What’s the deal with Breathing and Singing anyway, huh?
I’ll admit – in my past, I was a bit of a anti-breathing nazzi.
I got frustrated with all the people with no real knowledge of singing would parrot other’s advice of, “Sing from your diaphragm,” as if they had any clue as to what that meant.
Now, does this make breathing any less important for singing? Not really.
But, for me, it does commonly lead to people over emphasizing the importance of breathing over other aspects of vocal technique.
And when you over focus on one aspect of vocal technique, and under focus on others, it leads to imbalance in the voice and overall less than ideal singing.
So in this article, I’m going to share how to breathe while singing.
But I’m also going to share a few breathing myths that I commonly hear so that you don’t find yourself over focusing on the breath.
First off, the breath is the gas on which your voice runs. If there’s no air passing through your vocal cords, then you have no sound.
In order for our vocal machine to work properly, there must be a steady stream of air flowing out of the lungs.
(Diaphragm Enters Stage Right)
Breathing properly helps aid in creating that steady stream of air.
You see, your diaphragm is a muscle connected to the bottom of your lungs.
Some argue if you flex your diaphragm, it expands downward, filling the lungs with air. Others say it’s not an active part of the process.
Regardless as to whether it’s the diaphragm or the intercostal muscles (which are definitely involved), inhaling and keeping a down and outward expansion as you exhale helps moderates the rate at which the air exits the body.
Without engaging the diaphragm, you have little control over the air, making it difficult to sing properly.
I also find that when I breathe from my chest, my larynx rises, throwing my whole vocal mechanism off balance before I start singing, causing undesired and unnecessary tension.
All of this being said, breathing properly is an important part of singing.
How To Breathe While Singing
In order to engage the diaphragm for singing, you breathe deeply into the body.
Feel a downward sensation in the stomach while also an outward expansion around the lower parts of the ribcage.
This isn’t a new feeling to you… you do it every time you go to the bathroom (not #1).
Once you’ve taken this good breath, continue that downward push while you sing your song.
Only allow it to release when you are about to take another breath. Then, repeat.
A couple of tips… it’s best if you breathe in through your nose, as this will help keep your vocal cords from getting dry.
Also, whenever possible, exhale any remaining air from your body before you take a new breath. This will keep you from building up too much pressure.
4 Myths About the Breathing and Singing
This advice is often offered to those trying to figure out how to sing high notes, and more often than not, this is just flat out wrong.
Forcing more air through the vocal folds when singing higher often causes a singer to create more pressure underneath the cords.
This can lead to undesired tension and ultimately cracking.
Sometimes we need more air, sometimes we need to “release” more air when singing, and other times the air simply needs to be more consistent (consistency is key).
The trick is figuring out which. If you struggle figuring this out on your own, singing lessons with a good instructor can help.
Myth #2 – To Sing Longer, Breathe in As Deep As You Can.
Do me a favor… take the deepest breath you can right now.
Got it? Ok, now breathe in a little bit more air on top of that. Does that feel good in your throat?
No, because there’s too much pressure underneath the cords. Singing like this for long will wear you out.
If you’ve got a good coordination between the breath and your vocal cords, you can sing for twice as long as the average singer off of half a breath.
Myth #3 – The Breath is the Foundation of Good Vocal Technique.
Ok, this may be arguable. But, there is SO MUCH MORE to vocal technique than just breathing.
At this point in my coaching career, I’d argue good vocal technique is created equally by 3 things working well together:
– consistent, ideal airflow
– consistent, ideal vocal cord closure
– and consistent, ideal shaping
Nearly all of vocal technique can fit into these categories. The rest is style and preference.
Myth #4 – If You Want to Sing Louder, Use More Breath Support.
First off, maintaining a consistent flow of air is imperative to singing, so of course supporting the tone is important.
And yes, pushing more air can contribute to creating a little bit more sound.
But, when one sees that as their only solution for adding more volume, they’re likely to take this advice to the extreme.
This idea often causes singers to over exert themselves and ultimately become fatigued (usually because they’re singing with too much air pressure under the cord as mentioned in myth #2).
Before you rely on pressure to create a bigger sound, make sure you fully explore resonance.
Very often utilizing the right resonance shape can add as much as pushing more air.
Combine resonance with just a little more air/lean in the cords, and you’ll find you can create a bigger sound than “pushing more air” alone.
Summing Up Singing & Breathing. . .
I’m not trying to belittle the role of the breathing in singing.
Breathing plays a huge role in the production of our sound… and hey, it’s kinda important in life too (if you stop breathing, you die!).
But hopefully, this article has helped you get a better idea of when and how to breathe properly while singing without over focusing on it.
So get to practicing!
Like this article? I’d like to invite you to join our Sing Fam Community. There, you can ask questions, join livestream Q&As, and get access to our app with free vocal training and warm ups.
Vocal Coach Ken Taylor