As a singer, you may have some questions about breathing. Maybe you’ve read tips or received advice that confused you. In this article, I’ll attempt to answer those questions and clear up any confusion on breathing for singing.
Why is breath so important?
Without breath, we can’t sing. You probably knew that already. But there are two more reasons breath is so important:
- Your inhale is your preparation to sing. The way you prepare will determine how that note or phrase sounds.
- Your exhale (more specifically: your breath support as you sing) impacts your vocal control, strength of tone, and stamina.
How should I breathe?
The best inhale for singing is low and relaxed. Your inhale should:
- Be silent.
- Flow through an open mouth and throat.
- Expand your belly, ribcage, and back.
It’s important to note that your inhale should not involve your chest rising and falling. Additionally, most beginning singers don’t take enough time to breathe. Make sure that you begin your inhale early enough so you’re not gasping for air a split second before singing.
Your exhale should:
- Have a smooth, slow, steady flow of air.
- Keep your chest and ribs lifted, even when you’re running low on air.
- Engage the low belly muscles and pelvic floor with a gentle “down and out” feeling.
What do teachers mean when they say to “breathe from the diaphragm”?
The diaphragm is actually an involuntary muscle. But when we engage the low belly and pelvic floor, we enable the diaphragm to stay low for longer. And when the diaphragm is low, the lungs can stay expanded for longer. In other words: you can’t directly control the diaphragm, but you can engage the abdominal muscles that it attaches to for good breath support.
Can’t I breathe through my nose?
Of course you can! But breathing through your nose should mainly be used when you’re not singing, such as during a musical intro or interlude. Breathing through your nose moisturizes the air so your throat doesn’t dry out. But since your mouth is open to sing, it’s best to make a habit of breathing with an open mouth. Remember: your inhale is your preparation to sing.
What are some exercises I can do to improve my breathing?
- Practice after you’ve done some cardio exercise. Your lung capacity and breath support will automatically improve.
- Practice your belly breathing throughout the day. In addition to training your breath for singing, it can also help you manage stress by calming your body.
- Hiss exercise: inhale with a low, relaxed breath; exhale on a strong and steady hiss, engaging your low belly and sides down and out.
- Lip trill: feel your support muscles naturally engage as you start to sing.
- Practice the four-step breath: inhale, suspension (the engagement of your support muscles), exhale, relaxation.
- Breathe like a yogi: pretend your lungs have three chambers, and practice filling the lowest chamber, then middle, then top, pausing for a second between each step.
- Breathe through a song: instead of exhaling to sing on lyrics, exhale on a hiss or “shh” as you practice. This will help you to plan and rehearse your phrasing with nothing but breath.
- Practice a quick but full catch-breath, for instances where you need to breathe but don’t have a break in the music to do so.
What if I’m feeling light-headed?
It’s very possible that you could be over-breathing: taking in more air than you need. This causes excess tension as your body works to hold back that extra air.
Your lightheadedness could also be caused by holding your breath for too long (within breathing exercises or long phrases). Take breaks and increase your duration gradually.
What if I’m running out of air?
Be mindful of the following:
- Posture: keep your chest and rib cage lifted. They’ll want to collapse, especially as you run low on air. Don’t let them.
- Abs and pelvic floor: make sure you’re gently pushing down and out with those muscles, not squeezing or pulling inward.
- Cord compression: weak cord closure results in a breathy tone and air leaking. Work on your cord closure so you don’t waste any breath.
- Phrasing: mark your phrases to plan your breaths. It’s easier to manage your breath when you know how long each phrase is.