It is odd, you might think, that we would need to learn how to breathe in singing classes – isn’t it, after all, a very basic human process? Indeed, as we go through our daily lives, much of our breathing is involuntary, and only sufficient for helping our other organs function and for regular talking. However, singing uses up a lot more breath than usual, as it requires more energy for the voice to be more projected in volume and to reach notes that are higher than our regular speaking range. Moreover, singing requires us to hold our breath longer for extended passages of music.
Thus, learning how our breath works and how to manage it is one of the most vital lessons we learn in singing classes. Breathing properly also helps with stress relief and increases our focus, as there is more oxygen in the brain. Here are a few breathing exercises to get you started:
- Feeling the breath
Sit on the edge of the chair. Make sure your legs are perpendicular to the floor. Bend your upper torso so that it is parallel to your thighs, and your face is on your knees. Hug your legs below your knees. Now inhale – you should feel like your left and right ribcages are expanding and pushing onto your upper thighs. If you have a partner with you in the room, ask them to put one hand each on the left and right area of your back’s mid-section where the ribcage is. This area should be expanding too. When you exhale, the ribcage should feel like it’s ‘deflating’ and shrinking inwards. Try this exercise several times, each time seeing if you can expand your ribcage even more as you inhale.
- Breath Management
Get your cell phone and set the timer to zero. Make fists with both hands and put each hand on your side where the ribcage is. Take a deep breath by mimicking a yawn – just make sure your shoulders do not rise up as this means that the breath is shallow. The ribcage should be expanding at your sides and pushing your fists as you inhale; start the timer on your phone; on the exhale, make an elongated ‘tsssss’ sound (which should sound like a deflating balloon) and see how long you can sustain the sound before you run out of breath. As you are making this sound, you should notice your ribcage slowly deflating inwards. Stop the timer when you run out of breath.
You will notice that the louder you make the ‘tsssss’ sound, the faster you will run out of breath! Try this exercise several times and compare your different timings.
- Breath Management + Stress Relief
Do a slow inhale for 5 seconds and exhale for 5 seconds as well. Your ribcage and stomach area should expand upon inhaling, and you should feel no tension in your shoulder area. You can repeat this several times by increasing the number of seconds for inhaling and exhaling.
You can also try inhaling for 5 seconds and exhaling for 6 seconds. Increase the number of seconds for the exhale as you repeat the exercise.
- Using the Diaphragm naturally
Make your hands into fists and put them on your sides where the ribcage is. Pretend to suck through a straw by pursing your lips. The inhalation should be noisy, with a whooshy sound, and the exhalation shouldn’t be as loud. When you inhale, you should notice your sides and your stomach expanding, and when you exhale, these parts will contract slowly.
- Breathing low
This exercise requires some upper body strength so proceed with caution – while standing in good posture, lift two heavy objects on each hand – perhaps two filled suitcases or two chairs of the same design (that are not too heavy). Inhale deeply. You will notice that the breath will be low and there will be no chance for a shallow breath, as your shoulders can’t rise up.
- Breathing like a singer
This exercise is the closest you’ll get to how you breathe while you sing. Imagine that you see something unbelievable, like a unicorn. You will be taking a “surprise” breath! A surprise breath is a quick but low breath with a gasping sound. You should notice your ribcage and stomach expanded. Your shoulders should not tense up. Hold the breath for a short moment then exhale slowly. The only difference between this breath and the singing breath is that we don’t make a gasping sound for the latter.