right, only their method
has been misunderstood. I do not think that they advocated contraction
of the abdominal waU during inhalation. It is more hkely than not that
they ad\dsed contraction only immediately after inhalation. Personal prac-
tice wih show to anyone that it is quite possible to brace the abdominal
muscles after a complete inhalation, letting the ribs sink a little, and even
to retract the abdominal wall considerably -s^-ithout letting the sUghtest
amount of air escape. It will only be compressed, but that is just what is
necessary for the production of a good note — that the pressure of the inside
air is stronger than the atmospherical pressure. When the right moment
arrives, the glottis opens, and the sound produced is louder on account of
the greater density of the air, owing to its compression.

It is impossible to over-estimate the importance of attacking the vowel
sounds easily and accurately. This is best accomplished when: —

(i) The glottis is first quietly, not tightly, closed, so that no air can
escape. Hence air is not wasted, but converted into sound.

(2) The air is compressed below the vocal cords.

This compression of the air gives volmne and intensity to the voice.
Compression means economy and control of breath.

Students -nill do well to remember that this volume, intensity, economy
and control are not obtained if the vocal cords approximate when inspira-
tion has already begun; for this attack, to use the current expression, "on
the breath, " means vocalising on a colimin of improperly compressed air.

(3) WTien the vibrations are to be begun the muscles should be re-
laxed to the requisite degree; this is a point that needs carefully thinking
out and appl>'ing.

(4) At the critical moment the vocal cords are gently parted asunder,
and the air is released. In this way a "neat articvilation of the glottis" can
be acquired, that gives a precise and clean start to a sound, and enables a
singer, as ^Manuel Garcia put it, "to pitch the sound at once on the note
itself, and not to slur up to it or feel for it."

All singers and speakers who desire to be heard at a distance should
employ this method of attack.

No cough or straining is excited, and no jerking with the abdominal
muscles must be permitted.

Perfection in this most important and fundamental exercise is attained
when it can be performed with the most gentle and dehcate precision, in
fact, when the attack is produced automatically.

On January 15th, 1910, a conference was held at the University of
London, and a sub-committee was appointed to inquire into the present-
day knowledge of the voice and speech training, in order to ascertain the
scientific basis upon which speech training should be conducted, and what
agreement exists in first principles.

The sub-committee undertook to investigate normal healthy breathing


in relation to speech. With consent of Dr. Pasteur, who acted as chairman
on the sub-committee, the report is pubKshed in the British Medical Journal
of August 30th; the reason given for its publication being its likelihood to
be of interest to medical men, teachers, and other persons.

The committee appear to have taken great pains to describe ideal
breathing for the voice; and add that such ideal breathing should bring
every part of the limgs into activity.

But, unfortunately, the method of breathing advocated by the com-
mittee makes it a physical impossibility to bring every part of the lungs into

For, if there is to be a full inflation of the lungs, the chest must be fully
expanded in its three diameters; but if there is to be — as the committee
suggest — "the hardening of the abdominal walls which checks the outward
bulging," it is impossible to expand the lower ribs. There must be no
"check," no "hardening nor any dra-^dng inwards of the abdominal wall,"
if the lungs are to be inflated at their bases, which is most important, as
the lungs are broadest here. The correct method of breathing when the
best vocal eft"ects are desired, to say nothing about healthy breathing, is the
concerted and harmonious action of all, and not part, of the respiratory

It is admitted on all sides that consiimption is associated with all forms
of poor breathing, and it is a terrible thing to contemplate that inadequate
methods of breathing are daily being taught in our schools; and especially
so when one generation of correct breathers would reduce consumption to a

It wearies and sickens one to think that the great masses of humanity
are cut off, in early childhood and ripe manhood, by a disease which can be
minimised if the whole mechanism of respiration were employed. Close
observation and long experience have proved to me that the majority of
my feUow-men breathe superficially.

Just in order to counter-balance the eventual damage caused by mouth-
breathing during singing, it is for vocaKsts of the highest importance that
they acquire the habit of exclusive nasal breathing during physical exercises,
and always in daily life when they are not cultivating their talent.

Finally, I think it would be beneficial to say something about damaged
voices, their restoration and development.

^Medical authorities are constantly teUing us that many throat troubles
are due rather to improper production of the voice than to actual over-use
of the vocal organs. This statement is fully substantiated by damaged
voices heard in pulpits, at the Bar, on the stage, on concert and speaking
platforms, and amongst choristers.

I may also mention the cases of Mr. Lloyd George and Sir Edward
Carson, both of whom at the time of writing have had to retire from their
political duties to rest their injured voices. But perhaps my readers wiU
not thank me for advising them as to the proper care of their vocal organs;
there are many who are of opinion that we hear enough of politicians as it is,


and that to be the means of helping them to give even greater performances
of oratorical effort will be to inflict injury on a long-suffering pubHc.

The usual treatment prescribed for the damaged voice is rest, which re-
sults only in temporary improvement. The real remedy is the restoration
and development of the fundamental conditions of voice, namely, the sym-
pathetic co-ordination of breathing with a simultaneous passivity and open-
ing of the throat. The presence of these conditions means ease and natural-
ness; the absence of them, constriction. The mastery of this fundamental
co-ordination must be the first step towards the restoration of the voice,
"Nasal twang," " throatiness, " the vicious vibrato, can only be eradicated
by sympathetic relaxation of the tone passage, co-ordinated by breath con-
trol. We must all admit that the human voice is not a machine, but forms
part of our own organism. Man is a trinity, and the true method of re-
storing and developing the voice recognises this triple unity. For it can-
not be denied that our voices are dependent on the body, and that body and
the voice depend upon the actions of the mind. Any attempt to restore
the damaged voice on a purely physiological basis is to court failure; the
most technical exercise should be made as psychical as possible; and in
singing vocal exercises the faculty of imagination and feeling should be
aroused. It is never wise to draw too much attention to fatdts, this tends
to deepen self-consciousness, and delay the restoration of normal conditions.
In the case of singers who have "breaks" in their voices, as well as with

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Online LibraryJ. P. (Jørgen Peter) MüllerMy breathing system → online text (page 7 of 8)