The Three Ways to Breathe
Breathing correctly will produce a clear, even vocal tone that will increase projection and quality and reduce vocal fatigue.
Welcome back to your singing course! Now that you know how to stand correctly, let’s talk about breathing. You already know from Lesson 1 on voice physiology that breathing is how your voice is produced, so you understand that breathing efficiently for singing will get the best out of your voice.
What Happens When You Breathe?
When you sing or speak, there is ongoing interaction between your intercostal muscles, abdominal muscles (including the diaphragm), and laryngeal muscles (throat). When these muscles are underdeveloped and your posture is incorrect, you experience difficulty in breathing for singing.
You can make shallow breaths from the chest area, or you can take deeper breaths from the trunk of your body, where your diaphragm is.
A shallow breath will:
• Make a sound
• Be distracting
• Cause vocal fatigue
• Give you a sore throat
• Prevent good projection
Three Ways to Breathe
There are basically three ways to breathe:
Let me explain each one:
This involves a lifting of your shoulders and is a short, shallow breath. The clavicle is also called the collarbone. It is difficult to get sufficient breath for singing with clavicular breathing.
This involves using the muscles between your ribs. They pull the ribs up and out and thus help to expand the ribcage to allow space for lung expansion.
Abdominal breathing uses the diaphragm and allows you to take a really deep breath.
The diaphragm is the muscle that is attached to the last rib of your ribcage. It is dome-shaped and contracts down, flattening out when you breathe in. This pushes against your abdominal organs, thus opening the chest and allowing full expansion of your lungs.
When you relax and breathe out, the diaphragm returns to its original dome shape. There is a slight pause before the cycle begins again.
The diaphragm is an involuntary muscle—you use it without thinking. It cannot be strengthened or weakened, but you can strengthen the surrounding abdominal muscles when you practice abdominal breathing and therefore improve your singing technique.
So, which style of breathing is correct?
Correct breathing for singing is a combination of intercostal and abdominal breathing.
Here’s a quick breathing exercise—Ssh, Vvv, Zzz—for you to try at home:
This exercise will help strengthen the abdominal and intercostal muscles, which are essential for healthy singing.
Stand straight with one hand on the side of your ribcage and the other hand over your diaphragm.
To understand the sensation, pretend you are blowing out a candle placed in front of you. Feel the movements as you do this.
Upon exhalation, you will feel a muscular release around your abdominal and lower ribcage area. Make sure that your sternum remains elevated as you do this and that your neck remains straight and relaxed without jutting forward.
Now, instead of blowing out a candle, use the same action but use the sound “Ssh.” Immediately after this, allow your muscles to return to their neutral position.
Take a full breath and try it twice: “Ssh, Ssh.” Then three times: “Ssh, Ssh, Ssh.”
Repeat this pattern with the sounds “Vvv” and “Zzz.”
You are well on your way to becoming a breathing machine! In the next lesson, we will cover the importance of resonance and vibration.
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