The first thing I teach every new singing student is how to breathe correctly. It is often misunderstood how the breathing process differs between singing and speech. For speech we only need a shallow breath but for singing we use a deep breathing technique known as intercostal diaphragmatic breathing. So many singers come to me having got by using only shallow breaths - they are amazed at the results! These are my time tested tricks and tips to help you master it.
The easiest way to start, is to lie on your back on the floor. Yes, you read it right. The same way we breathe at night when tucked up in our beds is the SAME way we breathe for singing. Place your hands on your tummy. Now take a deep breath in. Notice what your hands are doing? They should go up and down. (If they aren't, move your hands along to the point of your belly that IS moving, as everyone has a different length torso.) Literally, they should be rising with each inhalation and falling with each exhalation. That simple! Now stand up and do the same thing on your feet.
Ok, so now we're standing and taking deep breaths in. Tilt your chin slightly downwards to widen the route for your airways. Next, hold an imaginary milkshake in front of you. (With young students I ask them to decide what flavour it is.) Now suck the imaginary milkshake dry all in one go (breathe in until you can go no further)! Make sure you do it without 'straw' lips as you would for singing. You will find you are able to breathe deeply, much quicker. With practise, this same sucking technique will enable you to inhale a deep inflation in JUST one second - reassurance when you only have a beat or less to recover between lyric lines.
FACT: When breathing for singing we do NOT go through our noses. It takes too long and we can't get enough air in one beat (or less!) between lyric lines. Leave that for yoga.
Stand and face a mirror. Take a deep breath in. Your shoulders should be loose and relaxed. Any tension will prevent you from getting a full expansion of your ribcage. You should feel as if you are breathing inwards and downwards into your core. Place your hands on your tummy as a visual guide. They should be moving outwards when you breathe in and inwards when you breathe out. You will know if you're doing it wrong if your shoulders are moving up towards your ears.
Hold Your Breath
Ok, so now you understand where it comes from and where it's going. Have a feel around for your ribcage front and back. Imagine, that's the extent of your lung capacity! Now take a deep breath in and hold it for a few seconds - and exhale. Once you're comfortable with that, practise the technique using your singing warm ups and scales. Much easier right?
TIP: Sometimes we feel lightheaded while practising this - that's a sign it's working!
Time to Sing
A good habit to get into if you haven't done so already, is to mark your breathing points on your lyric sheets. Use a capitol B for a big breath and a lower case b for a quick breath. Now get singing! Use your new breathing technique at every pause and interval. You should feel a lot more power in your voice and singing will take a lot less effort. You will probably wonder how you ever managed before!
Georgie Cooper has been coaching and training singers for 10 years in the South East & Kent. With these articles she aims to simplify much of the myth & jargon surrounding learning how to sing. Click here to read her article How To Stop Straining Your Voice