Breathing Exercises For Singers & Some Useful Insight About Good Breathing

What is Good Breathing?
Not Everyone Agrees On This.

First, some insight on breathing. Then - two breathing exercises for singers.

There are almost as many explanations about good breathing as there are teachers of singing.

(I have taken lessons with many different teachers and coaches over my lifetime. Some very good professional singers and teachers thought that breathing was given way too much emphasis in lessons - "You just take a good breath, and you sing - for heaven´s sakes! What´s the big deal?")

On the other hand, one well-known teacher often spent the first several months on breathing with a new student. I was told by one of her students that she felt she understood her body much better after all those breathing sessions. (My silent, inner question was, "That´s a good result, but are you also singing a lot better?¨)

Some teachers advocate "belly breathing." The breath goes low and the belly rises (goes out) with each breath. This is also often described as Yoga breathing.

Other coaches, including myself, feel that "lateral thoracic breathing" (the ribs open sideways & the "belly" muscles are held firm) works better for most aspects of singing. Some of us also refer to this type of breathing as "diaphragmatic" breathing. (But keep in mind that the diaphragm is used in all kinds of breathing.)

Needless to say, a singer´s breathing is an area for a lot of debate.

A few Tips about Breathing Exercises for Singers

I think that most good singers and teachers of singing will agree that there are a few basic concepts we singers need to keep in mind.

1. When you breath to sing - your shoulders should not rise very much. Your upper torso will naturally "open" when you take in breath, and thus, your shoulders may rise a bit. But your physical emphasis should be on opening your rib cage outwards - to the sides. This is also known as "lateral movement."

2. Breathing through your nose, when possible, will allow the breath to go deeper. Often, when you are singing, there is no time to take a lovely deep breath through your nose. Instead, you will take quick, quiet breaths through your mouth (or through both your mouth and nose.)

3. Your in-breaths should not be noisy. Noisy breathing is not attractive to hear and it will play havoc with your recorded sounds. Aside from that, a noisy inward breath often means that you are breathing in a way that will dry your throat. So aim for a quiet in-take of breath. Being able to do this will serve you well in the long run.

Breathing Exercises For Singers #1

I have spent a lot of time on breathing exercises over my many (30+) years of singing. Here are the two exercises that I still do on a regular basis. I use these exercises to keep my breathing stable. (But first, here is one of my recently videotaped songs that takes very good breath control: "You Take My Breath Away.")

Ok, on to the first exercise.
You will need a scarf or an elastic belt. Or, as you see in the image on the right, I use the elastic band that I bought for my pilates exercises.

FIRST - In the first picture you will see me holding the elastic fairly firmly around my ribcage.

SECOND - The second picture shows me taking a full breath - with the idea that I am going to hold tight to that band and make it really stretch out sideways when I breathe in.

The idea is to stand tall with your shoulders broad - but not pulled back. Instead, think of your shoulders spreading out sideways, just like your ribcage.

Then breathe in a way that opens your ribcage as wide as possible while keeping your stomach muscles firmly held in. (It is a good idea for singers to do some regular physical exercises that train those four sets of stomach muscles to remain firm.)

In the world of Pilates/Yoga exercises, this is known as "Lateral Thoracic Breathing." It has worked very well for me over the years. And I am grateful to have developed firm stomach muscles that continue to support my back.

Breathing Exercises For Singers #2

The Second Exercise is simple.

Again, I have done it for years. And I still do it when I am walking alone.

As you walk down the street, take a good breath, as described above (but without the elastic band), and let your breath out very slowly on a long SSSS sound. Do this long, slow expiration while resisting the urge to allow your ribcage to collapse.

Over time, as you exhale, your ribcage will of course go back to its normal state. But this exercise is your opportunity to build up the breathing muscles by keeping them open as long as you comfortably can.

Over time, your ability to hold long phrases will improve. Even now, I find that my breath control is getting better.

If you are still in a "breathing " state of mind, here is yet another resource-page on the many delights of good breathing: How do I breathe?.

I wish you great breathing and captivating singing!

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