For many of us, breathing is an unconscious act; it’s the very thing that sustains us and yet we rarely give it much thought. When it comes to singing, it pays to give your breathing technique the attention it deserves.
To sing well, sustain notes and attempt challenging music, it’s vital to understand how to breath effectively and efficiently.
In fact, I believe a solid breathing technique is the hallmark of every capable singer and it’s why nearly all of my singing lessons start with a breathing exercise.
So what do you need to know to improve your breathing technique? Here’s a technique checklist, together with breathing exercises you can start using today.
Before you even take a breath, consider your posture. Many of us are hunched over a desk or cramped in a car all day, so standing tall and with an open body is the first place to start.
At a recent professional development course I attended in Melbourne, New York voice teacher Neil Semer drove home the importance of our rhomboid muscles, which sit between your shoulder blades. Draw your shoulder blades together and you’ll immediately feel your chest open.
The ‘dura’ or pads between your vertebrae also need some attention to unravel from your day job. Imagine a string running through your body from the bottom of your spine to the top of your head. Visualise someone gently pulling on the string, lengthening your spine and creating space between your vertebrae.
While the magic happens on an ‘out’ breath, to sing successfully you need to master your ‘in’ breath first.
And a fundamental aspect of your ‘in’ breath is drawing air deeply into your abdomen. Another way to think about this is opening spaces in your body to allow air to ‘fall’ into you.
The opposite of ‘everyday’ breathing, which is often quick and shallow, breathing ‘in’ for singing must be low and slow.
If you’re too fast and shallow on the ‘in’ breath, you’ll end up with all of the air in the top part of your body, which can’t be used effectively.
I often ask my students to breathe deeply as they lie on their back on the floor. This allows them to feel the sensation of their ribs expanding and their abdomen filling with air.
Another exercise, which helps singers recognise the sensations in their lower torso, uses a straw cut in half. Breathe slowly through the straw, making sure you don’t raise your shoulders. If you like, place a hand on your chest to monitor this. Notice how your mid-section torso opens as the air drops into your body. Inhale and exhale for three slow counts and repeat at least five times.
Getting to know your abdominal muscles is a worthwhile exercise, as they are the powerhouse of your breathing mechanism.
Right now, try contracting and releasing your abs. In, out, in out. Just this simple exercise helps you switch on this part of your body to the task of breathing. Releasing the low part of your abdominal muscles allows you to achieve an even lower and deeper breath.
For many beginners, it can feel strange to be so deliberate about the way we breathe. There are many components to coordinate, like your body’s alignment, contracting and releasing muscles and even conserving the release of air. In fact, it’s a very physical act that can take several months to master. But if you start to bring your brain and body to the task of breathing, you’ll soon see the benefits of your dedication and attention.
Looking to fine-tune your breathing technique? Email Kathleen today.