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HOW TO BREATHE FOR SINGING

Breathing is pretty simple, right? Air goes in, air comes out, and you repeat.

But you’ll be surprised. When it comes to singing, most singers don’t know how to breathe properly. You hear them gasping like a fish out of water, or worse, breathing half-way through a phrase.

And the reality is it doesn’t have to be like that. There’s an easier way when you know how to breathe for singing.

Here’s how I improved my singing technique when I switched to diaphragmatic-costal breathing, why you should use it, and how to get started.

 

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Hi, I'm Rebecca! And I truly love everything about the art, science, and teaching of singing. If you're looking to build an effective and healthier singing technique so that you can sing with more ease and confidence, then you're in the right place! Here's a few other blog posts you might also like to read:

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Want to improve your breathing? You’ll be surprised most singers don’t know how to breathe properly. But it’s probably the most important thing you can do to improve your vocal technique. Here’s how I improved my singing technique when I switched to diaphragmatic-costal breathing, why you should use it, and how to get started. Download for FREE: Singer's Guide to Aerobic Exercise, to help you increase your lung capacity and be a better singer. #RRVSBlog #singing #breathingforsinging

WHAT IS DIAPHRAGMATIC-COSTAL BREATHING?

Have you ever noticed how opera singers don’t tend to breathe as often as other singers, or that the breath inhalation is silent? Well, they’re using diaphragmatic-costal breathing.

That doesn’t mean to say that the diaphragmatic-costal method is strictly for opera singers, or that by using that method you’re going to turn into an opera singer (unless you want to!). No, the diaphragmatic-costal breathing method is the most natural, tension-free, and efficient method to support and protect the voice during singing.

It relies on two factors: The engagement of the diaphragm, one of the most powerful muscles in the body, to initiate the exhalation and inhalation process; and the intercostal muscles (the muscles that run between each of your ribs) to stretch to help the chest cavity expand.

You can use either one without the other. But the combination will maximise the amount of air being taken into the body, allowing you to sustain longer phrases, minimise tension, and reduce performance anxiety.

how-to-breathe-for-singing | Rebecca Reid Vocal Studio | York
 

WHY IS DIAPHRAGMATIC-COSTAL BREATHING BETTER THAN ANY OTHER METHOD OF BREATHING?

Learning to use your full lung capacity has both general health and singing benefits. By using the diaphragmatic-costal breathing technique you’ll find that it will:

  • Act as a natural painkiller

  • Improve blood flow

  • Increase energy levels

  • Improve posture

  • Reduce inflammation

  • Help to detoxify the body

  • Stimulate the lymphatic system

  • Aid digestion

  • Relax the mind

  • Improve cognitive function

  • Reduce stress

  • Lower heart rate

  • Lower blood pressure

  • Reduce depression

  • Improve long-term respiratory conditions, like COPD.

For singing, if done right, it will:

  • Open and relax the throat, which will reduce vocal injuries and increase the longevity of your voice.

  • Open and relax the articulators (such as the tongue)

  • Open and relax the resonance structures, which are essential for natural projection.

In addition, you’ll also see:

  • Improvements in the overall quality of the tone of your voice. i.e., it will sound fuller.

  • Improvements in pitching accuracy

  • Increase your vocal range

  • Increase your vocal stamina

  • Facilitate flexibility and agility

  • Lengthen phrases

  • Reduce performance anxiety

As you can see, perfecting your breathing technique has so many benefits for your general health and wellbeing, but it’s also going to move your singing technique to the next level.

how-to-breathe-for-singing | Rebecca Reid Vocal Studio | York
 

HOW TO DO DIAPHAMATIC BREATHING?

When it comes to diaphragmatic-costal breathing, as Janice Chapman says, ‘…the out-breath is the most important’.

This is a confusing concept for most singers at first. But think about it...to fill up your lungs they need to be empty first, right?

Also, by pursing your lips and forcefully expelling the air from your lungs for as long as possible will awaken the diaphragm and remind it to do its job. This is the critical first step to activating the diaphragm.

As you release, the diaphragm flattens, pulling down on the lungs, and drawing air in. You don’t need to consciously pull the air in. The diaphragm should do this for you.

When you get this right, there's three things you’ll notice:


1. There’s no movement in the upper chest.

Too much movement in the upper chest can cause tension and tightness in the muscles of the shoulders and neck, which can lead to vocal problems.

2. The belly expands forward and sideward.

This is the largest part of your lungs filling with air. This will help to provide support for your voice and prevent injury.

3. There’s no tension on the inhale.

Most of my students get confused because their brains associate tension with the sensation of being full of air. But you’ll get a bigger breath if your intercostal muscles can stretch and help expand the chest. You may need to retrain your brain to recognise that no tension is a good thing.

What I’ve found works best for me and my students is doing a couple of cycles of breaths in and out before starting to sing. This really gets the diaphragm ready for singing.

Give it a try!

Blow out. Release. Repeat.

Here’s a video to give you an idea of what you’re aiming for…


At first, you may see very little forward or sideward movement. This is because the abdominal and intercostal muscles may be tight from too many situps, lack of use, or excessive tension.


But don’t worry, the more you can practice, the more flexible they’ll become and the better breaths you’ll get.

 

HOW TO STRENGTHEN YOUR BREATHING TECHNIQUE SINGING

You might hear things like ‘natural breathing is different from the breathing techniques that you need for singing’ but this isn’t true. They should be the same. The only difference is your lungs are going to be working faster, harder, and fuller when singing.

So, one of the most important things to do to strengthen your breathing technique is to practice your breathing separate from your singing. It’s then important to ensure that applying the same technique during your singing practice.

The good news is that there’s really no limit on how much you should practice your breathing. Practice everywhere and anywhere. In the shower. Whilst doing your hair. When you’re washing up. On the bus. Or walking to work.


As the saying goes ‘what you put in is what you’ll get out…’

I once had a student that progressed her breathing technique in a very short period of time because she was practising consistently at work. It turned out she hated writing reports!

Adult singers, especially female singers going through Perimenopause or Menopause, will find that they will need to work much hard on their breathing technique because their habits are much more deeper rooted.

Other ways you can strengthen your breathing technique is by working on your postural alignment and core strength. Many of the muscles required by your respiratory system are also essential for posture and core stability. So, the two go hand in hand.

Practices like the Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais Method, Pilates, Yoga and Tai Chi are great for helping you achieve greater postural alignment and improving your breathing.

You can also work on increasing your lung capacity (and stretching out those intercostal muscles) and developing good breath control by regularly doing aerobic exercise.

If you want to know more about the best aerobic exercises for singers, then download my FREE Singer’s Guide to Aerobic Exercise to help you get started.

Singer's Guide to Aerobic Exercise | Rebecca Reid Vocal Studio | York
 

Over the years, I’ve tried and tested many different breathing techniques to try and improve my voice. Diaphragmatic-costal breathing is by far the best.

It uses the natural function of the diaphragm to pull in air, in a tension-free and efficient way. Breathing becomes so effortless you can focus on your performance.

As I say to all my students, breathing is the key to singing success. It takes a lot of time and practice but yields the greatest results.

If your struggling to master your breathing I always advocate seeking the guidance of an experienced singing teacher. Trust me, it’s harder to undo a bad habit than create a new one.

 



And don't forget to grab your freebie:

The Ultimate Vocal Health Guide

- a 14-day plan to help you improve your voice!




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