What’s the deal with Breathing and Singing anyway, huh?
Well, in my past, I was a bit of a anti-breathing nazzi. I got frustrated with all the people who knew nothing about singing that would authoritatively share the patronizing advice of, “Sing from your diaphragm,” as if they had any clue as to what that meant.
Now, does this make breathing any less important? Not in and of itself. But, for me, it generated a false sense of legend, creating a pedestal for the mighty god Diaphrama, which only makes me want to knock over that pedestal, reveal the false prophets, and spread the truth about the breath.
So now that I’ve spent a couple of paragraphs building up the suspense, let’s talk for a minute about the breath and why it’s important (you can check out the video on Breathing and Singing, or simply read on).
The Truth About Breathing and Singing
First off, the breath is the gas on which your voice runs. If there’s no air passing through your vocal cords, then you have no sound. In order for our vocal machine to work properly, there must be a steady stream of air flowing out of the lungs.
(Diaphragm Enters Stage Right)
Your diaphragm helps aid in creating that steady stream of air. You see, your diaphragm is a muscle connected to the bottom of your lungs. If you flex your diaphragm, it expands downward, filling the lungs with air. When your diaphragm is engaged, it keeps the lungs open and moderates the rate at which the air exits the body.
Without engaging the diaphragm, you have little control over the air, making it difficult to sing properly. I also find that when I breathe from my chest, my larynx rises, throwing my whole vocal mechanism off balance before I start singing, causing undesired and unnecessary tension.
All of this being said, breathing from the diaphragm is an important part of singing.
How To Breathe Properly
In order to engage the diaphragm for singing, breathe deeply into the body, feeling a downward sensation in the stomach while also an outward expansion around the lower parts of the ribcage. This isn’t a new feeling to you… you do it every time you go to the bathroom (not #1 :o).
Once you’ve taken this good breath, continue that downward push while you sing your song, only allowing it to release when you are about to take another breath. Then, repeat.
A couple of tips… it’s best if you breathe in through your nose, as this will help keep your vocal cords from getting dry. Also, whenever possible, exhale any remaining air from your body before you take a new breath. This will keep you from creating too much pressure.
4 Myths About the Breathing and Singing
This advice is often offered to those trying to figure out how to sing high notes, and more often than not, this is just flat out wrong. Forcing more air through the vocal folds when singing higher often causes a singer to create more pressure underneath the cords than is healthy, leading at best to undesired tension, or worse, a cracking voice.
Myth #2 – To Sing Longer, Breathe in As Deep As You Can.
Do me a favor… take the deepest breath you can right now. Got it? Ok, now breathe in a little bit more air on top of that. Does that feel good in your throat? No, because there’s too much pressure underneath the cords. Singing like this for long will wear you out. If you’ve got a good coordination between the breath and your vocal cords, you can sing for twice as long as the average singer off of half a breath.
Myth #3 – The Breath is the Foundation of Good Vocal Technique.
This one is debatable, but I’d argue maintaining a consistent, speech level balance in the voice is infinitely more important. Oh, and I know organizations and styles of teaching that are wildly popular that argue that achieving this balance actually leads to naturally breathing from the diaphragm.
Myth #4 – If You Want to Sing Louder, Use More Breath Support.
First off, maintaining a consistent flow of air is imperative to singing, so of course supporting the tone is important. And yes, pushing more air can contribute to creating a little bit more sound. But, when one sees that as their only solution for adding more volume, they’re likely to take this advice to the extreme. This ends up causing the singer to over exert themselves and ultimately become fatigued (usually because they’re singing with too much air pressure under the cord as mentioned in myth #2). Instead, know that resonance space creates the fullness of the sound… so make sure you have good posture and are utilizing these spaces well.
Summing Up the Breath. . .
I’m not trying to belittle the role of the breathing in singing. Breathing plays a huge role in the production of our sound… and hey, it’s kinda important in life too (if you stop breathing, you die!).
But hopefully, reading this article has helped give you a healthy knowledge of the purpose of the breath, as well as shed some light on what it should and shouldn’t be used to accomplish.
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Vocal Coach Ken Taylor