Breathing techniques for singing

Singing is all about having a good technique. Like any other sport you can train yourself to become better at it. How do you do this? Simple, you need to use various breathing techniques related to singing which help you exercise and train your lungs, vocal chords, diaphragm and help you with breath control to enable you to make your voice more powerful which means you can hold notes for much longer.

Before using any breathing techniques to help your singing you first need to learn some basic breathing techniques to help you breathe normally. These basics will teach you how the lungs, diaphragm and trachea all work together to help you breathe.

When you breathe in your lungs will fill up with air. This should be a natural process. Under no circumstance should you be sucking in your stomach to make room for your diaphragm. At this point your body extracts the oxygen from your lungs leaving only carbon dioxide which you breathe back out. Also, when you breathe out your diaphragm will gently squeeze the lungs to push the air out

To put in simple terms, you should be breathing deeply and exhaling all the waste carbon dioxide from your lungs without forcing it out. This is done to make room for the new fresh air that your draw with your next breath. The more you breathe in and the more you manage to breathe out will help you hold your notes much longer. Breathing naturally also affects your singing performance as your notes will not sound forced or as though you are shouting them instead of singing them.

Breathing correctly

A quick breathing technique will tell you if you are breathing correctly. To start with lie flat on your back. Place your hand on your stomach so your fingers touch.  Start breathing in, you will feel how your stomach and chest move as they are filled with oxygen. You will be breathing correctly if you notice your stomach filling with air and expanding upwards towards your chest so that you end up with your stomach concave and your chest puffed outwards.

This is how you breathe normally and from here if you find you are breathing poorly you should use this position to consciously alter how you breathe and force yourself to allow for that ‘rolling’ motion up your stomach into your chest. Using these breathing techniques singing you can then fix your general breathing to enable you to sing and talk with more power and with more available air.

However singing is quite different from breathing normally as it requires you to exhale for long periods of time and to control the rate at which you let air escape. This requires control and again this can be trained using breathing techniques.

Controlling your breath

By using the method described above, you can try to alter the speed at which you breathe and how you let air escape. While maintaining good technique, breathe in continuously for the count of five seconds, then hold your breath for five seconds, then exhale continuously for five and begin again. You will find that breathing out for five whole seconds can be tricky as you quickly run out of breath, it is here then that control comes in to play as you have to use your breath control to let the air out slowly enough that you can breathe out for that long. This is how you learn to make the best of the amount of air your lungs can hold when holding a note. As you improve you can then begin increasing the number to control your inwards and outwards breaths for longer or shorter periods of time, just as you will need to in order to fit the phrasing of various songs.

A similar exercise used by some singers to train control is to breathe using a steady rhythm then ‘sing’ a number on each outwards breath, counting to say 20. This again requires control and each time it comes round to a count you need to be ready to have the right amount of air ready. This means inhaling and exhaling the correct amount at a steady rate.

As well as using breathing techniques singing style to control your breath, you can also benefit from simply holding more air in your lungs and so should work on increasing your lung capacity. You can do this with cardiovascular exercise which will help train your lungs, as will swimming underwater and holding your breath. By combining a larger lung capacity with a greater ability to control your breathing you will be armed with the ability to hold your notes and project them loudly and proudly.

Of course like all forms of training, the best form is to keep practicing. If you want to get better at singing, and singing in a certain way, then simply make sure you do vocal exercises and carry out breathing exercises often and try to enjoy what you do. That is the best way to improve on every facet of your technique.

 

Vocal Warm ups – why bother with them?

Ask yourself a question. If a friend asked you to join them in a 10 mile run starting immediately, would you say yes straight away on your way to the start line or would you say ‘Let me warm up first and I will join you when I am ready’?

People seem to think that because they speak everyday they are exercising their voice so don’t need to bother with warm up exercises. How wrong they are! Talking on a daily basis is not the same as giving a speech. Neither is walking down to the post box to post a letter the same as running 10 miles. You may be using the same body parts but they are being used in an entirely different way.

If you are giving a speech and you want it to sound right then you should do vocal warm ups as part of preparation.

The benefits of vocal warm ups are minimising the possibilities of stumbling over words, forgetting what was coming next, and facing a fit of the nervous jitters. Vocal warm ups help you channel the natural adrenalin rush that comes from performing positively. Instead of being immobilised you can use it as fuel to boost your delivery.

When doing your vocal warm ups you should focus on the following three areas:

Body

Standing with your feet shoulder width apart, breathe in through the nose and bending from the waist allow yourself to flop like a rag doll while breathing out through your mouth. Shake any tension out of your arms, neck, shoulders and allow yourself to literally hang loose. And then breathing in through your nose very gently and slowly bring yourself upright, vertebrae by vertebrae, and breathe out through your mouth. Shake your arms and hands until they feel relaxed and warm and do the same with your legs. When exercising your shoulders, hunch them as high as your ears and then relax. Keep repeating until they feel at ease. Do gentle and smooth head rolls to exercise your neck. Smile as wide as you can to exercise the mouth.

 

Breath

Good vocal warm ups always involve becoming conscious of breathing patterns and establishing those that sustain and support the voice.

  • Stand with your feet a comfortable shoulder width apart.
  • Support the weight of your body through your hips and legs rather than locking your knees.
  • Consciously release and relax your shoulders.
  • If you’re holding your stomach in, let it go.
  • Place your hands on your stomach.
  • Breathe in through your nose to the count of five. Count slowly. As you inhale feel your diaphragm rising.
  • Breathe out through your mouth to the count of five and now feel your diaphragm expanding.
  • Do several rounds of inhale and exhale while making sure you keep your shoulders, stomach and legs relaxed.

Voice

To warm your voice, unite the breathing exercise above with sound. Also, if you feel like it try a couple of tongue twisters, here is a great one:

You know New York,
You need New York,
You know you need unique New York.

In your lead up to speaking, complete all of your stage and prop checks and then aim to set aside a minimum of ten minutes for vocal exercise warm ups in a private quiet place before you take to the stage. You’ll find it works wonders for focusing, relaxing and settling any nervous tension.

 

How to do vocal warm up exercises

Just like athletes, anyone who sings should warm up correctly before any practice session and main performance.  You should go through a variety of warm up vocal exercises to loosen your voice and limber up your muscles to be able to be in the best condition for the performance.  A good warm up will take about tem minutes to complete.  Always start off gently. Don’t try and reach the high notes straight away as you will likely cause damage to your vocal muscles. Here are a number of steps to get your voice ready to perform.

  • Perform light exercise to loosen and relax your body. Jogging on the spot, swinging your arms and stretching are all good forms of physical exercise to get your blood flowing.
  • Make a yawn sound quietly at the top of your natural range.  Then slowly descend all the way to the bottom of your range. This one should be repeated between five and seven times.
  • Sing a note in your middle range using a vowel like ‘ah’. Then sing five notes up and five notes down.  Keep repeating until you are half a step higher, then another step and so on until you feel yourself stretching. However, don’t overdo it and stop before you get to a note that is too high for comfort.
  • Repeat the exercise, starting again from the middle of your range, but this time go down and then up a five-note scale. Sing each successive scale a half-step down until you reach the bottom of your range.
  • Work on flexibility. Sing “ah” on a note near the bottom of your range, then sing “ah” on the second note in the major scale. Return to the first note, and then sing the third note in the major scale. Return to the first note again. Continue until you jump an entire octave. Repeat the using each of the vowel sounds.
  • Sing a complete song gently.
  • After a few minutes of exercise your voice should be warm and ready to perform.

Following these simple vocal exercises will help you warm up correctly so when you do go out to perform you will be reaching all those notes correctly but more importantly singing in key.

Perfect vocal warm up exercises

If your ambition is to be a good singer then it is essential you do some vocal warm up exercises. You might be thinking ‘I have managed just fine without them so why bother now?’ The reason is simple, doing some simple vocal exercises will put you on the first step of the ladder of becoming a singer rather than just ‘someone that can sing’.

When singing your vocal performance will improve dramatically if you do your vocal warm up exercises. Look at it from a different angle. Just like swimming, running and cycling require you to warm up your muscles to avoid straining and hurting your muscles, the same applies to singing. You have to properly warm up your abdominal muscles so that they can work the air that comes through your vocal chords so you are able to generate the correct sounds when you sing.

Here are some simple vocal exercises that you can do to ensure your listeners hear the very best from your amazing singing voice.

Humming

You must be joking? In fact no we are not. However, the humming exercise is not the simple hum, there is a twist. You need to position your mouth in the correct position before humming.  So to start with keep your lips closed but loose. Start humming but try and get a feeling as though you are pushing the sound gently away from your stomach straight to the inside of your closed mouth. You will feel how it pushes making your relaxed lips vibrate.

Lip rolls

This is a great warm up exercise for the vocal chords and it is one you can have a bit of fun with too. What you need to do is imagine yourself under water blowing bubbles, weird we know but it really works.  You need to be relaxed otherwise if your lips are not relaxed you will not be able to do the lip rolls. While pushing the air up with your diaphragm you need to let your lips move freely doing a ‘brbrbrbr’ sound. Told you it was a fun one!

Scale singing

It worked for Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music when she was teaching the children the ‘Doh Reh Me’ song. When doing vocal warm up exercises scale singing is perfect to get you warmed up. Scale singing is when you go through different notes to make it easier for you to go further when you start singing.

These are just a few vocal exercises that you can do to warm up those vocal chords. Correct warm up exercises can help you give the perfect performance when you are out on that stage.

 

Breathing and vocal exercises for singers

One of the foundations of learning to sing correctly is knowing how to breathe correctly as well as learning how to correctly control the way you breathe so that when you are singing your breathing is being used to optimum effect.

As soon as we are born our breathing is naturally correct. A baby can breathe, yell and scream at optimum capacity because they are using their lungs without any conscious thought. However, as we grow older some people become lazy in how they breathe and breathe using only the upper part of their lungs – taking a shallow breath instead of a normal breath.

Understanding how to correctly breathe and use breath control, you need to first understand the process involved to help you achieve this. Our lungs are surrounded by a system of muscles known as the diaphragm. The diaphragm is attached to the lower ribs – on the sides, bottom and to the back acting as an inhalation device.  When we take a breath in the whole muscle lowers displacing the intestines and stomach and when you breathe out the diaphragm helps to manage the abdominal muscles surrounding the lungs control how quickly the breath is exhaled.

If you hold a finger close to your lips and breathe out slowly, your breath should be warm and moist and you should notice the action of the diaphragm as you exhale. For singing normally this is the correct amount of breath that should be used.  A singer does not need to ‘force’ or ‘push’ air through the vocal chords to produce a good strong sound, doing so creates too much pressure against the chords, preventing them from operating correctly which can cause damage to the voice.

Your stomach area should move naturally inward toward the end of the breath but it should not be sucked in as doing this will prevent the diaphragm working effectively. Instead the abdominal area should remain expanded to the level it was when you inhaled and allowed to gradually decrease naturally at the end of the breath.

At this point ‘control’ comes into play. As a singer you expand your lungs by inhaling therefore controlling the amount of air that is expelled when singing a note by allowing the muscle support system to remain expanded – this doesn’t mean the stomach is pushed out, rather that it is blown up like a balloon when the air goes in and the singer slows down the natural rate at which it goes down. In most people the breathing is shallow and only the top half of the lungs are used – breathing correctly uses the whole of the lungs so that more air is available, the singer then uses the natural action of the muscles (diaphragm and abdominals) surrounding the lungs to control the amount of air that is exhaled when singing a note.

Good breath support during singing and speech requires good posture, abdominal breathing and breathing during natural pauses. Breathing and correct support does not require great physical strength – although having toned abdominal muscles and doing some vocal exercises does help.

However, it is important to remember one thing…….the diaphragm doesn’t exhale for you – just helps to control the amount of air exhaled.

Breath Control for Singers featured on The One Show 18th April 2012

BBC iPlayer - The One ShowThe One Show recently included a feature on breath control for singers. Presented by Carrie Grant, British vocal coach and session singer, the feature began – and ended – with two extraordinary facts: the longest note in UK chart history is held by Morten Harket from Aha who held a note for 20-seconds, in ‘Summer Moved On’. This record is followed by Bill Withers who held a note for 18-seconds in his song ‘Lovely Day’.

How do they do it? Is lung capacity the key?

Could lung capacity be the reason why one person is able to hold a note longer than another person? Does this have an impact on the length of note held?

The peak flow test used in the feature revealed how the person with half the value of the second test subject was able to hold a note for far longer. This most important factor in holding the note longer was how the subject ‘breathed’. How she breathed in and how she controlled her breathing.

To illustrate breath control Dane Chalfin, Vocal Coach, suggested thinking of the lungs as a tube of toothpaste being slowly squeezed by the stomach muscles. Using this analogy, imagine the toothpaste emerging from the tube in a slow and controlled manner. As the muscle contracts it pushes everything up and assists air back up to the vocal folds (like toothpaste being pushed to the opening of the tube).

Most singers will experience 50% of air lost in the first note if they don’t use breath control, whereas with breath control less air is lost and a purer, longer note can be produced.

The One Show programme shown on 18/04/2012 is available to view on BBC iPlayer until 25/04/2012. The feature starts from about the 22.54 minute mark.

Please leave a comment here if you’re using POWERbreathe as part of your vocal exercises for singers and breath control. We’d love to hear from you.

Breathing techniques and exercises that won’t ruin your voice

voice-exercisesNot everyone knows this, but if you don’t know the correct breathing techniques when singing you can seriously damage your voice and your health. Knowing how to breathe properly and knowing the right vocal exercises can improve your singing.

Anyone who likes to sing – be it in the shower or as a professional will know that singing is based on breath.  The number one rule any singer needs to know is if they want to sing properly then they need to adopt the correct breathing techniques and vocal exercises otherwise they will run into serious problems that could ruin their singing voice permanently.

Music teachers everywhere are always debating what the correct breathing techniques are for singers. There is more than one vocal exercise and breathing technique that is taught across the world and because of this it makes it extremely difficult to tell which breathing techniques are good for your voice and which breathing exercises can ruin your voice.

It is easy to distinguish which breathing exercises and techniques are bad for your voice – bad breathing exercises and vocal exercises will make your throat hurt and feel extremely tight while you are singing. If your breathing technique is incorrect and you start singing you will have a feeling of tension building up in your throat and you will have difficulty projecting your voice. What this results in is un-necessary strain being placed on your vocal cords.

Placing un-necessary tension on your vocal cords and forcing your voice to sing will cause you extreme harm as well as plenty of problems including:

  • Shortness of breath while singing
  • A vocal sound that sounds powerless and weak
  • The inability to reach high notes.

To be able to sing correctly it is not that difficult to learn the correct breathing exercises and vocal exercises. Once you learn the correct process it will be a piece of cake.

Remember the three golden rules and your singing will be perfect, ensure:

  • You are taught the correct way on taking controlled breaths
  • You know how to support that breath; and
  • You know how to keep your throat open and relaxed while doing it.

Vocal exercises for the perfect singing voice

There are people who are born with the talent to sing, there are those who struggle to sing but still, vocal exercises are needed in order to be a good singer. These exercises are needed to develop the singing voice and in order to carry a good tune. But what are these exercises? And are they easy enough to do?

The answer to both these questions is yes; these vocal training exercises are easy to follow and are very effective in terms of helping a person sing very well. Included in this kind of exercise are respiratory exercises, pronunciation and voice exercises. It can range from easy to difficult. These exercises will help you have a smooth and powerful voice, extend your vocal range and also help you sustain your voice.

Warm up exercises like singing in middle range voice, then decrease to low range and finally to a high range. Spend as much time as possible, at least 10 minutes on each range and do not overdo it. Stressing and pronouncing your vowels correctly can do the trick. Sing a song from ‘do’ up to ‘so’ in order to practice the flexibility of your voice. If you have pitch problems, practicing from do-re-mi can remedy this problem.

Breathing as we all know can help a lot in our singing. In singing, breathing from the diaphragm can increase and extend vocal power. It also helps in the quality of the voice. You can hit the right notes by breathing from the diaphragm. After singing, it is good to have a cool down exercise like lip rolling. This can help in avoiding strain to your voice.

Continue doing these vocal exercises. In time you will be able to sing well and impress more people. Singing can be learned and developed. Given the right vocal exercises and the right attitude, surely a good singing voice can be achieved. Practice as they say makes perfect, so just keep on practicing to keep on developing your voice.

Breathing techniques for singers

One of the biggest challenges any singer faces is learning how to breathe correctly. As if that is not hard enough they also need to know how to control their breathing so it is used to optimum effect when singing.

From birth our breathing is naturally correct. For example, a baby can scream, yell and breathe using their lungs with optimum effect because they are doing this without a conscious thought. However, as we start to grow older some people become lazy in their habits and only use the upper part of their lungs – they take a shallow breath instead of a normal one.

To understand how correct breathing and breath control works, first you need to understand the process that it uses to operate.

Surrounding your lungs is a muscle system called the diaphragm which is attached to the lower ribs on the sides, bottom and to the back, acting as an inhalation device. When you breathe in the muscles lower, displacing the stomach and intestines. When you breathe out the diaphragm helps the abdominal muscles control how quickly the breath is exhaled.

If you breathe out quickly, the diaphragm does nothing but when you breathe out very slowly the diaphragm resists the action of the abdominal muscles. A singer learns to use this muscle system to control the breath as it is being exhaled.

Hold a finger close to your lips and breathe out slowly, the breath should be warm and moist and you should notice the action of the diaphragm as you exhale. This is the correct amount of breath used when singing normally. A singer does not need to ‘force’ or ‘push’ air through the vocal chords to produce a good strong sound, doing so creates too much pressure against the chords, preventing them from operating correctly which can cause damage to the voice.

The stomach area should move naturally inward toward the end of the breath, the stomach should not be ‘sucked in’ as it prevents the diaphragm from working effectively. Instead the abdominal area should remain expanded to the level it was when you inhaled and allowed to gradually decrease naturally at the end of the breath.

This is where the ‘control’ comes into play – the singer expands the lungs by inhaling and ‘controls’ the amount of air expelled when singing a note by allowing the muscle support system to remain expanded – this doesn’t mean the stomach is pushed out, rather that it is blown up like a balloon when the air goes in and the singer slows down the natural rate at which it goes down. In most people the breathing is shallow and only the top half of the lungs are used – breathing correctly uses the whole of the lungs so that more air is available, the singer then uses the natural action of the muscles (diaphragm and abdominals) surrounding the lungs to control the amount of air that is exhaled when singing a note.

Good breath support during singing and speech requires good posture, abdominal breathing and breathing during natural pauses. Breathing techniques and correct support does not require great physical strength – although having toned abdominal muscles helps. Remember the diaphragm doesn’t exhale for you – just helps to control the amount of air exhaled and if done correctly your vocal exercises routine will become second nature.

The Music Tutors: POWERbreathe Week 5 – Exciting

Just took another set of readings and am quite excited! It’s 9 days since the last post and there have been more definite improvements for me.  Laura is very much looking to catching up where she left off when I meet up with her again.  I haven’t managed to do the exercises twice every day, but I have managed at least one set of 30 breaths everyday.

I thought perhaps I wouldn’t see as much improvement as I would have liked. But I got a clue to my developing breath control while singing for a wedding in the chapel of the Royal Hospital Chelsea on Saturday.

My ability to sustain long phrases is definitely better.

I have been using the level 3 setting on the POWERbreathe until today, but tomorrow I will start on level 4 because it currently feels easier to do the exercises on the current level than when I started on level 0.

I’ll keep you posted.

For more detailed results, read more at the Music Tutors