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When the vocal folds come apart (abduction) and air is able to rush through without helping the folds vibrate, we get some turbulence, and that is expressed as noise - breathiness. Adduction is the opposite, where the folds are pressed more together.
The state of adduction vs abduction is called closure.
- folds further apart - your vocal folds get taken away from eachother by aliens
- folds closer together - the aliens add your vocal folds back together
- the amount of air that’s used in speech vs the amount of air that gets let through
- low closure = breathy, abducted
In terms of closure, higher being more closure:
- full closure, glottal stop, no air getting through
- pressed phonation and creak, hyperadduction
- slight adduction used to add brightness
- flow phonation, balanced closure
- darkening abduction (think DJ announcer voice)
- overblown, airplaning
- no closure, just breathing / whisper
If we add too much closure we get hyperadduction.
If we add too little closure we get breathiness.
Effects of breathiness
Apart from sounding whisper-like and being slightly out of place, breathiness can hide vocal weight (which is not a good thing) and makes it harder to train most characteristics. It also darkens the voice, as seen below.
Examples of different levels of airflow and closure
We want to avoid sliding to a glottal stop since it encourages FVF closure, but we can start at a glottal stop and speak from that. Normally, we use semi soft onsets. Aspirate onsets encourage breathy phonation, soft onsets encourage flow phonation, and hard onsets slightly encourage adducted / non-breathy phonation.
Simply having a slightly louder attack on the start of a sound can get us a hard onset. Try saying “ah” a few times, starting at “ha” and being breathy, then eventually giving the attack more power until the beginning of the sound is slightly louder than the rest.
Humming tends to very slightly encourage less breathiness when left to become relaxed and passive. We can use a hum and make it as light as possible, imitating a sinewave. At this point, we should be in a low airflow, adducted state and therefore be less breathy.
We can go into a hum, then make it light, then come out of the hum into speech. Often, this will help when the breathiness is not yet a strong habit.
This is a common way to change any behaviour. We can start in our neutral position or trying to go the way we want slightly, then intentionally make a voice more breathy for example, then slide it back the way we came. Often we can end up less breathy than when we started.
If we repeat this process many times, we can add layers of decreased breathiness. The goal is to develop enough control to modify it during speech at will, so it’s a good idea to say a word or phrase in three steps and then speak:
- at default (which will probably be slightly breathy)
- very breathy
- go into speech
We can also practice doing this mid-sentence by saying something like this: (breathy non-breathy)
- The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog to fetch its dinner.
It’s very important, as with any exercise but especially when dealing with closure, to not add effort in this exercise.
YouTube - click to load the iframe
Since creak (not fry / M0) is a relaxed, adducted, low airflow configuration, we can use it to start non breathy and then add the slightest bit of air to come out of creak into flow phonation.