Published on February 7th, 2011 | by Hugh Hession2
The secret to singing correctly – it’s all in your breath
I get many emails from my readers here at Making it in Music who are interested in techniques to expand their vocal range. Although this is a wildly popular topic (and one that I cover in the section of Vocalist Corner), proper singing really starts with your breathing technique or what is commonly known as breath support. I humorously refer to it in the title as a “secret,” because it’s a topic that eludes so many singers! Breathing correctly when you sing is not rocket science. In fact, it’s a very natural function of our bodies. You’re really not literally changing the way you breathe, but rather how you breathe.
Proper breath support (along with posture) is essential to your singing success for a variety of reasons, mainly to protect your vocal cords, get more power, impact your tone and enable you to hold out those long notes!
First things, first.
Proper breath support comes from your abdomen, not your chest
Most untrained vocalists breathe from their chest. This region does not provide the strength needed to sustain long periods of singing. It places undue stress on your neck and jaw muscles and causes vocal strain.
To get that power and depth to shape your tone, your breath needs to come from your abdomen region, or what is often called “the diaphragm.” Singing from this region takes focus, mainly because when we breathe, it is an unconscious effort. We don’t think about how we breathe, we just do it.
Quit singing with your shoulders!
So how do you know if you are breathing incorrectly? Go to a mirror and start singing something you know. Take notice of your shoulders after every breath. Do they rise? Also, take note of your face, jaw and neck muscles. Is there tension? If so, your breath is being supported from your upper region.
Another is your tone. Singers who lack breath support have a thinner tone, often sounding nasally and bright. You may have heard the term “singing out of your nose.” This is a result. There is no fullness or depth in their tone.
How do I fix it?
Ok, so now you want to know how to fix it, right? No problem. It’s all about focusing on the way you breathe.
Remember to take the focus away from your chest. Make sure that your upper body is relaxed. Your breath is going to come from your lower region – from the diaphragm and your abdomen.
When you take a deep breath, here is how you should proceed:
- Your chest should be held high, but is motionless
- Your shoulders are stationary. They should not move!
- You will notice that your diaphragm flattens, and extends outward
- As a result, your abdomen expands (you will see it push forward)
- Your lower rib cage will extend outward
I know it’s going to take a little time to get used to. I can’t emphasize enough about focusing your breath away from your upper region and into your abdomen area, or lower section of your torso. If you merely keep your upper body relaxed, focusing especially on not moving your shoulders or using your upper chest muscles, it’s going to be an automatic process.
Breath control: the missing link
Now that you have a better understanding of how to breathe, you also have to be able to control your breath. If you don’t get enough air, your notes may drop in pitch and you may not be able to finish your phrases. Too much air will cause you to sound weak with a breathy tone.
The key is to get the right amount of air to help support your tone and sustain your vocal line. Of course, this will all vary depending on the song you are singing.
Don’t use up all your air at once. Sustain your air over the vocal phrase so you will always have it. Letting it out all at once will cause you to start singing with your throat (which you don’t want) or create unnecessary vocal breaks in a song due to having to get more breath.
To avoid this, practice on sustaining your breath slowly over a simple “Ah” chromatic scale, in a comfortable range. This will help you to conserve your breath over a phrase.
When you take your breath, tighten your abdominal muscles as you slowly let the breath out over the course of your scale. Though this takes some getting used to, you will begin to understand how to control your breath to help fully support and shape your voice resulting in a rich and full tone.