When it comes to singing correctly, there are key aspects that can mean the difference between a singer that is average and a singer that is good. One of these very important aspects is your breathing while you sing.
Breath control is vital to good tonal variation and consistency and is key to advancing to a skilled level in singing. However, proper breath control is not a natural way of breathing for us. You, therefore, need to practice and train your diaphragm for it to help improve your breathing, which in turn will help improve your singing.
Singing with incorrect breathing can lead to fatigue, stress, and tension in the face, neck and shoulders, but most of all, an inconsistent tone with a short breathy quality.
Thankfully, there are simple and effective breathing techniques that you can work on to help you become a better singer.
Good breathing is all about posture which is essentially how you stand.
Have you noticed that when you see singers on TV or the X-Factor that they are almost always standing?
There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but the majority of singing performances happen with the singer on their feet. This is because it's easier to stand correctly without slouching compared to when you are sitting.
You sing while you exhale, then take a fast inhalation, and then exhale slowly again while singing. When you stand up straight with your shoulders back in a relaxed position, you create more room for your lungs to expand, which increases your air capacity as you inhale.
This, in turn, defines how long you can sing for while exhaling and how long you can hold a note.
Every singer should know that good breath control comes from the diaphragm. But what they don’t realize is that the diaphragm cannot be directly controlled like a muscle. Instead, the singer has to learn to manipulate the muscles around the diaphragm in order to learn to control their breathing.
A common misconception is that when students are told to inhale deeply, they push out the stomach to allow for the maximum amount air to be inhaled. What they don’t realize is that the diaphragm is actually just below the 5th rib and does not extend very far below the ribcage when you inhale.
Instead of trying to fill up your belly when you breathe in, try breathing to fill up your chest area instead. This will make it easier to control how quickly or slowly you exhale and will play a vital role in tonal quality and consistency.
Plan your Breathing
When learning a new song or exercise it is helpful to plot out your breathing course to help remind you when to take that all important, perfectly timed breath while singing. Make a pencil mark on your sheet music to indicate where your next breath is.
Everyone’s breath plot will be different according to their skill level and lung capacity, so plot the path that is not necessarily the easiest for you, but also not one that makes you feel like you might faint before the next breath mark. This is also helpful if you play a wind instrument (like a flute) as well.
Lesson times shouldn’t be the only occasions where you work on your breathing and posture. Working through breathing exercises in your own time will also play a big role on your road to improvement.
If you don’t already have breathing exercises from your teacher (which you should) then here are a few basic examples to get you started:
Breathing on the floor
This is especially helpful if you haven’t quite grasped how to breathe properly when standing. Find a spot on the floor or your bed and lie on your back; then place a book on your abdomen.
The trick is to breathe in and out slowly, while watching the book, and work on holding each breath for 3 or 4 seconds before exhaling slowly. Remember, work on filling up your chest, not your stomach.
Hands and knees
Get down on your hands and knees and allow gravity to help you take deeper breaths. This time, try inhaling for 3 seconds and exhaling for 4 seconds.
Hold a heavy object in each hand
While standing up, hold two heavy objects of equal weight in each hand (like a chair for example). The objects will encourage you to stand up straight and make it difficult for you to lift your shoulders while breathing. Be careful not to push yourself too hard by lifting something too heavy.
Lift your arms
Try to hold your arms out in a “T” position and stand with a straight back. This is also a great way to work on your posture. Try inhaling quickly, then exhaling slowly. When you inhale, try filling your lungs with as much air as possible in the shortest amount of time. Then let the air out slowly as you would if you were singing.
Correct Breathing Takes Practice
Learning to breathe correctly while singing won’t happen overnight. Proper breath control takes consistent practice and by working on exercises before and after singing lessons you will help improve your stamina while you sing.
But be careful when starting out; if you overdo it you could become dizzy or faint and put unnecessary strain on your body. So, know your limits well and try work on it every day. As you become better at it and your stamina improves you will be amazed to discover how much correct breathing will help you improve your singing!
About the Author: Julie Adams
I am a mom, a music lover and teacher from Tampa, FL. After completing a Bachelor of Music in Performance Arts, I traveled for several years before returning home where I started offering private piano and singing lessons as extra income. I met my husband in 2009 and 2 years later moved to Dallas where we settled down and I started focusing on vocal training to aspiring singers and performance artists of all age groups. I still enjoy playing the piano very much, and in my spare time you will catch doing some horse riding, drawing, doing some light reading, or just spending quality time with my family.