Oskar Guttmann’s Breathing Exercises

Concerning the breath and much more besides, there is so much that is excellent in Oscar Guttmann’s ‘Gymnastik der Stimme’ that I can do no better than to refer to it and recommend it strongly to the attention of all earnest students.

Lilli Lehmann, How to Sing, 1899/English Version 1914.

Lilli Lehmann approved of Oskar Guttmann’s book ‘Gymnastics for the Voice’, 1884.

The beginning point of Guttmann’s gymnastics is to stand in base position.

Base Position for Oskar Guttmann’s Breathing Exercises
  1. Once in the Base Position, stretch upwards so that your ribs raise. The raised rib position is essential while singing.
  2. Stretch in different directions (refer to Guttmann’s book or watch the video below). Classical singers should not stoop, nor should they stand too rigid.
  3. Put your hand on your abs. Feel how your abs move out when you breathe normally.
  4. Put a hand on your lower ribs. Feel how your abs and lower ribs move out when you take a slightly bigger breath.
  5. Put a hand on your upper ribs. Feel how your abs and upper ribs move out when you take a good sized breath.
  6. Take a slightly larger breath. Now your abs, ribs and back expand.
  7. Don’t breath high. If your chest and shoulders are moving up and down when you breath in and out then you are breathing too high. Breathe low. Repeat 4, 5 and 6 until you can recognise the sensations of breathing low and wide. Not high and up. An example of breathing too high is to watch the song ‘Never Enough’ in the move The Greatest Showman. The actress’s shoulders move up and down. You don’t want to look like that when you are a serious classical singer.
  8. Practice suspension. Suspension of the rib cage in the outward position is critical for breath support. (I have isolated this exercise in the second video below ). Take a small breath to begin with and suspend for 5 seconds, increasing to a minute over time. It is such a nice feeling to feel your ribs outwards. You will feel big and strong.
  9. Practice the ‘Happy Surprise Breath’ (refer to Lucie Manen’s book ‘The Art of Singing’ or watch my demonstration below). This breath is inaudible. Classical Singers must take inaudible breaths. It is a matter of good taste. We don’t want to hear a beautiful vocal line disrupted by loud gasps. Save loud breathing for a special effect.
  10. Bring all of the above technique’s together by practicing ‘s’ with a lean on the chest. The lean on the chest is important for breath efficiency. You must not send too much air through your vocal chords. They don’t need it! Most people take in too much air and push. You must concentrate on efficiency. Maintain the outward position of the ribs as you ‘sssssssss’. Your abs will be working like crazy. This will be very important to you when you sing. For example, this is an instruction by Hermann Klein when singing the Great Scale.

Remember, it is not the outpouring of breath that secures increased volume, but the gradually augmenting pressure brought to bear upon the clear, pure tone itself, this pressure being sustained by the combined action of the contracted diaphragm, the raised lower ribs, and the support of the whole abdominal region. The chest is not allowed to “fall” during the entire duration of the note.

Hermann Klein, The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method based upon the Famous School of Manuel Garcia, page 34.

I suggest you refer to Guttmann’s book, but, here is a 6 minute breathing warm up video using his ideas.

Warm up/practice your breath support every day before singing a note. (I didn’t demonstrate Guttmann’s sit ups because of the restraints of filming with a tripod. However, core work is essential for singers. I use the Les Mills Online which contains core training in every class).

Full 6 minute breathing warm up for Classical Singers based on Oskar Guttmann’s ‘Gymnastics for the Voice’ 1884.

I have isolated this Guttmann exercise for you below because suspension of the ribs outwards is such an important part of classical singing. You need to practice this in isolation. Train those muscles!

Breathe in through the nose, suspend for 5 seconds and then exhale through the mouth. As you suspend (“hold your breath”) take the moment to feel the sensation of your rib cage. The muscles controlling this suspension are the muscles you need to develop. Over time, increase the suspension from 5 seconds to 10 seconds, 15 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds, 40 seconds, 50 seconds and 60 seconds.

Demonstration of the suspension of the rib cage outwards. Developing your muscles for classical singing!
The ‘Happy Surprise Breath’ as described in Lucie Manen’s ‘The Art of Singing’
Lilli Lehmann, my point of reference for my studies.
Good example of breathing too high. Shoulders and chest moving up and down. Great for this movie but not in the real classical singing world.

Published by Deborah Wai Kapohe

I am a classical singer and guitarist. I have created a project called 'The Lilli Lehmann Project'. The project, lasting from 2020 until 2023, aims to refresh my voice and prepare me to be a singing teacher. The scope of the project is that I am studying Lilli Lehmann's singing book, bibliography, recordings and her reviews, as well as other historical vocal pedagogy. I have chosen this platform in order to blog about my discoveries, demonstrate techniques and exercises, and perform pieces of music. I have done so because I wish to be transparent. I think that if a student is prepared to learn from me then I should stand up to public scrutiny.

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