Breathing 101

Breathing is easy, right? It’s instinctive. We do it every minute of every day, from the minute we are born to the minute we die. Surely we don’t need to devote more time to it when we are singing? We already know how to do this stuff – we were born knowing it!

Hmmm. Not so much. The kind of breathing that you are doing now, sat on the sofa, or at a desk, is the shallow kind. Unless you’ve got a cold or a cough, it is unlikely that your chest or stomach are moving much. You are breathing just enough to keep you alive with the minimal effort. But singing is NOT minimal effort. You should finish a singing session feeling pleasantly tired. You should have been using a LOT of air to power your voice, and the stomach and lungs is where this breath is rooted.

It is no coincidence that we refer to singing loudly as “belting” – that’s exactly the area that you should be exercising, pulling in air from there and then gently releasing it in a controlled way to make a really good sound. It involves a lot more conscious thought than you might imagine.

Imagine your whole torso is nothing but a container for air. Starting at the bottom of your torso, just above your pelvis you will pull air down, and just like any container, it will fill from the bottom up. As you fill up, feel your stomach pushing out slightly (it’s making room for your diaphragm which is governing this whole “breathing” malarkey), and then as your stomach feels full of air, start to engage your ribs and lungs, finally explanding your chest until you can’t breathe in an iota more.

Hold it.

Hold it…

Now, as you release it, don’t puff it all out in a single, coughing breath. Let it out gently and oh, so very slowly. If it helps, purse your lips and let it trickle out that way. You want to make this breath last. With this breath you are moving the tiny folds of muscle and skin in your throat to make a beautiful sound. They are only little, so you don’t need much air to move them.

Now, do the same again, but this time, make an “Ooooo” sound whilst you let your breathe trickle out. Experiment with pulling in your tummy to make the sound louder, and relaxing it to let the sound drift to almost nothing. Work with other vowel sounds – noting which ones take the most breath to sustain, and which ones sound solid and which ones sound wobbly and uncertain.

Once you’ve got the hang of that, try altering the note of your “ooo” sound up and down. Gentle and strong. Always be aware of how much air you are using.

Try it sitting down. And standing up, and – most importantly – lying down. Lying down helps your stomach muscles to understand exactly what is happening and what is required of them.

Now, I want you to do that for 20 minutes every day. Try “oooo-ing” a song that you know and love. Keep it gentle. Remember to breathe deeply. The performance doesn’t matter. The breathing and your ability to do it without thinking consciously *does*. This should be part of your singing routine every day. Eventually you will get to the point where breathing correctly is second nature, which is the whole point of the exercise!

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