A breath mark is a symbol found in sheet music that indicates a place where a singer can take a breath in a way that won't take away from the performance or the lyrical delivery. Breath marks usually look like high-placed commas as shown above, or can be written as a checkmark to indicate a good place to take a breath.
Most of the time, breath marks are used in classical styles of music, but I like to use breath marks on lyric sheets on any genre when practicing songs that I've written or songs that have been written and need to be referenced by me in the studio. It especially comes in handy with new songs in phrases that I can easily forget the best place to breathe at.
Breath marks can also be extra helpful for rapping. I write and recite raps from time to time, especially in projects that call for a sing/rap style. While the word-heavy phrases I come up with can be fire, they can also be hard as hell to get through in a way that makes sense with my breathing.
Breath marks often are added to the end of a phrase, but sometimes the song you're singing would benefit from connecting a phrase, so it can be put in between two words where it won't sound too awkward. You never want to put a breath mark in the middle of a word, even if the word is spread out across many different notes.
A breath note will likely take away from the length of the note right before it, so you want to be sure you don't take away from an important note and/or word that really stands out in your song. You want to also be sure that the breath is quick; the pause should barely be noticeable to the listener when you're singing.
Breath marks in rap can easily have a need for placement way before the end of a phrase, so I like to put them in places that make sense with comma marks when I'm typing, and checkmarks when I'm writing by hand.
If you want to put a long pause in your song, consider using a pause known as the fermata as shown below. A fermata is a long pause that is added to add dramatic weight to a sung phrase, and often towards the end of a song.
Three other less common pauses are the general pause, the long pause, and caesura. While the first two are for longer pauses (the general pause and long pause are interchangeable), the caesura is a quick pause similar to a breath mark that doesn't necessarily need an actual breath. Sometimes, a caesura with a fermata symbol above it is used to signal a very long pause.
This blog was written by singer, songwriter and producer Yona Marie. Check out Yona’s latest music releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share the music if you like it!
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