Fill your belly with air! Breathe into your back! Breathe from your diaphragm! Expand your rib cage! Push your stomach out! Inhale through your nose or your throat will get dry! Imagine you’re going to the bathroom!
Yikes!!! Is it any wonder that almost every singer I meet is to some degree confused about breathing? Aren’t you?
Music of any type is a powerful form of communication; and people worldwide enjoy some form of music. ‘Singers know on a personal level, how powerful a tool their voice can be in expressing themselves. But do they really need to know anything about breathing correctly to do that?
The answer is maybe yes, maybe no. OK perhaps that’s not the answer you wanted, but unfortunately it’s the truth.
Before I go into more detail on that let’s take a look at the breath and voice.
The breath affects the voice’s tone and quality, the ability to reach required pitch ranges, power and the skill of holding a note for extended periods of time. It can also affect the nuance the voice is able to communicate.
All breathing, whether conscious or unconscious, is caused by the diaphragm. Air cannot move through the lungs without the help of the diaphragm. This dome-shaped muscle is located across the bottom of the ribcage and separates the lung cavity from the visceral cavity. When you think “inhale,” you start a contraction of the diaphragm. As it contracts it lowers and flattens out, which causes air to rush into the lungs. (This is why I always kind of chuckle at the term “diaphragmatic breathing.” If you are from planet earth the only way air can enter your lungs is by use of the diaphragm. But let’s not quibble about terminology.)
In normal breathing, when the contraction of the diaphragm is released it returns to its original position and air is expelled from the lungs. But when you are speaking or singing the vocal cords close and block the air. Then upward pressure is needed to push the cords and cause them to vibrate.
Now, back to my earlier answer of maybe yes, maybe no. There are people who have studied the “proper way to breathe,” but who are so tied up in a knot trying to do it right that they don’t help their voice at all. And there are people who “do it all wrong,” but in some funky way really make their breath power their voice. They suck down a big pile of air and take care of business.
Of course the best scenario is to have excellent breath technique and great, free, automatic usage of that technique to make your voice soar.
You can begin learning proper breathing techniques by practicing these easy exercises, if you have difficulty with these exercises or are experiencing minimal improvement from them, a voice coach may be able to help you practice them properly:
- Begin by lying on your back on the floor. Then imagine you just ate a huge meal and allow your belly to become nice and round and fat. Then relax and return to normal. The next time as your allow to belly to get round and fat open your mouth and let air fill your lungs. It often helps to imagine your belly is filling with air. Make sure not to raise your chest or shoulders. Now begin to hiss out making a sound like air leaking out of a tire. At the same begin a gentle pulling in of your lower abdomen and in your mind count to ten. Get rid of most of the air by the time you reach ten. Repeat this sequence several times.
- Now try it standing.
- One more exercise is done by sitting in a straight-backed, cushion-less chair. Dangle your arms by your sides and lift your elbows out to the sides, away from the chest. While in this position, slowly breathe in as deep as you can until you feel your waist and back expand. During this exercise, do not allow your shoulders to move. Exhale slowly.
There are countless other breathing exercises. But whichever ones you choose, practice them until they become second nature. Because when the time comes all you really want to be thinking is, take a big breath and SING!