When You Sing, Do You Breathe Virtually?
By A K Whitehead
Whatever kind of voice we have, using it to its full potential depends very much on whether we breathe efficiently. Singing is one of those things which virtually all of us do. But do we do it virtually or properly?
Well, that’s being rather hard. But the point is that, if we want to sing in some kind of serious way, there are certain principles which can be ignored only to our own detriment. That’s the case whether we prefer to sing pop or classically. The principles involved used to be mostly associated with the latter. But now more and more people are realizing that they can be applied with good effect to any kind of singing.
For example, do you have confidence when you open your mouth? Can you sing phrases which are as long as you would wish? Or do you have to lose the sense of what you are singing because of pauses for more breath? Do you have control over the pitch and volume of your voice? Or do you sing in ways you did not intend?
All these aspects can be improved on by developing a few techniques for good singing i.e. for singing better than you currently sing. Certainly, the best idea will probably be to get a good singing teacher. But it is possible to make some prior progress. But essential to that progress is breathing -breathing effectively and not, as most of us tend to do, breathing inefficiently.
And the technique of breathing effectively is really quite simple. But it will need working at. First of all, however, always be sure that you:
1. Care For Your Voice
Your voice is, in fact, comes from quite a delicate system of sound production. The system can be damaged, sometimes irreparably. So always take care not to push it too far and try to do things which it has not been educated to do.
Ever heard that practice makes perfect? Well, it does. Good singing does not just come. It takes practice. Of course, no one would sing something for a public audience without having sung through the song at least a few times in private.
But is that where the practice should start? With the song itself? No, it should start a good deal before that. For example, one cannot sing without breathing – and that needs to be practiced.
But practicing once a day is far better than once a week – much more than seven times better! That applies to virtually anything, but certainly to this. Your lungs need to develop and gain in doing what you want them to do.
However, breathing is not just a matter of sucking in the air. So:
To fill The Lungs. In a very short time, developing a good breathing technique will show how inefficient your beathing used to be.
Breathing is much more than opening one’s mouth and taking a lung-full of air. In fact, just opening your mouth and trying to take a lung-full will most likely not produce a lung-full. Most of us take breath in such a way that we try to fill the lungs from top downwards. That’s just inefficient. The result is that often we do not speak or sing for as long as we wanted or, even worse, for as long as we thought we could. Even worse than that, sometimes, we actually have air left in the lungs which we don’t use because we do not know how to use it.
Fill the lungs from bottom up. Try to breathe so that the lower parts of your lungs expand first, right down at the bottom. Continue to inhale and feel the lungs expand from the bottom upwards. The first time can make one a little dizzy, but it is only the first time.
Breathe in counting fairly slowly from one to ten. Hold the breath for a second and then exhale over a count of twenty at the same rate. You may not manage twenty at first, but with practice you will. And as you practice, over a prolonged period of time, gradually slow down the rate of counting to one second each count. Eventually, you may be able to exhale over thirty seconds or even more.
Any time You don’t need to leave your breathing exercises at home. Take them with you whenever you are walking. Breathe in to a given number of steps, and then try to breathe out over twice as many. It’s a harder exercise than stood at home, but rewarding in the development of your technique and what you can and once could not do with your breathing.
5. Breathe On Your Feet And On Your Back
Standing up is the usual position, but there can be advantages in other breathing positions. For example, sit down in a chair with a firm back, or on the floor with your back against the wall. Breathe in deeply, filling from the bottom as usual. Feel your lungs fill and expand as they push against the wall or chair.
Try doing the same laying flat on your back on the floor. After some practice, try lifting a fairly heavy object up in your hands as you breath, lowering it as you exhale.
6. Developing Additional Breathing Techniques
There are only a few basic principles attached to producing good singing.The problem is that they all take considerable time and practice to develop to anything approaching perfection. Breathing is just one example, albeit a very important one.
Sometimes in actual singing one needs to get as much breath into the lungs as possible within a very short space of time, perhaps when there is a rest of only a quarter or eighth note. Sometimes the composer has left no rest at all but a breath has still to be taken somehow between one note and the next. In these cases it is important to be able to get as much air into the lungs as possible in order to get through the next phrase that has to be sung.
To help with this, practice taking very quick intakes of air and then exhaling over increasing lengths of time.
During the early stages of breathing development it is useful to get some variation into the practice period. If you spend, say, fifteen minutes on breathing, follow the general approach outlined above. After a year or two, breathe in for the usual count of ten so that the lungs feel full. But then try continuing to breathe in for another ten. Then exhale in the usual way.
Later still, follow the last paragraph, but after the second count of ten try holding the breath for another ten, and then exhale over at least a count of twenty but working up to thirty.
In the early stages, breathing practice can seem a bit deadly.Try to get some variation into it. Perhaps most of all, make regular assessments on your progress. That will help more than anything to keep the motivation going.
About the author: A K Whitehead Web Site:www.christianword.co.uk Began voice training rather late inlife, eight years ago. Sings publically (albeit not professionally) and his web site has two CDs available. Conditions of use: This article may be reproduced on condition that it is unaltered and that all this information is included.