“Breath… the Life of Music”
“After years of singing incorrectly, is there anything I can do to help my voice have a more clear and pleasant tone?” This is a common question among singers. Many vocal problems can be fixed by simply changing breathing techniques; pulling the stress out of the throat and vocal track area. Babies come into this world breathing correctly, yet with time many adults become lazy and fall into shallow breathing habits. Breathing from the diaphragm pulls stress out of the throat and allows it to relax and produce a more pleasant, resonant sound.
As a singer, be sure to vitalize the most efficient amount of air in the right place. Surrounding the lungs is a muscle system called the diaphragm which is attached to the lower ribs on the sides, bottom and to the back acting as an inhalation device. When you breathe in the muscle lowers displacing the stomach and intestines. When you breathe out the diaphragm helps to manage the muscles around the lungs (abdominal muscles) control how quickly the breath is exhaled. If you breathe out quickly, the diaphragm does nothing but when you breathe out very slowly the diaphragm resists the action of the abdominal muscles. A singer learns to use this muscle system to control the breath as it is being exhaled. Breathing from the diaphragm is the key to breathing correctly. As I have told my students, “You don’t have a air tank on your shoulders, so why are you trying to raise them each time you take in new breath, there is no place to store air up there?” Check yourself in the mirror and see if you raise your shoulders when you take in breath, if so you are breathing improperly.
Lie flat on the floor or a bed, with your hand (to feel it move up and down) over your lower waist area and take in a good slow breath. Hold the breath and then release it slowly with your mouth slightly open. Do you feel relaxed? Stand up and bend over at the waist with your arms dangling down toward the ground and also your head/neck relaxed and bent downward. Do not bend your knees and let the weight of your upper body hang ‘off your fingertips.’ This exercise is known as the ‘Rag-doll’. Let your body become completely relaxed just like a ragdoll. While still bent over, put your hands on your waist (thumb pointed toward belly button) and take a deep slow breath. Do you feel your waist expand as the air moves in? Your lower back muscles seem to shift around to make room for the air. Take in several more breaths – hold for 5 seconds and release for 10 seconds. Repeat this several times then take in a new breath, slowly stand up, and release the air slowly. Continue to take in the low breath, and with your hands still on your waist, check to be sure it is expanding. Keep a good posture while singing, to allow the diaphragm area and abdominal area plenty room – don’t slouch! Another quick exercise to get that lower breath moving is to ‘pant’. Yes, just like a dog. You will feel that abdominal muscle working. Caution: Do not pant for a long period of time or you will pass out. After panting, taking in several deep, low breaths, hold and then slowly release.
Now your goal is to use this new supply of breath that you have found and learn how to keep abdominal area open. The abdominal area should expanded on breath instate and must remain open while singing, in order to have good breath control. As you sing do not let abdominal area collapse. A good example is image blowing up a balloon. The first initial breath of blowing up the balloon is always the hardest because you have to get the balloon to stretch open. Same it is with singing. As you take come to breathing points, simply just ‘drink’ in more air as you need it. A great process of taking in air is to close your mouth and pretend you are smelling wonderful ‘chocolate chip cookies!” Don’t gasp for the air, draw it in slowly. It almost feels like something in the abdominal area is ‘pulling that delicious smell’ the down. Breathing through your nose is less obvious than breathing through the mouth.
To get the abdominal area open, you need to have feeling of continued expansion in lower waist area but not forced open. This may seem silly but I imagine the breath as a water fall on the sides of my waist that let the air comes down from diaphragm and is release out. This feeling produces a steady flow of air being cycled through me, never becoming stagnate air. A good way to test if you are remaining open is to use the waistband of your garment – open up against it and keep it filled up. Also, during practice hold the edge a book against the abdominal area, make sure the book doesn’t move in but the abdominal area remains open. Don’t just stick out your stomach but imagine it is the balloon that is filled with air. Open breath is what helps support the tone, it is the foundation. To improve your sound, imagine your breath being open and moving downward as you inhale, and your tone moving up and over the audience. (Hint: more on tone projection next time.) When the pitch rises, open up against it with your breath. This is the downfall of many young singers; they squeeze the breath tighter to reach to pitch, producing a tight tone, and shortness of breath to sustain the note.
Breath is very important, it was the one things that God made sure to ‘breathe’ into the first Adam. Genesis 2:8 states, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;” We need lots of air to sing, don’t let it be an afterthought. The first tone that comes out of your mouth is only as prepared as your breath is to support it. Breathe in and out several deep breaths through your nose on you way up to sing and during the interlude, take in a good starting breath. Then imagine the note, and sing it! Closing Tip: Just breathe!!