If you’ve been singing for any period of time at all, you’ve probably heard repeatedly just how important breathing from your diaphragm is. Without question, proper breathing and support is crucial for good singing, but wrapping ones head around something as vague as “breathing from your diaphragm” isn’t always the easiest thing. So, in this article, I figured I’d share some thoughts about breathing and singing, as well as a few breathing exercises that can help you with your vocal endeavors.
First off, the whole purpose of proper breathing is to create a steady and consistent flow of air. Without a steady flow of air, we would struggle to maintain balance in our voice, ultimately causing unnecessary tension while singing.
Utilizing our diaphragm while breathing allows us to moderate the flow of air as it exits our body, giving us the steady flow of air we desire.
If you wonder whether or not you breathe from your diaphragm, there's an easy way to tell. Simply stand in front of a mirror and watch your shoulders when you breathe. If your shoulders rise when you breathe, then you're not breathing from your diaphragm. But no worries, correcting this isn't that difficult.
So How Do We Singers Breathe From Our Diaphragm
Well, there are a couple of ways. One of the most traditional ways to experience this is to lie down on your back and place a book on your stomach. Then, when you breathe in, you want to expand the stomach and push the book upward toward the ceiling. When you exhale, you can let go of that expansion and allow the book to come back down.
This is how many voice teachers help a student first experience breathing from their diaphragm. You may have to lie there for a minute or two to work out the coordination, but once you do, you should be able to duplicate it.
Another way to feel the sensation of breathing properly is to place your hands on your sides below your lowest ribs. Then, when you breathe in, feel the expansion all the way around your body. You should feel the front of your stomach expand, your sides should push out slightly, and ideally you'll even feel a small expansion in your lower back (if you're standing in front of a mirror, you also be able to see hands push out away from your body).
I prefer this method of learning the breath as it gives you more control, but the lying on the floor with a book is easier for some people to experience and also effective, so feel free to play with either.
Once you've done that, you're ready to move onto the next phase of breathing effectively. You see, breathing from your diaphragm is only the beginning. The reason we breathe from our diaphragm is to create a consistent flow of air, and this can only happen when we support the tone thereafter.
Breath Support Explained
Breath support is simply the continued expansion of the diaphragm as to regulate the outward flow of air. This may sound somewhat complex, but in practice it's actually much simpler than it sounds.
Basically, all you have to do after you take the proper breath is continue to maintain that outward expansion/push in your body until you're finished singing a phrase. Said differently, don't let the expanded area of your body "deflate" in size until you're finished singing. You can practice this by holding an "S" sound for 8 beats, then putting a "T" on the 9th beat.
So, place your hands on your sides and expand all the way around your body when you inhale. When you're done breathing in, continue to push outward with the muscles of your stomach while you create the "Ssssss" sound for 8 beats. Your goal here is to your body's natural desire to want to release back to where it was at resting. Once you make the "t" sound on the 9th beat, exhale the rest of the air by letting go of the expansion around your body. Once holding an "S" for 8 beats gets easy, try 16 beats... then 24 beats... then 32 beats.
I'd suggest doing this for as long as it takes for your body to get the hang of it. Once it starts feeling natural, start applying this breathing method to your vocal warm ups, or while singing your favorite songs.
Creating Habit Through Application
While it may not feel natural at first, breathing properly isn't really all that difficult. However, it does take some time to establish the habit of breathing properly and the only way to establish habit is to do something the right way over and over until you can do it without thinking about it.
So, if you're serious about singing, be sure to make use of these exercises regularly. Do them so often that you create the habit of breathing properly without thinking about it, and you'll be pointing yourself in the right direction for vocal success.
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About Ken Taylor
Though he has spent plenty of time both on stage and in the studio, Ken's real passion is helping other singers along their vocal journey. So when he's not teaching one-on-one lessons in his studio in Memphis, he uses the internet to share some of his best vocal advice with singers from all around the world.
Ken graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in Vocal Performance, and continues to expand his knowledge by learning teaching methods one-on-one from some of the most effective voice teachers in the world.