According to the Guinness folks (the record-keepers, not the brewery), the longest continual vocal note was held for 1 minute, 43 seconds by Richard Fink IV. Wow. I can’t even hold my breath that long, I can’t imagine making noise too!
Hawaii’s own Raiatea Helm can crank up a long note as well. If you’ve heard her perform “Ālika” or “Kalama’ula”, you’ve heard that beautiful falsetto ringing like a bell. And she smiles. And doesn’t turn blue.
Oboe players take the cake, though. I remember one playing a tuning note for an orchestra that seemed to go on for a week. Using “circular breathing”, he was actually playing with trapped air (kind of like spitting it) while inhaling through his nose and then swapping from one technique to the other so smoothly that the note never stopped. It was actually kind of spooky.
Being able to hold that long whole note at the end of a song is a great thing, but how do you get there? There are a few things you can do to extend it a bit.
– Open your throat when you sing. For me, the best way to do it is to pretend I’m about to yawn. You can feel the pipes open up and, the more you do it, the stronger those muscles will get.
– Posture, posture, posture. Straighten that spine and you can feel your chest broaden a little and you’re giving your diaphragm room to work. Try this; put your arms over your head with your hands about shoulder width apart. Do you feel your chest open up? Try to keep it that way when you put arms down. It’s a “feel” thing, but when you get it, you’ll know.
– Relax. Don’t clench things, especially your lower jaw. If your back is tense, bad things are happening so give a little shake and loosen things up.
So is this about getting better at holding your breath? Not really. Free divers use several techniques, beginning with purging the lungs and hyperventilating. So here’s the problem with that. You know that feeling you get when you hold your breath where you JUST HAVE TO BREATHE? That sensation isn’t from a lack of oxygen; it’s a reaction to the buildup of carbon dioxide. Hyperventilating boosts the oxygen content and reduces the CO2 and can fool you into thinking there’s still plenty of air left…when there isn’t. It’s referred to as “shallow water blackout” and it can make you very dead if you’re underwater. Not good. If you’re singing, you’re gonna get dizzy, also not good.
Controlled breathing is much, much more important than holding your breath and also a whole lot better for you. Get to know your lungs and diaphragm and how things feel when you have it right and practice, practice, practice!
Oh, if anyone is interested, Mr. Fink sang a Bb.