Breathing and support are two topics that commonly come up when talking about vocal technique. There are a thousand theories on how to carry out each of them. This can leave a singer utterly confused. In this article, I intend to simplify some of the confusion regarding these two areas, and to give some practical exercises that can immediately be applied.
BreathingJust so we can be clear, whenever I talk about breathing, I am referring solely to what happens during inhalation. What occurs during exhalation will be under the realm of support. Keep in mind, these two areas do influence each other, but that will be for a later article on advanced breathing and support.
The Purpose of BreathingWe all know from an everyday perspective that the purpose of breathing is to bring oxygen into our body, but what purpose does breathing serve for singing? As far as I’m concerned, breathing for singing accomplishes two things: (1) To alleviate unnecessary constriction in the neck, throat, jaw, and tongue, and, (2) To allow us to build up intra-abdominal pressure. The first goal will be the primary emphasis of this article. The second goal of breathing will be reserved for an advanced article on breathing, because it builds upon the first premise.
ConstrictionWhat exactly is the constriction that we want the breath to release? We want it to release tension in the following muscles:
- Neck muscles
- Upper trapezius
- Laryngeal elevators and suprahyoid muscles
- Constrictor muscles of the pharynx
- Medial and lateral pterygoids
How To Do ThisOk, so enough about the background anatomy. How do we do this and make it practical? The following exercises should give you some real life experience in how this works.
Breathing Exercise 1Stand up for this exercise. Do it in front of a mirror. 1. Take one hand and place it on your chest. Take the other hand and place it on your navel. 2. Breathe in through the nose and note what you feel. Repeat this a few times if necessary. So you probably noticed one of two things:
- Your chest rose along with you shoulder. If this is you, congratulations, you have just successfully taken in a chest breath. This is the OPPOSITE of what we need for singing because it causes many of the muscles of constriction to engage, in addition to increasing intra-thoracic pressure (as opposed to intra-abdominal pressure). The diaphragm is not fully engaged when one breathes like this.
- Your hand on your navel moved outwards. If this occurred, it suggests that you have taken a diaphragmatic breath and the diaphragm was engaged more. Just a step further. If your hand moved outward more than a few centimeters (approximately 1/2 to 1 inch), it could potentially indicate that you have a lack of tonus in your lower core muscles, specifically the transverse abdominis, the internal obliques, and the pelvic floor. If this happened to you, don’t worry about it for now — that will be addressed further in future articles.