I’ve probably seen all of the unconscious avoidance “techniques” that students apply when singing (I probably did them myself before I trained classically!). Breathiness is one of the most common and what I’ll talk about here today. When singers sound breathy, it’s because:
• They are letting breath out too quickly • they have no control of the diaphragm • It’s also, I think, a way of backing off from the perception of "high" notes (which mostly aren’t high at all as breathy notes make lower notes sound as though they’re higher!).
Singers try to unconsciously avoid higher notes all the time of course due to:
• sheer panic! • lack of belief that they can sing higher notes • not knowing how to access the top of their voice • lack of breath • lack of knowledge of their actual vocal range
I’m not criticising the majority of singers for being breathy as most are just doing their best. However, I’m not quite as understanding when it comes to professional singers as surely if you’re doing something for a living, you would want to ensure that you look after the tools of your trade. Indeed, if I didn’t look after my voice, it would probably be letting me down by now.
Taylor Swift (and remember Dido?) are very breathy. So much so, that when doing Taylor Swift’s song “Safe and Sound” with the choir last term, we actually coined the phrase “doing a Taylor”!
Have a listen anyway. You’ll need to wait until the chorus to get the full “Taylor” effect!
As a slight addendum, I'd like to add that occasionally I think it's fine to purposefully use breathiness to convey an atmosphere, but there's a big difference in knowingly doing this on occasion compared to doing it as a matter of course!