Proper breath support is an underrated skill to have in the world of singing. Without knowing how to store breath properly, your performance can go from great to severely lacking quickly.
Many singers get their breathing wrong when they first start learning how to sing correctly. Even trained singers miss out on some breathing tips that can help them get through phrases they never thought possible.
Your breath control, or lack thereof, can also put you at risk of a voice crack. Holding a long note that you didn’t have enough breath to make through is an easy way to crack at the tail end of a note.
Running out of breath is not limited to your cardio stamina only. As a singer, you must know the proper way to breathe and support your breath in order to get as much air to make it through your sung phrases as possible.
There are generally two ways you can breathe before you sing or speak: you can breathe from your diaphragm, AKA your chest, or you can do a breath from your throat.
While breathing a shallow breath from your throat will work in most speaking cases and some short sung phrases, singers want to make a habit of breathing in with their diaphragm (full chest) in order to get a good amount of air for their sung phrases.
If you get a breath from your throat instead of your chest, you will find that you'll run out of air and have to break up your phrases at bad times. Or even worse, you'll completely miss notes trying to get a quick breath in.
Here are six techniques I want to discuss for singers who want to excel at their breath support during their performances in the future.
So many people (including the old me) think that to get a good deep breath in from your diaphragm, you need to suck in your stomach. Here's a beginner tip to get more comfortable with proper breath for singing.
Grab a book and lie down on the floor with your back in a relaxed position against the ground. Place that book on your stomach, and begin to take deep breaths in and inhale out with a hiss that isn't forced.
You'll want to see the book rising as you breathe in and expand your stomach, and slowly, yet evenly, fall when you exhale. The more that book rises, the better your breathing ability will be throughout long sung phrases.
Popular professor Richard Miller from the Oberlin College-Conservatory of Music wrote in his bestseller that "Lying on the back places the entire body, head to toe, in alignment, and the sternum is dissuaded from falling."
"In the supine position, the head, neck, and torso remain axial, and problems of laryngeal positioning, voice registration, and clavicular breathing are avoided."
A lip trill is an act of making your mouth vibrate very fast while making a "brrr" sound. It's often done from the time that we're kids growing up and exploring new sounds with our friends in school.
Lips trills are sometimes referred to as lip rolls, raspberries, lip bubbles, or lip buzzing. It can be pretty hard to do if you're a beginner, and it takes some practice to be able to pull them off for an extended period of time.
The air that pushes up from your consistent escaping breath helps you increase your breath support.
The key to doing good trills is keeping the air flowing consistently throughout the scale that you're trilling on. If you don't provide enough air, you will lose steam. If you provide too much air, you will still lose steam.
If you add too much air at the onset of your note, you will lose steam right at the start and find it difficult to trill at all. If you try to push out a lot of air toward the end, you will not be able to make it to the end of the phrase.
A simple and often-used breathing exercise that will always come in handy for group and soloist singers involves a timed inhale and exhale.
For the best results, try inhaling through your nose and exhaling on the sound of a hiss so that the breath that comes out can be consistent over a long period of time, rather than coming out too fast.
The idea is to breathe in on an even number of counts, then breathe out on a hiss on an even number of counts that doubles the count of your inhale.
As singers, we regularly have minimal time to breathe, yet have long phrases to sing through, so this singing exercise mimics the breathing process in vocal performances.
I recommend doing this as well as lip trills with your vocal warmups every single day if you can, especially if it's before a practice or a performance.
Over time, if done correctly, you will begin to notice how long you can hold a lip trill and how far your inhale and exhale count can go. To start, try breathing in on four beats and breathing out on eight. Try to work your way up to breathing in on eight counts and breathing out on sixteen.
Have you ever tried to sing through a straw before?
Straw singing is perhaps the most popular form of SOVT singing, which stands for semi-occluded vocal tract. It may sound intense, but it's really just a fact way that you are singing with your mouth partially open.
The first time I came across the act of straw phonation as a professional singing technique was when I was learning how to manage my breath better for long phrases.
Sustaining a good amount of breathing through phrases is a challenge for many singers, and straw singing addresses the problem.
When you sing with this technique, the straw will force you not to use any more breath than you need to, which many singers make the mistake of doing. When you use all your breath too soon at the beginning of a phrase, you'll find yourself struggling to sing through to the end.
Sing through the straw on the same note for long periods of time (i.e., a 12 or 16 count) to help you even out your breath support through phrases.
Do vocal warmups through the straw with scales and sirens to help warm your voice up without causing any vocal strain and to help you gain control of your full range.
Sing through an easy song that has many notes (i.e., the happy birthday song) to warm your voice up through many different notes in a song.
When attempting straw phonation, you want all of your air to only come through the straw and not any other part of your mouth or your nose. It may help to manually cover your nose with a hand if you are tempted to breathe through it.
Staggered breathing is a technique that choir singers use to make it sound like there is a continuous flow of sound coming out with no breaths. I often find that sneaking quick breaths also really comes in handy for solo singing, just like it does for groups.
Practice singing a song that has long phrases at a much slower tempo than you normally would. You'll find that you'll need to put in quick breaths here and there without taking away from the flow of the overall phrase.
Don't be afraid to drop small words or long-held notes that you could do without for more important parts of your song. Change the rhythm of a section if it will help you catch your breath better.
Youtube's playback speed setting option is one way to practice a song easily at a slower yet consistent tempo.
You can practice singing your song at half the speed or even a fourth of the speed before challenging yourself to perform the lyrics at normal speed or twice the speed.
Related Post: How To Use Breath Marks In Music
Many vocal teachers recommend that panting exercises be included in regular warmups as well; I think they're right. Like these other exercises, panting can help build your breathing stamina for long phrases since it helps to work out your diaphragm.
It's often taught to classical singers who are often expected to fill a room with long and beautiful high notes, which requires a considerable amount of good breath control.
Panting as a vocal exercise can really help your diaphragm expand for those quick breaths you may need to sneak in while performing in a group or as a solo singer.
To test your panting skills, simply take a quick breath in and sing out a fast and confident "ha". Do this several times back to back to get your diaphragm working.
To take it a step further, practice panting on notes, while going up a major scale and singing "ha" on every note.
You might sound a little crazy, but it'll get your body in shape for singing!
Yawning can be good for singing. Choir and operatic singing often require something called a half-yawn placement, which is a good vocal technique for helping you prepare for a deep breath that will give you a resonant sound.
Long vowels work really well in the classical music realm, so when you're warming up, rehearsing, or performing, your body is also triggering that yawn reflex with such a wide mouth opening position.
Do a vocal siren wail by sliding down your range from the highest comfortable note very slowly and in a relaxed position. Make sure the breath you take is from your diaphragm and not from your throat.
Similar to lip trills, the key is to keep the air flowing consistently throughout the notes that you're yawning and doing a vocal siren through.
As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, and features, Yona spends her time creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her recent collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share if you like it!
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