How to Breathe When Singing

How to Breathe When Singing

Ask any great vocal teacher to point out what they think the most crucial factor for great singing is, and they’ll tell you that it’s proper breathing. For instance, take a look at some of the greatest singers of our time, from Luciano Pavarotti to Aretha Franklin to Freddie Mercury. As different as they were in singing style, the one thing that they all had in common was that they all understood correct breathing. Not only can correct breathing help you with your pitching accuracy, singing range and vocal consistency, it can also help improve your tone, timbre and projection as a singer.

So today, I want to share ten tips that I’ve learned over my journey as a professional singer, that I hope will help you master your breathing and eventually your singing voice.

1. Understand the Mechanics of Singing

How to Breathe When SingingBefore we start talking about breath support and correct breathing techniques, it’s important that you understand the mechanics of speech and singing. You see when we speak or when we sing, exhaled air passes over our vocal chords, causing them to vibrate. This vibration is what creates our tone, which is then amplified in the resonance cavities in our throat, mouth and head. So the ultimate goal of correct breathing, in the context of singing, is to have as most control as possible over this exhaled air.

2. Understand the Muscles Involved in Singing

Apart from our vocal chords, there are three other main muscle groups that affect our singing. And these are our tongue, our jaw and throat muscles and our abdominal muscles. While our tongue, jaw and throat muscles affect the shape of the tones we produce, it’s our abdominal muscles which control the airflow over our vocal chords, and therefore control the core of our singing.

3. Get in Shape

You don’t need to have a six-pack to become a great singer, but it does help to have a strong core and abdominal muscles. The strength of these muscles affects how much air we can breathe in and our control over the exhaled air when speaking or singing. So if you notice that you often run out of breath while singing or that your notes don’t seem as steady as they should be, it might be time for you to get your body in shape so that your voice can follow.

4. Develop Correct Posture

Your posture is a huge factor when it comes to the control you have over your breathing. In an ideal singing position, you should be standing straight, with your shoulders held back and down, and your chest held high, without putting any unnatural strain on your muscles. Your hands should be relaxed at your side and your legs should be relaxed at the knees and your feet spread to about shoulder width. But remember, I’m not saying that you should stick to this posture every time you sing; that would be impossible in certain situations. What’s important is trying to emulate the relaxed and lithe feeling this posture gives your body in any singing situation.

5. Learn Combined Breathing

Combined breathing is just a fancier way of saying “breathing through both your nose and mouth.” You see, when you breathe exclusively through your nose, you limit the amount of air that you can fill your lungs with, and this in turn can lead to shortness of breath and pitching problems when singing. On the other hand, when you breathe solely through your mouth, you can sometimes dry out your vocal chords which can again affect your voice. So make a conscious effort to breathe in through both your nose and mouth simultaneously when singing. It might seem unnatural at first, but if you make a conscious effort to correct yourself consistently, it’ll start feeling more and more natural.

6. Learn to Use Your Diaphragm

The subject of diaphragmatic breathing is something that’s much talked about and over-complicated in the world of singing. So I’m going to try and explain it as simply as I can. To start off, stand up straight with your shoulders down and relaxed. Put your palm over your sternum and take in a deep breath. If you feel a slight swelling in the area just below your sternum you are using your diaphragm. The diaphragm is a horizontal muscle that supports your lungs. During “correct” breathing in terms of singing, your diaphragm contracts, allowing your lungs to expand downwards. This allows for maximum lung capacity. When exhaling your diaphragm expands, slowly pushing the air back up through your vocal passage.

How to breathe when singingThere are several exercises you can do to strengthen your diaphragm. For example, try sharply exhaling the sounds “reh”, “puh”, “teh”, “kuh” in short bursts. The act of pushing air out of your lungs with these short bursts will help strengthen your diaphragm and give you greater control over your breath.

7. Learn Steady Release

A common mistake that a lot of amateur singers make is that they expend all of their breath on just a very short phrase, instead of controlling the release of their breath throughout a passage. Learning to release your breathe slowly and at a consistent pace will help your notes ring more consistently and will also help you sing longer phrases without having to pause for air. To practice steady release, first take a deep breath using your diaphragm, and then exhale while making a long “sss” sound. Focus first on producing a consistent sound and then work on increasing the length you can hold the sound for.

8. Learn to Control Your Breath on Staccato Notes

While it’s important to learn how to release your breath consistently over long, drawn out notes, it’s equally important to learn to release an equal amount of air on shorter more sudden notes. Practice this by exhaling the vowel sounds while focusing on creating the same level of sound with the same amount of air.

9. Learn the “Catch Breath” Technique

Sometimes singers tend to continue exhaling even after they’ve sung a note or a phrase. This wastes valuable air and time which can be used to sing the next phrase. So when singing, make a conscious effort to stop exhaling as soon as you finish a note or a phrase. This way you can quickly inhale and fill your lungs up faster before singing the next phrase.
Plan Your Breathing

When practicing a specific song, think about the ideal places where you can take breaths without interrupting the flow of a song. Oftentimes you’ll realize that you can sing more than one short line in the same breath before taking in one large breathe to hit one long phrase or note.

10. Gain Stage Experience

One of the biggest killers of proper posture is nervousness. When you’re nervous, your shoulders tend to hunch and your muscles tend to tighten up. This in turn affects your ability to take in full breaths, which can then affect your singing capabilities. So work on controlling and relaxing your physiology even while nervous and get as much onstage experience so that this becomes second nature to you.

Reading about something can only take you so far, and this is especially true for singing. So start consciously applying these tips when practicing your singing and I guarantee that you will experience a noticeable difference in your singing abilities.

Quick Singing Tips: The Essential Guide for Guitarists Who Want to Sing
Quick Singing Tips: The Essential Guide for Guitarists Who Want to Sing

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