What is correct breathing
The more I talk to singers about breathing the more I’m discovering how often they are still in the dark about the particulars of correct breathing.
When we sing we want to use our diaphragm muscle to control our rate of air. We must avoid holding air in our chest. To do so would involve using the throat muscles to project our sound and this is bound to cause fatigue at best and permanent vocal damage at worst. The diaphragm is a large muscle connected to the bottom of our rib cage and wrapping around our torso (most infamous for spasming and causing hiccups) It is also the muscle we want to control our airflow whilst we sing.
When we breath deeply our diaphragm muscle drops, our ribcage wall lifts and our lungs expand. If we activate the diaphragm when we exhale it creates a bellow effect and keeps our throat clear and open like a wind tunnel as we project our air through it!
Breathing Myths busted!
I need to forcefully fill my lungs as much as possible!!
Not at all! Breathing should never feel forced, it should feel…well, as easy as breathing!
If you try to gulp or gasp your air in an effort to fill your lungs and engage your diaphragm it will actually tighten your throat muscles and close your vocal folds, which will create a lot of unwanted resistance on the exhale.
correct practice: Exhale all the air from your lungs, hold for 4 seconds and then simply drop your jaw and release that hold. the diaphragm will do what it is intended for and effortlessly streamline the air to your lungs without holding any in your chest. The diaphragm muscles is a hard one to find and activate, this exercise will help keep you familiar with correct air placement.
I have to try and hold my breath in-between phrases!
Holding your breath is a bad idea. Do you hold your breath when you are swimming? No, you blow bubbles and slowly/evenly release air until you can tilt your head to the side and take another breath. Singing is similar. Don’t hoard your air, keep your exhale controlled, consistent and even.
Correct practice: Take a deep diaphragm breath in and exhale on a soft “hiss” trying to keep the air flow as consistent as possible. Do you feel pressure anywhere other than the diaphragm? If so try and relax that pressure. It’s important that you’re not holding air anywhere else in the body and the diaphragm is the only muscle creating pressure. Aim to keep that consistent exhale for sixty seconds but don't be discouraged if it takes a little while to achieve!
Good posture just means keeping my back straight!
That is a part of it, but not all of it! Correct posture in singing involves keeping your diaphragm stretch’d. (no slouching of the torso.) but the most overlooked factor in regards to posture and breathing is shoulder placement. Why is how I hold my shoulders so important?
I’m so glad you asked! Directly below your voice box rests a small muscle called the Omohyoid muscle that connects from the shoulder to a small bone called the Hyoid bone. If your shoulders are hunched or tight whilst you sing, this muscle shortens and raises the larynx, hindering your ability to really open your throat and access your full breath support even when you are otherwise breathing correctly.
Correct practice: If you find you often raise your shoulders when you sing, lay down on your back with your neck well supported and practice the above breathing techniques. It’s almost impossible to shallow breathe whilst laying on your back. The more you strengthen your diaphragm muscle, the less likely you are to use your shoulders and breath to your chest. So use this position to safely strengthen that muscle.
Once I learn correct breathing I can stop practicing it specifically right?
Wrong! Sorry! If you're like me you took up music to stay away from physical exercise in high school, but the diaphragm is a muscle and like all muscles the more you use them the stronger they get. If you neglect them they waste away. Your breathing techniques should be revisited often!
Still having trouble with your breathing? Shoot me a message in the comments below or contact me to book a lesson! I’m available via Skype or for face to face lessons in the Sydney CBD.