How to Breathe for Powerful Singing

Breathing.

It’s pretty important – you need it to stay alive.

In singing, it’s just as important. Well, it’s not a life and death matter, but a solid breathing technique is the foundation of healthy and strong vocalization.

A Quick Review of the basics

Let’s rehash some of the basics.

Sound is produced by air passing through the vocal chords and causing them to vibrate.

The expansion of the rib cage allows the lungs to fill with air, like a balloon. A balloon loses it’s air as soon as the resistance (= person blowing air into it) removes their mouth. A rib cage has the useful advantage of supporting muscles. These provide resistance that stops/slows the outflow of air. That’s pretty useful for us singers :).

breathing

The muscles that support the movement of the lungs (intercostal, diaphragm, pelvic to name a few) control the contraction of the lungs. Resistance in these muscles allows air to pass out of the lungs either slowly or quickly.

The goal of healthy breathing is to control the expiration (= flowing out) of air with these muscles. This achieves the following:

– An even & consistent tone. You know, the difference between a warble and a solid, strong voice comes to mind.

– The regulation of air flow also allows more air to be allocated for higher frequency sounds, resulting in solid, rounded high notes.

– It facilitates the ability to sing sustained notes. This is because air is released in a controlled manner instead of all at once.

All in all, healthy breathing is both essential for both basic and advanced singing.

Let’s get to the exercises then!

What are the three breathing exercises that will make you sing like a beast?

#1 The straw

Imagine you are sucking on a straw. Take in a breath slowly (maybe 2-4 seconds) and then breathe out for as long as possible. For both the in and out breath, shape your mouth like a you are sucking on a straw. Take care not to hold or tighten your jaw; rather shape your lips and keep your jaw relaxed throughout.

#2 The Gulp

Put your hands on the sides of your rib cage. Take a quick breath in through your mouth, almost like you are gulping air. Feel your rib cage expand. Hold your rib cage open for 5 seconds. You should feel your lower back and lower abdominal muscles working to keep your ribs expanded. You should not feel your shoulders or chest rise. (Don’t clench them down though!) Then exhale in a controlled manner for about 5 seconds, or 10 seconds if you find this easy. You should try to release the air as slowly as possible by keeping your rib cage expanded.

#3 Intermittent Straw

Everything we said in #1 applies here, but on the out breath we are going to break it up. We will exhale in as many groups of 2-second releases of air. Take a short 1 second break in between each one.

Example:

Take in a breath slowly (maybe 2-4 seconds).

Then breathe out for 2 seconds.

Hold your breath for 1 second.

Then breathe out for 2 seconds.

Hold your breath for 1 second…

(Keep going until you just can’t anymore.)

How do these breathing exercise actually help your singing?

Let’s take a look at why these exercises are so critical for strong, supported singing.

I’ve often seen Voice Teachers demonstrate breathing exercises without relating them to how they actually helps your singing. Let’s do that right away!

#1 The Straw

The point of this exercise is help with your muscular stamina. Sustaining a long exhalation will allow you to sing longer phrases.

breathing

The ‘ooo’ vowel

To see how this works, do the exercise but instead of exhaling with just air, now use the shape of the mouth (‘ooo’ vowel) to actually sing an ‘ooo’ vowel. Do it for as long as possible.

Performing the breathing exercise primes your muscles for this type of sustained singing. You’ll find it easier to sing sustained notes with regular practice.

#2 The Gulp

This exercise allows for the quick intake of air that is essential for any type of singing. The best breathing doesn’t come from a massive slow intake of air. It comes from quick, effective breaths that take in enough air, but not too much.

The Holding of the rib cage develops resistance that is key to controlled singing, where air is not released too quickly. Instead of just exhaling, do this: Sing ‘Caaaaa’ or ‘Laaaaa’. Or any consonant with an Ah vowel. You’ll be singing from a place of diaphragmatic control. You’ll feel the support muscles engage throughout the exercise.

Bonus exercise: Repeat the exercise by taking a quick gulp of air as soon as you finish the singing/exhalation 5 second section. If done right, you’ll be surprised at how effective this is and that you’ll have enough air for the entire exercise (5 + 5 seconds = 10 seconds)!

#3 Intermittent Straw

The goal here is to develop stamina with an element of control. We’re trying to release the same amount of air is in exercise #1 but just break it up using our breathing muscles. This allows us to be conscious of how much to give each part of a phrase. A phrase can be defined in this context, as what you are singing on one breath.

To feel this in practice, inhale then sing the phrase “Happy birthday To You” from the song. If you don’t know this song, then pick any phrase from your favorite song that has 4 or 5 words in it.

Pause for a half second at the following Breaks, whilst holding your ribs steady and not releasing air:

Happy | Birthday| To | You

Take a solid breath and repeat.

It’s hard! And that’s fine, because controlled singing at first is challenging. Don’t worry, it will get easier with time as your body and breathing apparatus adapt.

Rounding Up

Breathing well is the foundation of healthy singing. Building the muscular stamina & flexibility allows us to be on top of our voice, instead of the other way around. Practice these exercises every day.

As a sweet bonus, you might feel pretty relaxed after all this breathing. After all, a lot of meditation is just focused/intentional breathing. Read this TIME article for some of the amazing side benefits of singing for our well-being: (http://ideas.time.com/2013/08/16/singing-changes-your-brain/)

How do these exercises feel? Do you have any special exercises that you do that really help? Are these routines too challenging? Leave a comment below!

 

 

 

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