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Too much Yawning?

Dear colleagues,

My sincerest thanks to the many who answered my query regarding children
yawning while singing. I was amazed at the number of responses, especially
during this brief time of respite before we are all 'back in the saddle
again.' Much helpful information was sent in, as you can see below my
original posting.

Happy New Year!
Douglas Bachorik

Original posting:

Dear colleagues,

An early Happy New Year to all from the the warm and sunny Philippine

A friend recently asked for help regarding an unusual problem. When his
children are singing in a concert or church service, they start yawning
while they are singing. The problem does not stem from sleep deprivation.
I searched the Choralist archive, but did not find anything about this. My
hunch is that it is a problem with shallow breathing.

If you have any experience with this problem I would appreciate your sharing
your wisdom.

Douglas Bachorik

Responses -

I'd say you're on target with the shallow breathing or something
similar. Kids aren't used to using breath control and it can cause yawning.

Hope this helps.

My guess is that they are singing with an open throat - which is a GOOD
thing - and they are a little tired. Open-throat singing is a pre-yawn
format. I do it myself whenever I'm a bit tired and I sing. If they
open their throats just a bit too much it goes into a yawn - and you
know how it is, when one person's contagious.

I would tell the choir director to back off a little with whatever he's
doing to encourage an open-throat.

Just my guess...Hope it helps,

On the contrary, I believe the issue is that they are opening wide while
singing, resulting in a stimulus to yawn. This is a good thing! They just
need to control the stimulus-response.

I'm not a doctor, but I am speaking from my experience... Try it
yourself if you open wide, and hold the tongue deep as if producing a
vocal tone, and I'm pretty sure you'll feel the urge to yawn!

I have always understood the reason for yawning was lack of oxygen, not
sleep deprivation. So I feel that your assumption is correct, they're not
breathing deep enough.

My singers and I have also experienced this problem particularly with
Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium. I think it is induced with raising the soft
palatte, opening the throat, and having a "sensation of yawning" before we
start singing. When I talk about this technique to the class, lots of
people begin to yawn. Interesting. I would like to hear what others have
to say about this.

Just as a side note, my orchestra teacher coworker has had the problem of
yawning while reading aloud, and says she has done this from childhood
whenever she had to read in class. She still does it in Sunday school when
it is her turn to read a bible passage!

Actually, yawning while singing is not necessarily a bad sign.

My voice teacher once told me that raising the soft palate to sing will
sometimes trigger a yawn in young singers because the sensations are
similar. It passes as they get more experience in singing.

That happens to me!

Over the years I've developed a theory and I would appreciate having my
theory either bashed or supported by the responses you get.

One of the things we tell our students is that we want a space in the
back of the throat. One illustration often used to illustrate the
feeling of a space is the feeling you get at the beginning of a yawn.
You know the feeling of stretching of those muscles (I'm having to yawn
right now as I write!). Every time I describe that feeling in a
rehearsal, students begin to yawn. The stretching of those muscles
seems to cause that response. When I sing, those same feelings are
generated. I've just developed those muscles to the point that they
seldom result in a yawn while in performance. My students have not yet
reached that level.

I have absolutely no scientific research to back that up, but that is my
primary theory. I've also wondered about the amount of oxygen that
actually gets to the brain, which goes to your thoughts about shallow
breathing. Perhaps there's a combination of these factors.

I'll be interested in reading other responses.

Your friend may not like this reply, but I have found that when people (of
any age!) mouth the words instead of really sing, the yawning is as
inevitable as taxes in April.

Of course I can't say whether this situation exists in his choir, but it
may. I just offer it as information in case it does.

I am a retired public school teacher of 37 years and a church musician for
even longer. Yes, children (through high school age) initially yawn. I
even had high school athletes, in choir, do this. I found that through
warmups, especially those involving formulation of vowels, I was asking them
to use the mouth in ways that they did not normally do. Especially the "ah"
sounds. Once they get used to using these techniques in their singing
(rehearsal and performance) this quickly stopped.

Nothing scientific here, just my experience.

HI, my two cents:

Fact (if memory serves): yawning is caused by a need
for oxygen, and is accompanied by involuntary deep

So, your hunch makes sense about shallow breathing.
But also, maybe the kids need to breathe more often.
Maybe they are being asked to hold phrases longer than
is really physiologically desirable.

He could also try breath onset exercises, which
develop quick efficient breathing in coordination with
efficient voice production. See below.

1. Establish a balanced vocal onset.
a. hard glottal /a/, followed by
b. loud, airy /Ha/, followed by
c. balanced onset: /a/ with "imaginary h."

2. When 1c above is learned, proceed to exercises such
as these. Every type character = 8th note pulse at
quarter = ca. 72. Numbers = scale degrees. a vowel. Keep steady rhythm (or you can take the
arpeggio out of rhythm to make it really vocally free.
I think kids need the pulse/division structure).

a-a-aaa- 1354321 (up by m2)

Millions of variations are possible. See R. Miller's
THE STRUCTURE OF SINGING for the fullest development
of this approach.

Are you sure they're not just singing correctly? An arched soft pallete
tends to make me yawn quite a bit. If have them sing through
the yawn.

The Vocalist group at Yahoo may have some posts in its archives that would
be of help to you. If not, I'll bet that you'll get plenty of excellent
advice from the voice teachers and singers who subscribe to that list!

Actually it is quite the opposite!

When you sing, you should ne lifting the paliate so that there is an excess
of space thorughout the oral area, and just like singing, a yawn is jsut
that! thus the reason why most choirs use a "yawn-sigh", when the choir
sighs using a decending pitch pattern, from the upper region to the lower
region of the voice.

The yawn is an indicator that the paliate is lifted, and that space is being
created...i yawn more while singing in choir more then anywhere else,
anytime else!

The only thing that occurrs to me is that the proper open throat
position for singing IS a "pre-yawn" feeling. I regularly use that
with my singers, to help them open up the sound. So if this is
actually the cause, it might be a sign that they are using correct
and healthy technique!

Doug & Ruth Bachorik

Box 120 - U. P.
1101 Quezon City
Metro Manila

Dear colleagues,

A few more responses came in after I posted a compilation. Thanks to the
added respondents and hope the compilation will be a help to all.

Douglas Bachorik

I have found that if the singer does not combine expanded rib cage breathing
with a lifted "yawn" sigh, they will yawn. This is because they are not
enough oxygen...they have to do both.
I suspect it's a good thing. Their throat muscles are relaxingas they
shouldand it sets off the yawn reflex. Don't discourage it.
This is probably due to a buildup of CO2 due to improper breathing, not
just shallow breathing. If the singers are lifting their shoulders when
inhaling then the diaphragm is not expelling the air and new air is
layered over old CO2 laden air.
I yawned often as a child singer and got some interesting ridicule for the
problem. With me it was always shallow breathing, or better yet, not
when I needed to. I haven't done it in years. If it's a problem with the
entire group then he/she should do some major tummy breathing exercises, if
only one or two then it sounds like a one-on-one kind of thing.

Doug & Ruth Bachorik

Box 120 - U. P.
1101 Quezon City
Metro Manila
on October 21, 2007 10:00pm
It is not shallow breathing, although that may be happening. Singing AH will initiate a yawn, if sung properly, and dwelt upon, or not accustomed to.