One of the first things I address with each and every voice student, no matter how much experience they’ve had, is what happens before we sing: The breath in!
So many people overlook this crucial step in singing. If we just take a little time to stop and pay attention to what our bodies are doing as we breathe in, the act of singing becomes so much easier!
Q: Why is how we breathe in so important?
A: The way we breathe in before we sing is incredibly important, because it is the foundation of one of the most important concepts in singing. That crucial concept can be summed up in one simple phrase: “Start Right, Stay Right!”
Q: What does “Start Right, Stay Right” mean?
A: It’s always easier to keep doing the right thing once you’re already doing it. It’s much harder – in fact, almost impossible – to start singing a phrase with tension and strain and then gain control of your voice as you go.
Imagine you’re standing on one side of a canyon, and you want to jump over to the other side. You can’t just step off the edge and then will yourself across once you are already in the air. Whether or not you’ll make it across, and where you will land on the other side is determined before you ever leave the ground.
The same is true for singing. Whether or not you sing the intended phrase with relaxation, control and power is determined before you ever begin to make sound! So you’ve got to “Start Right” to “Stay Right!”
Q: So how do I “Start Right?”
A: There are three important things to remember as we breathe in if we want to “Start Right.” Our breath needs to be low, slow, and silent.
1. Low Breath
If you already have experience singing, you’ve probably been told to “breathe from your diaphragm,” or to make sure you are using “belly breathing.” That’s all good and fine, but those are really just terms voice teachers use to describe the way we already breathe when we are in our most relaxed and natural state. Breathing low is something our bodies already know how to do!
Want to know what it feels like to breathe low? All you have to do is lay down on your back, place your hands on top of your belly, and take some deep, relaxed breaths. Once you’ve settled into that relaxed position on your back, you should feel your belly naturally rise and fall with each breath, while your shoulders and chest stay relatively still and relaxed. This is exactly how we want to breathe in when we sing!
This type of breathing has many names, but they all mean the same thing:
- lower body breathing
- diaphragmatic breathing
- belly breathing
- and on and on…
So start by breathing low and feel how much more relaxed your singing becomes!
2. Slow Breath
Whether you ask your medical doctor, your psychologist, your yoga instructor, your voice teacher, or whatever other guru you turn to for answers, they can all agree that taking long, slow breaths has a calming effect on our bodies. Even more importantly, the opposite is also true.
When we take short, shallow breaths, we are subconsciously inducing a state of panic in our bodies. If we want to achieve great singing, we need to be relaxed and in control. It’s impossible to be relaxed or in control of anything when our bodies are in a state of panic!
When we sing, we always want to take a breath that is as slow as the music or exercise we are singing will allow. Slow down and get back in control!
3. Silent Breath
The 3rd thing that our breath in should always be is silent. When you take a quick breath in before you speak or sing, can you hear the sound of the breath entering your body? If you can, that is the sound of air traveling through a small space in your tight, constricted vocal chords (like a reverse whisper).
Whether we are breathing in or out, the physical motion that causes the “whisper” or “gasp” sound can cause a great deal of tension in the muscles in and around our larynx/voice box (where your vocal chords live). So if you hear your breath entering your body, you’ve already created vocal tension before you even begin to sing!
Q: So how do I practice my low, slow, silent breath?
A: Just like everything else in life, understanding correct breathing is a lot easier than acting out correct breathing. Developing proper vocal technique revolves in large part around breaking bad habits. Unfortunately, bad vocal habits aren’t only created in singing. We use our voices for speech every day, and bad speech habits translate into bad singing habits.
As you go through your day, be conscious of your breath every time that you speak. Is it low? Is it slow? Is it Silent? If not, you aren’t just reinforcing bad vocal habits – you could actually be causing strain, wear, and fatigue that may negatively affect your singing.
Don’t be discouraged! Breaking bad habits is not something that happens overnight. Good technique isn’t some mystical, impossible art – but it isn’t easy either. It’s simple, it’s natural, and it takes time!
For questions regarding vocal technique, or anything else you can think of, feel free to e mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org