Breathing Exercises For Singers
Reading Time: 7.4 minutes
Controlling your breathing and knowing how to breathe properly will allow you to achieve optimum voice effect when you sing. Over time, many people develop poor breathing habits because of laziness or lack of practice. Many adults only use the upper part of their lungs when they breathe, creating very shallow breaths that will stifle both pitch and tone when trying to sing. This is a learned flaw. Just about every newborn baby uses their lungs to their fullest effect. How else could something so small make such loud piercing sounds? One of the biggest keys to singing at your fullest potential is to get back to these roots. In order to do that, it is important to unlearn the bad habits that many adults develop over time. But first, let's take a look at the anatomy of breathing in order to help you understand what's really going on when you sing.
Your lungs are surrounded by a muscle system that is more commonly referred to as the diaphragm. The diaphragm is your mechanism for inhaling and exhaling. This muscle system is attached to your ribs on the sides, bottom, and back. Something quite amazing happens when you inhale. This entire muscle system lowers and the stomach and intestines shift out of the way to allow room. When you exhale, the diaphragm becomes a powerful tool for controllng your singing ability. If you breathe out very quickly, the diaphragm has little effect on your voice. Great singers are masters at controlling the muscular movements of their diaphragm and are able to exhale very slowly to control their pitch.
Note: the diaphragm does not exhale for you. It simply helps to control the amount of air exhaled.
Your stomach naturally expands when you breathe in. When you breathe out, the stomach area should move slowly and naturally back to its original position. Do not suck your stomach back in rapidly when exhaling as this will cause your diaphrapm to work improperly. Keep your stomach expanded as long as you can when exhaling, slowly allowing it to return to its original position towards the end of your breath.
To check if you are breathing correctly, place your hand on your belly button. This area should expand first when you breathe in and then spread upwards until your chest is expanded. This is what will give you control of your voice. The singer expands the lungs and stomach and lowers the diaphragm by inhaling. The control comes from the amount of air expelled when singing a note by allowing the muscle support system to remain expanded. This does not mean you should actively push your stomach out. All of the expansion should be the natural effect of inhaling properly. The overriding focus when exhaling should be on keeping your stomach expanded without actively pushing it out. Force nothing and be aware of all of these movements when you practice.
Training Your Breathing
Forcing breath out or actively pushing it out puts entirely too much strain on the vocal chords. Not only does this prevent your vocal chords from operating at maximum potential, it can also damage your voice over time. Use this simple technique to learn how to control your breathing and the you exhale to help you sing at your fullest potential.
Raise your hand just in front of your lips. If you exhale very slowly you will notice that the breath hitting your hand is both hot and slighly moist. This is the proper way to exhale when you sing. You never want to force breath out when you sing.
Pay attention to what your diaphragm is doing during this process as well. You should feel the muscles surrounding your diaphragm resisting as it slowly moves back up to its original position. Exhaling quickly will provide no resistance from the abdominal muscles surrounding the diaphragm and it will be back in its original position almost immediately. Exhaling quickly is the opposite of controlling your diaphragm. Exhaling slowly requires practice to master but use the method described above as a good starting point for practice. Once you do, you will be more acutely aware of the innerworkings of your breathing apparatus and quickly learn how to control it.
The following exercise may be difficult at first. Be persistent and keep at them if you really want to improve your voice. After a short time doing these exercises, you will notice that it is easier to breathe and you will be more easily able to control the muscles surrounding your diaphragm.
- Lay down flat on your back.
- Place your hands on your waist with your fingers pointing towards your belly button.
- When you inhale, your stomach should expand before your lungs. Focus on filling up your stomach from the bottom to the top while taking a slow, deep breath. The goal here is not to force expansion of your stomach but to make yourself aware of the difference between a shallow breath that uses only the top of your lungs and a deep breath that encorporates your diaphragm and all of the surrounding abdominal muscles.
- You should feel your stomach rise and your hands being raised gently up and outward until you feel your chest expanding. The expansion is not only at the front of the body but also to the sides and back as well.
- Breath out slowly for a count of five
- Repeat this exercise 10 times
Now that you have the first part of the process, you are ready to add and hold a note during your exhales.
- Take five more breaths but on each exhale pick a nice comfortable note (somewhere in your normal speaking range) that won't strain your vocal chords and hold it for the entire breath. Maintain both pitch and volume of the note doing your best to not let them waiver throughout. Vary the notes slightly for each breath. But whatever note you choose, be sure to hold it for the entire breath to train yourself properly.
- Now take five more breaths. But this time, gradually change the volume for each note during your breath. Take the volume (on a scale from 1-10) from 1 up to a medium volume of 5 or 6 and back to 1 over the entire duration of the breath. These changes should be happening at a rate that is almost indetectable, not rapidly. Make sure to choose a different pitch for each breath and never let the pitch go flat or sharp.
- For our last five breaths in this excercise, we're going to put it all together. Instead of simply singing notes and tones at different volumes, we're going to run through each one of the vowels (a,e,i,o,u) allowing you to change the timbre of your voice faster than the volume changes. Make the change gradual and in any order you desire.
This may sound like a lot of work. To be sure, it is difficult at first and requires concentration. But it only amounts to 25 controlled breaths per session. If you really want to improve your voice, practice this process everyday. It will only take about 5 to 10 minutes and the results will be well worth the effort. Start off practicing when you first wake up in the morning and right before you go to bed at night. Once you get it down, practice as often as possible. Over time you will begin breathing naturally from your abdomen and using the full power of your lungs and diaphragm and achieve your optimum singing voice.