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Eat. Sleep. Sing. Repeat.

Is that your life motto? Great, now add breath control.

Let's try again:

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You see, you can only sing for so long if you don't know how to breathe well. Breathing for singing isn't the same as breathing day to day.

You have to understand how to breathe in, breathe out, and manage your air all while singing. It's a lot to think about.

But mastering breath control will allow you to focus on the music.

Trained singers know when to breathe so that the music can still flow. They also know that your air is just as important as your voice.

Breathe like a baby...or a dog. If you have a baby or a dog, watch them breathe. You'll see their stomach rise and fall as they inhale and exhale. That's how you want to breathe when singing.

Breath Control Basics

Breath control allows you to sing beautifully without passing out.

You might say to yourself...I know how to breathe. I can get through a phrase of music no problem.

Breath control, my Aunt Fanny.

But you need it, and here's why:

Your breath and breath support are the foundation of your voice.

If you can't breathe well, then:

  • You won't improve as a singer
  • You can't sing long phrases
  • You won't be able to strengthen your vocal range

Without good breath support, you can't control your sound, dynamics, pitch, or tone.

But here's the good news:

You can improve your sound, dynamics, pitch, and tone, by learning breath control.

It doesn't matter if you sing pop, rock, opera, or musical theatre. You need to control your breath.

  Cool fact

Breathing is considered an autonomous system, which means you don't have to think about it. And it's the only autonomous system that you can also control.


I Want Better Breath Control

Before you can work your way to outstanding breath control, let's explore how breath control works:

There are two main ways you can breathe:

  1. From your chest
  2. From your diaphragm

Many people breathe from their chest. If you watch someone breathe this way, you will see their shoulders rise.

That's okay for day to day life, but it's the worst way to breathe for singing. When you sing, you want to breathe from your diaphragm.

The diaphragm is a muscle in your abdomen that's shaped like a dome, and it sits below your lungs.

When you breathe in, your diaphragm contracts and flattens creating a vacuum in your lungs which pulls in air.

Breathing this way fills your lungs entirely.

That doesn't happen when you breathe from your chest.

Learning to breathe from your diaphragm is the easiest way to start building better breath control.

Breathing Bonus:

  • Diaphragmatic breathing isn't just for singing. 
  • Breathing from your diaphragm can lower your blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol (stress hormone) levels.

Breathe Through the Rests

You're probably wondering about rests, and you might be tempted to revert to "normal" breathing during those times.

Don't.

Rests are equally important to the music as the notes you have.

"There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time...try as we may to make a silence, we cannot." -John Cage

Just because you have a rest, that doesn't mean you can let everything go. You have to maintain good breath control for your next entrance.

Even during short rests.

Of course, there are times where you will have one beat to breathe. Or you may have a split second before you have to begin the next phrase.

It's much harder to take in a full breath in a split second than if you have measures of rest.

That's why you need to do this:

Have good breath control from the moment you start singing.

That way, you're covered.

Breathe right

Technically, singing "with" your diaphragm is incorrect.

Your diaphragm plays a significant role in your breathing, but singing should come from the different resonance cavities in your body.

A note on posture

Let's face it, your mother was right.

You need good posture.

Good breath control will only take you so far.

Ideally, you would stand though there are times where sitting is more appropriate.

And although you probably don't want to perform lying down or in a squatting position, both of these can help you form good breath control.

These positions help you to focus on your breathing.

The bottom line is:

Whether you sit or stand, make sure your chest and abdomen have ample space to expand. You should feel your torso expand in all directions: front, back, and sideways.

REMEMBER!


Anyone can become a great singer. While there are plenty of singers with talent, anyone can learn breath control, tone production, and musicianship.

Techniques for the Best Breath Control

There are many techniques you can use to improve your breath control. The specific techniques you use will vary from piece to piece.

Let's take a look:

Pianists and string players can breathe whenever they want, but that's not true for singers. You have to breathe with the music.

Say this sentence out loud:

Did you pause halfway through?

Of course not.

Well, a musical phrase is like a sentence. Some sentences are longer, and some are shorter, but they're still sentences.

The trick is:

You have to know how to control your breathing to facilitate both long and short phrases.

Breathe in...a lot

You can't sing a long phrase without enough air. So you need to breathe in. Take in as much air as you can.

Here's how to inhale a lot of air at once:

Lie on your back and breathe in and out through your mouth. Think about how you feel from your head to your toes.

Next, breathe in through your mouth or nose for four seconds. Hold for eight seconds. Now slowly exhale.

When you hold your breath, it should feel natural. Make sure you don't have any tension.

Tension-Free Tip:

Try meditation. Focus solely on your breathing.

Or start small. Instead of holding a full breath, try holding a small amount of air. Then increase that air until your lungs reach full capacity.

As you build breath control, your ability to inhale more air should also increase.

Breathe in...in tempo

While you can usually get a full breath at the start of a song, you will probably have to take a quick breath at some point.

Some songs have long phrases and short rests. You may even have no rests for a while.

Here's how you get through music like that,

Use the quick breath.

Snatching a breath means taking in a large amount of air in a short amount of time.

This is how you practice:

When you do this, your muscles move back and forth as your lungs take in air.


Once you get comfortable panting, do it without making a sound. You should still feel your diaphragm moving up and down as you pant.

Image via: www.pexels.com

When you do this, your muscles move back and forth as your lungs take in air.


Once you get comfortable panting, do it without making a sound. You should still feel your diaphragm moving up and down as you pant.

Image via: www.pexels.com

Breath Control Tip: Don't be afraid to make up your own breath control exercises because everyone's bodies are different. If there's a particular type of exercise you enjoy, find similar exercises to keep things fresh.


Let it all out...slowly

Once your lungs are full of air, you can breathe out. But don't let all of your air out at once.

You're not a balloon.

You have to maintain that air so you can sing through the entire phrase.

Learning how to breathe out is just as essential as learning how to breathe in. Inhalation is only one part of breath control.

Here are some ideas for control:

Use a stopwatch.

Time yourself to see how long it takes for you to breathe out. First, breathe out without singing. Then try the exercise when singing a note.

Use a timer.

Instead of letting the air go, try and ration your air. Set a timer for eight seconds and let one-fourth of the air go every two seconds.

Hold a breath competition.

Have any fellow singer friends or kids? Get a few together and see who can exhale the longest.


Listen to Fel:

Reminder:


You won't have impeccable breath control overnight. Developing those muscles takes time, so don't give up if you don't see immediate results.


How To: Breath Control Exercises

We hit some exercises, but that barely scratches the surface. There are many breath control exercises you can do to increase your lung capacity and maintain control.

Some breath control exercises focus more on your breath and breath support.

Other exercises involve singing.

No set of exercises is inherently better than another. It's up to you to decide which exercises you like.

Here's how to approach breath control exercises:

When you first start working on breath control, doing it daily might seem intimidating. But daily practice is key to improvement.

You wouldn't go for a week or a month without singing, right?

Give your breath the same attention as your voice, and you'll be well on your way to excellent breath control.

Remember this:

Consistency is important. If you can't commit to every day, try once every two days.

Do you need to spend hours a day working on breath control?

You shouldn't have to spend more than 10 to 15 minutes a day strictly on breath control.

Here's a better idea:

Multi-task! You can do some exercises while doing something else.

Try practicing breath control on your commute, in the shower, or while cooking dinner.

You can easily add breath control into your daily routine, and it doesn't have to take up much of your time.

Important!

If you get nauseous or light-headed during an exercise:

man holding a stop sign

Image via: www.pexels.com

Breath control is supposed to help you not hurt you.


Make sure you don't overwork yourself and be sure to consult a doctor if you have any major issues.



Breathing benefits

Aside from the obvious benefit of living...

There are benefits to practicing breath control.

  1. You will be able to sing better
  2. You can sing for more extended periods
  3. They can extend your vocal range.

If you want to improve your high notes or your low notes, good breath control is the place to start.

Your breathing is the foundation of your tone as a singer.

And here's the best part:

Once you become familiar with proper breath control, it will be hard to go back. You will become so accustomed to an amazing sound that you won't want to give it up.

That's not all.

Breathing properly can lower your blood pressure and your heart rate.

The best of the best

The best breath control exercises will push your limits. They will increase your lung capacity, and allow you to build the perfect foundation for your sound.

Control your stress and control your breath: Find a way to relax and minimize your stress to maximize your breath.

Hissing

This one is awesome, and here's how you do it:

Take in a full breath of air. Then make a hissing sound as you release the air.

Be sure you exhale slowly and consistently.

Simple.

Once you master the hissing exercises, add a note to it. Find a note in the middle of your range, and repeat the exercise with that a note.

Whether you hiss or sing, make sure you hold it out as long as you can.

Snatched breaths

Remember the quick breaths we talked about earlier?

Here's how you do that with control:

You can incorporate snatched breaths into the hissing exercise.

Once you run out of air, try and refill your lungs in a split second with a gasp or pant, then continue the exercise.

Apply this principle in the music you're working on to practice in a real song.

And that's not all:

Another exercise involves fractions.

  • Fill your lungs a quarter of the way
    • Then halfway
      • Then three quarters
        • Full
          • Slowly exhale.

After you're comfortable doing that, fill your lungs in two counts: one half then the second half.

Slowly exhale.

Finally, take in a full breath of air in one count then exhale.

Hands on your stomach

This next exercise will make you very aware of what your body is doing when you breathe. You can stand, sit, or lie down, just choose a comfortable position.

Listen to what Kim has to say:

Feel your stomach move as you inhale and exhale.

Sometimes, being aware of your own breathing can make a big difference in how you approach breath control when singing.

Consider a teacher:  A vocal coach isn't necessary, but it can be very helpful. Most private voice teachers and coaches know many different breath control exercises, and they can tailor the exercises for you.

Breath Control for Singing

Your body doesn't know to inhale a large amount of air because you have a long phrase ahead. You have to send those signals by contracting the diaphragm and breathing in the necessary amount of air.


The entire point of studying breath control is to improve your singing.


And the diaphragm is where you want to start.


Your diaphragm contracts so that your lungs can suck in large amounts of air. That means you can take in the largest quantity of air in the shortest amount of time.



Use breaths to add shape


Many singers and musicians do what they do to make their audience feel something. To do that, you have to tell a story.


You can't just sing like a robot.


Not only are breaths a great way to maintain your air flow, but they're also the perfect tool for adding shape to the music.

Where you breathe can emphasize specific phrases and moments in a song that you want to highlight. You can also use a full breath to hit that high note or to sustain a long note at the end of a phrase.


Breathing correctly will give the music a story. Lyrics can only take you so far.



Support your voice


The last thing you want is to ruin your vocal cords...


or is it vocal folds?


Whatever you choose to call your larynx, or voice box, make sure you take care of it.


As a singer, your voice is your instrument. If it gets damaged, you can't send it off to the repair shop.


Sure, you could have surgery to repair your vocal cords, but that's not ideal.

Do this instead:


Focus on protecting your voice now. And good breath control will help you do just that.


If you sing with proper breath control and breath support, you will be able to sing for longer periods without fatigue.


That's the dream.

woman drinking water on a glass

Vocal Myth: Drinking water won't hydrate your vocal cords/folds. Your vocal cords are separate from your esophagus, which is where water goes.


So, it takes time for your body to absorb that water to "hydrate" your vocal cords.


Sing On!

We can't stress enough how important breath control is for good singing.


Controlling your breath allows you to sing longer phrases more easily.


And not only that:


Breath control can also help you get a fuller sound in the high and low parts of your range.


Singing should be fun, not stressful. While it will take time to develop breath control, once you do you won't have to worry about it.


Breathing is already a natural process, so you're merely training your body to breathe more deeply, naturally.


So keep on singing and keep on breathing.

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