Breathe Better – Sing Better

Breathe Better – Sing Better

There are few topics with more confusing messages and myths then the subject of breath support for singers.  Let’s try to clear up a few of them, and then look at some simple techniques you can practice to begin to get better support.

Myth #1: All you have to do to sing better is to “get more breath support.” Nope.  It’s not that simple.  If you are using faulty production and your registration (chest/head/mix) is not sorted out, all that good breathing will do is amplify the problems that you already have.  So address those issues first, then you might find that improving your support makes everything come together.

 

Credit: Teachpe.com

Credit: Teachpe.com

Myth #2: You should breathe through your diaphragm…or belly…or something(?)  This is where a lot of confusion comes in.  We breathe into our lungs.  As the lungs fill up, the diaphragm, which is a dome shaped muscle located underneath the ribs, descends naturally.  As it does, it presses out the internal organs (stomach, small intestine, etc.) which gives you that feeling of breathing into your belly.  So belly breathing is a useful image, but it’s not anatomically correct.

Myth #3: You should try to build up your breath support somehow first before you sing.  Actually, it’s the other way around.  Because the breath responds to messages in your brain coming from the larynx, it responds to demand.  So in order to have the support you need you should tax your breath by singing longer scales.  If you feel like you’re starting to run out of air by the end of the exercise, that’s good.  As you practice the scales over time it will get easier, and you build up your capacity.  It’s the same principle as adding reps at the gym: you want to get just to the point of muscle fatigue in order to progress. 

Now that we’ve cleared up a few misunderstandings, let’s look at a simple exercise that can help you start to improve your breath management. 

1)  Get into your best posture in front of a mirror.  On an inhalation, lift your arms up and feel your side ribs lifting.  As you bring your arms down, watch yourself in the mirror to see that you keep the chest lifted, in a comfortable but active way.  Most of us tend to slump during the day over our desks and computers. 

2)  Put your hands on your side ribs. Breathe in and out.  Feel them expanding naturally on the inhalation, and contracting on the exhalation.  You will want to learn to keep them in the inhalation position as long as possible while breathing out.  However, this technique requires a lot of strength in the muscles between the ribs and can take a long time to achieve.  So you might want to work on that separately from step 3 for a while until you become stronger.

Credit: Astrosage.com

Credit: Astrosage.com

3) Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly.  Breathe in slowly and deeply, on a count (start with 4 and progress up to 6 or 8).  Try to become aware of the breath filling up every nook and cranny of your lungs, and feel the belly expanding naturally as the diaphragm drops.  (Don’t push your belly out as that doesn’t do anything.)  It’s also really good to practice this lying on the floor as it allows our muscles to relax and the breath to come easier. 

4) Exhale on an SSSSSSSS sound, monitoring yourself in the mirror to make sure that you don’t compromise your posture in any way (ie., lifting your shoulders as you inhale, collapsing the ribcage as you exhale, etc. )  When you feel that you are half-way through the exhalation, gradually start to pull your abdominal muscles in, as if you were trying to put on a pair of tight jeans out of the dryer.  When you come to the end of that breath, rinse and repeat. 

5) Try singing a scale or a long phrase while you breathe as in #4 and observe the difference!

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