Why Do I Need To Know How To Breath When Singing?
If the bow is the reason why a violin makes a sound, then vocal cords vibrate through the air via breathing. That is how essential breathing exercises for singing is.
You cannot expect to hear a high-quality tone from your singing if you cannot control your breathing.
Breath control is the foundation of good sound production.
We build all sorts of techniques to make our sound beautiful, but we rely on the knowledge of breathing to make all of these techniques work.
Breath Support - An Absurd Instruction
I am sure that you’ve heard it several times before, sing with breath support. Whenever you start to take voice lessons or join a choir, you will most like be hearing these words over and over again.
They tell you to use “support” or “breath support.” You make a mistake; they tell you the same words again.
That is so ridiculous! They tell you to do something without having a clear picture as to what it’s all about. Not in our case! We make sure that you fully understand how breathing exercises for singing feels like and sounds like.
Is Breathing That Important?
You cannot put a number to it, but you can describe it. When someone sings, and it sounds thin or unpleasant, most probably the reason is that it lacks the necessary support system we need when we are singing. That’s where breathing exercises for singing plays a major role and create a big difference in sound.
Supported sound vs. an unsupported sound
To help you better understand the concept of support, watch the video above at around 2 minutes of the timeline.
As you can hear, a supported sound is way more pleasant to the listener than an unsupported sound. How much more if you compare an entire song between these two sound qualities? Voice quality is important if you are performing or competing – check this article about judging singing competitions.
How To Breathe Correctly Then? - The age-old question.
Stop right there and hit that pause button!
From the novice to the highly acclaimed teacher, there is an ongoing debate online and offline as to what is the proper way of breathing for singing.
If we start claiming that this article holds the answer to the age-old question of “what’s the correct way of breathing for singing,” then we just told everyone else that they are wrong.
No! We are not claiming that, and we’re not here to tell everyone else is wrong.
We are here to share breathing exercises for singing that works for our students and us and what everyone generally agrees on. So let’s get right into it!
Breathing Should Happen Naturally
You are a living person, and you breathe without you thinking about it. The problem with breathing when we try to sing is we suddenly turn into a very conscious artist the moment we are asked to breathe.
Remember this. Breathing should be natural. The same is true for all breathing exercises for singing. It mas be second nature, and we should not think so much about it that it hinders us from singing beautifully.
Here’s a short video of what the Diaphragm is all about. You don’t need to finish it since the second half of it is all about infections. Just watch the first fifteen seconds.
Now, to help you feel your Diaphragm and get a good understanding of its function, please do the following things.
Finding your Diaphragm
I want you to use your fingers and place them exactly like the gi on the right. Find the bone in the area at the tip of your sternum.
Now, move it down and find that fleshy muscle just right below. For some people, it’s easier to see while for others; it may not be that easy, but it’s there.
You are now in your diaphragm area. We will be doing some breathing exercises for singing to help you understand how it functions with singing.
What happens to your Diaphragm When You Are Breathing?
While your fingers are still on top of your diaphragm area, try to breathe in and notice what happens.
Here we go 3… 2… 1… breathe!
What happens to your Diaphragm?
What happens to your Diaphragm When You Cough Or Sneeze?
Now, let your fingers rest in the same area just as we were doing with the previous exercise. This time, I want you to simulate the act of coughing, but when you are about to cough, just freeze and don’t cough.
Refer to the video below.
Now you try it in 3… 2… 1… cough!
What happened to your Diaphragm?
This time, I want you to simulate the act of coughing, but at the point of when you are about to cough, you freeze.
What happened to your Diaphragm?
The Diaphragm When You Are Singing
Ok. In this exercise, I want you to simulate the act of singing, but then again, at the point where you are about to sing a note, hold it right there and freeze.
Understanding And Feeling What The Word "Support" Means
The activities above that we wanted you to do all had one purpose. It’s for you to understand and physically feel what happens to your Diaphragm when you do all of the given activities above.
If you’ve done them all, you will notice that the Diaphragm did one thing in all given activities. It tightened every time you do any of the assigned activities above.
That is what we call “support!”
The Diaphragm supports the lungs and other related muscles when you sneeze, or else you’d be sneezing out your insides. The same is true when you are coughing and, more importantly, singing, and even doing simple breathing exercises for singing!
That tightening motion of your Diaphragm is what you need to be apple to support the sound of your voice when you are singing. Your job as a singer is to delay (as much as possible) the return of the diaphragm to it’s normal position.
So when someone wants you to project a good sound, and they say “give it some support,” you now have a physical feeling of what that support feels like!
When Does Support Ends?
Now that you have a solid understanding of how to use your Diaphragm for support in singing, the next question would be – when do you use it?
When does support start?
Is it before singing a note or right upon singing the note?
When does support end?
Is it right at the end of the note or after singing the note?
You start supporting your sound or the note that you will be singing even before singing the note. Remember the breathing exercises for singing we want you to do above?
Those exercises never let you do the act itself but froze you right at the point of doing it. Did you notice what happened to your Diaphragm? It tightened right before the action occurred.
It merely means that the support to all of those activities started even before doing the act. In this case, even before singing.
So whenever you want to start singing. You need to breathe and add support to ensure that you produce a good quality sound when you sing.
Now, support ends right after singing the note and not at the end of the note. If you release your support when the note also ends, you will most probably sound weak at the end of your phrasing.
Sing with your Diaphragm - Debunking The Myth!
If someone tells you to sing with your Diaphragm, don’t listen! My goodness! Here are two obvious reasons why it’s a mistake to say this phrase.
- The vocal cord produces the sound, not your Diaphragm!
- The diaphragm is an involuntary muscle. You cannot control it, let alone sing with it!
Ideas like this don’t help people who are learning how to sing. They confused students and learners instead of assisting them in understanding the mechanics of breathing and singing.
5 Essential Rules to Observe When Breathing For Singing
1. Inhalation should not be audible.
When you inhale, don’t make any unnecessary noise just to let everyone in the room know that you are taking in air.
2. Inhalation should never be visible.
Similar to the first rule, we do not want to let anyone notice that we are taking in a deep breath while singing. It should look natural.
Remember, do not raise the shoulders or the rib cage during inhalation. Doing so will make you look natural as you prepare to sing.
3. Do not let the chest collapse when you exhale.
This is something most beginners do. Right after taking in air to prepare for singing, they let it all go in a blow right on the first note.
Do not let your chest or sternum visibly collapse when you exhale. Let the airflow without changing the placement or your chest.
4. Stand up straight, but make sure to keep your body relaxed.
When you are in a standing position, make sure to make muscle relaxed. If you are sitting, avoid sitting on your tummy where your Diaphragm is located.
There is an entire topic on singing posture that will handle this area.
5. Do not fill your lungs with air to the brim.
It is not the volume of the air that affects your singing voice. Instead, it’s the “how you use” the air when you sing that makes all the difference.
Breathing Techniques | Exercises For Singing
Alright! If you have come this far, I’m guessing you now have an idea of how support works. It’s time to do some breathing exercises for singing for you to be able to apply to your breathing strategies.
Click on the following titles to expand and see the instructions.
Assuming that you now know about correct posture for both sitting and standing, let’s proceed with our very first breathing exercise.
Breathe primarily through the nose. Remember not to make any unnecessary sounds when you do it. Do not raise your chest or shoulders. Exhale on a soft s or f. Wait until you feel the urge to breathe again and observe how your body breathes in on its own.
The good thing about this exercise is that you can put a number on your progress. You can either count manually or use a stopwatch (your cellphone) to monitor your progress.
You take a deep breath and slowly exhale continuously for as long as you can. While exhaling, you either count manually or use a stopwatch. When you have no more air to expel anymore, just raise your hand and stop counting.
You monitor how long you can continually exhale and do it all over again until you extend the length of time you can manage to do this.
The longer, the better.
Have you ever seen your dog pant? Tongue out, breathing in and out at a fast pace. That’s panting.
Another good breathing exercise for singing is panting. For starters, you might get a little dizzy doing this. So, I recommend you do it in intervals. Try it for 15 seconds at first attempt, then 30 seconds for your second attempt, and increase as you see fit.
Some people I know can do it for 2 minutes or longer.
Try taking three discontinuous breaths, as if you were smelling something. It can be smelling a flower, a perfume, or you let your imagination decide. While doing this, you also try to expand your pharynx.
The pharynx is the membrane-lined cavity behind the nose and mouth, connecting them to the esophagus. This is according to the Oxford dictionary.
Breathe Mental and Breathe Deep
Most people think that breathing exercises for singing are as simple as filling your lungs with air, and that’s it.
No. It’s far more detailed than that.
When you breathe, use your imagination and try to fill your entire body with air. Imagine that your body is a container and breathe down deep even to the back of your body.
It’s a mental thing, and it requires your imagination to do it. Hold the back part of your waistline and try to fill it with air when you are inhaling.
Doing so actually grounds your support much lower and much stronger.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises
The following breathing exercises for singing are meant to trigger or activate your Diaphragm.
Take one quick breath with your mouth open and make a “surprised” facial expression.
At the same time, try to expand the mouth and pharynx region.
Exhale with short hard breaths
This exercise would require you to imagine the following:
- You have discovered some dust particles, and you want to blow it away with quick, hard puffs. Remember the story of the big bad wolf? Only this time, you need to have spurts than doing a big blow.
- You are holding a withered flower in your hand, maybe a dandelion, and you want to blow away the seeds with a few puffs as possible.
Variation on Breathing
This exercise not only activates your Diaphragm, but it also creates a positive, relaxed atmosphere and loosens up tense muscles.
Imitate various natural sounds, such as:
- A gentle evening breeze with a soft f (piano)
- A roaring thunderstorm with sh (forte or fortissimo)
- An approaching and a retreating swarm of bees with a soft z
Applying Breathing Exercises In Actual Singing
What good is a concept if you can’t put it into practice? Right?!
So how about we do some challenges for you in which you can work on for the following days. Remember, your voice need not to be forced to open up. Learning how to control your breathing also is a long dedicated process, and it’s not an overnight thing.
But, there are things we can try, which we can see results right away. Let’s put these breathing exercises for singing into action.
Breathing For Singing - Can You Sing This?
Let us try to sing a very popular and straightforward song while applying the concept of breathing.
The song is “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
Sing the song while breathing at where the slashes are located. You can use the audio below to play the music and try to sing your way through the exercise.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star/
How I wonder what you are/
Up above the world so high/
Like a diamond in the sky/
Try to sing the song while breathing after every two lines instead of one. You can use the audio provided here as an accompaniment for this exercise.
This entire article aims to provide a clear understanding of how essential breathing exercises for singing are. If you are a beginner student in singing, then this will be a great article to learn from for you.
If you are already a seasoned singer, I would love to know your thoughts on the things I have shared and leave them in the comment section below.