Learn to Breathe the Right Way
by Dr. James Longmire
You may not know this yet, but not knowing how to breathe properly when singing can actually be dangerous to your health!
Everything about singing is based on breath. The absolute first thing that you need to understand about singing is that if you are not breathing properly, you are not singing properly, and that can lead to some pretty serious problems. Serious enough that you could potentially ruin your singing voice permanently.
Correct breathing technique is a widely debated topic among music teachers everywhere. There are so many different techniques that people are taught, it's difficult to tell which ones are good for your voice, and which ones are harmful.
Here is how you can tell which techniques are good and which ones are bad; the bad breath control tips and techniques will make your throat hurt and feel tight while singing.
If you are singing with incorrect breathing technique, you will feel a tensed up feeling in your throat. This means that you are putting un-necessary strain on your vocal cords.
Vocal tension and forcing your voice is the single most harmful thing you can do for yourself. It causes tons of problems such as:
- Scratchy breaks in your voice,
- Inability to reach high notes,
- A weak and powerless vocal sound,
- Pitch problems, like going sharp and flat,
- And shortness of breath while singing.
These problems are fairly minor, and can be corrected with learning the right breath control tips and techniques. Most vocal tension is caused because of a core problem of not taking a correct breath. Although many problems can be corrected with proper breathing, there is one major problem that can't.
Vocal tension and forcing the voice can eventually lead to vocal nodes forming inside your throat.
Basically, nodes are little callus like bumps that form on the vocal cords on the inside of the throat. They cause your voice to be raspy and toneless, and often the only cure is a combination of surgery and vocal therapy. The vocal therapy can involve being ordered not to speak or use your voice for an extended period of time, sometimes months.
If you are trying to be a singer of any sort, this is like a death sentence. Even after vocal therapy, many people can't ever sing to the level they once could... their ranges are dramatically shortened, their voices break and they have a constant raspyness that never goes away.
Here's the good news... vocal nodes can be prevented! All you have to do is take care of the beautiful voice you have by singing with proper technique, and that begins with learning the correct breath control tips and techniques.
Let me explain to you how proper breathing actually works in relation to good singing.
It's important to understand what happens to your body when you take a breath, and being aware of the process is something that will help you to carry it out more effectively.
Breath starts when we begin to inhale. At the same time as we are inhaling, four other things are going on at exactly the same time.
- Our diaphragms expand in the front, back and sides so our lungs can properly hold incoming air.
- Our pelvic muscles naturally lift up to support the expanding diaphragm,
- Our backs extend downwards,
- And our hips gently roll forward and pull our gluteus (bum) muscles together.
All the while our lungs are filling with air.
According to certain methods of teaching proper breathing, being aware of this process is necessary, because it will help you to take what is called a "controlled “breath. Many teachers of this method would say that being able to take a controlled breath is the single most important ability a singer can have.
Vocal coaches everywhere will tell you that if a breath is controlled the singer will have the right basis to be able to:
- Sing with razor sharp pitch,
- Produce a powerful, room-filling sound,
- And explode their vocal ranges to new heights and lows!
But it's a little more complicated than just taking a controlled breath. There is a specific process to follow in order to take that breath the right way, and it takes a bit of practice.
The next part of breathing properly is learning to support your controlled breath. The two go hand in hand! To support your breath means hold your body firmly in the position it was in when you first took your controlled breath. To "give it more support" (a term widely used by singing teachers) means to tighten up that position, all the while keeping your throat relaxed.
If you're not careful, that in itself can cause tension in the throat, just by trying to do all of those things at once! You literally have to keep one part of your body strong and firmed up, while keeping the rest of it loose, relaxed and comfortable.
I have to mention here that one thing you want to make sure you don't do is take a high, chesty breath. You know when you hear a song on the radio, and you can hear the singer take a big, exaggerated breath?
You don't want to do that. Obviously your breathing is going to make some noise, but it shouldn't be very loud. And you want to make sure your shoulders don't rise up and down. Your ribs should expand outward, but your shoulders should never go up and down.
Learning these correct breath control tips and techniques are not difficult once to practice a few times. You just have to learn the correct process. To summarize, here it is:
- You have to be taught how to take a controlled breath,
- How to support that breath
- And how to keep your throat open and relaxed while doing it.
- Breathing exercises,
- Warm ups and downs,
- Some great relaxation exercises that help you get over paralyzing stage fright.
These are the base components for proper breathing. Tons of little known tips and tricks for holding notes that seem to last forever.