We all could really benefit from knowing how to breathe correctly when singing, couldn’t we? To be sure, I can stand a refresher everyday. We are all born to breathe the proper, healthy way that God intended when He designed our amazing bodies. Just watch little babies and young children breathing as they sleep, play, cry, talk, and laugh. The first thing you will notice is that they have naturally great posture. Watch little children as they walk around. Their spines are straight with their heads beautifully aligned with their shoulders they have naturally proper posture. When they sit, they do not slouch and slump, but sit with a straight back, even when they a playing on the floor. When they cry, all of the action is coming from the diaphragm and the supporting muscles below it. When they laugh, it is a big belly laugh, straight from the diaphragm. When they talk, yell, or sing, they produce the sound the same way. It is all properly and correctly supported from the diaphragm and the muscles below. Very rarely will you see a young child breathing high up in his chest, unless he is sick and having to struggle for breath.
Why then does this change as a person moves into the higher years of grade school and beyond? Why do we lose our natural ability to breathe properly, without engaging the muscles of the chest, neck shoulders, throat, jaw, and tongue? We would have so much less trouble with our singing if we could just continue this natural breathing. It would be so much easier than trying to learn to breathe properly once we begin to earnestly try to improve our singing voices.
What I have found to be the case with the thousands of people I have taught to sing better, is that the problem is not with anything other than our modern day stress. When we feel stressed, we naturally tighten up our muscles. Our hips, lower backs, mid backs, upper backs, bellies, chests, shoulders, necks, jaws, heads, and even our extremities can get very tight as we hold tension and stress in our bodies. I have found stress and tension to be the main problem with all of my singers and have developed many strategies to help them overcome this great limiter or the human voice. Once we can begin to address this problem, and practice releasing the tension we are holding in our muscles, our breath can naturally resume it’s proper form, allowing us to let our voices go free and easy. Singing once again becomes fun!
Take a moment if you will, and just give your body a quick scan for places you may be holding tension. Is your neck tight? Maybe one shoulder or both? Is your jaw nice and loose, or are you grinding or clenching your teeth? Are you breathing shallowly and high in your chest? Are your hips and lower back feeling tight and sore? Any tension that you pick up in your body interferes with proper breathing and your best singing.
Let’s begin a nice practice that will get you light years ahead in your singing. An added benefit is that you will feel great, and stress will soon no longer be part of your vocabulary. Proper breathing soothes the nervous system as well as it supports your voice. You will be breathing correctly all day long, so you will soon notice how much better you feel, even if you haven’t noticed that you need to feel better! There are many perks to breathing the way we a designed to breathe, so let’s get started!
You can watch an exercise that will really help you as you do the little practice I will describe below. One of the main things we will work on as we discover great breathing is proper posture, so do this exercise called proper singing posture part 1, as well.
Here is what I want you to do, all throughout your day. You can do it sitting, standing, or lying down. The hope is to get into the habit of doing the body scan several time throughout the day so that relaxing the muscles, bringing the body into proper alignment, and belly breathing once again become the norm for you. We will build from there on how to sing this way, but first let’s just teach your body once again to be properly aligned, to allow the muscles to relax so the breath can move through the belly, and to remind your muscles that they do not have to hold tension, but can relax.
HERE IS AN EXERCISE THAT WILL WORK WONDERS FOR YOU!
With both feet on the floor, while sitting straight up from your sit bones, do the following.
1. Feel both feet firmly on the floor hip width apart.
2. Sit straight in your chair. Point your tail bone toward the floor, and then slowly straighten your spine, one vertebrae at a time. Let the neck straighten as if there is a string attached to your top vertebrae and it is being gently pulled through the crown of your head toward the ceiling. Your ears should be in line with your shoulders, your chin parallel to the floor. The shoulders should be relaxed.
3. Now scan your body for tension, just noticing at first where you may be tight or restricted. We can release all of this tension by starting at the hips. If we can release the hips and the lower back, the tension in the upper body will also melt away.
4. Focus on your hips and your sit bones. Allow the glutes to soften and melt like a puddle into your chair. I know it sounds silly. I thought so too until this practice began to make great changes for me. So go ahead and give it try for a few weeks. You won’t want to go back!
5. Once you feel the release happening in your hips, and glutes, release the muscles in your thighs, calves, and feet. Just allow your bones to hold you up.
6. Bring your focus back to your glutes and hips. Once again release the tension there by softening the muscles and allowing the breath to fill that soft space.
7. Move slowly up your spine, softening and melting the muscle tension as you breathe nice slow breaths into that space.
8. Once you have softened the muscles of your shoulders and neck, relax the tongue, jaw, and face.
9. Continue nice slow breathing, allowing the belly to expand as you fill the whole body with breath, as if you are a barrel. I like to breathe 4 counts in and 6 counts out.
10. If you feel lightheaded at any point, just return to normal breathing.
Practice this several times throughout your day. You can do it in as often and as quickly as you need. The goal is that you will once again breathe normally with your belly, with soft relaxed muscles. From here we will build strength for speaking and singing with our own amazing voices!