I think most architects would agree that when it comes to building a house, getting the foundation right is the most important part. Without it, the building will not stand (at least not for long). In the same way, breath support is the foundation of singing. It’s from this support that our sound maintains stability. Yet it seems that for many singers, even those who have had tons of training, a truly solid understanding of this foundation remains elusive.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misleading and contradictory information out there that serves to confuse more. Here, I’m going to try to address what I find to be the two most common misconceptions about breath support.
Misconception #1: You should breathe into your belly.
Breathe into my belly? I’m pretty sure I don’t have lungs in my belly. If you’ve heard this, it’s because someone has noticed you’re taking shallow breaths which pull your chest and shoulders up. If you try to “breathe into your belly,” what you end up doing is forcefully distending your abdominal muscles out on the inhale—which may redirect the energy out of your shoulders—but does absolutely nothing to help you find an optimum breath for singing. It actually creates tension in the distended abdomen, making it hard for you to engage those muscles for support when you phonate.
Correction: Breathe into your back. You have twice as much lung in your back as you do in your front chest. On the inhale, send the breath down into your lower back lungs. Release your lat muscles. Release your ribs. And most importantly, you must release your belly and abdominal muscles when you breath, allowing them to let go and drop altogether on the inhale so the diaphragm can lower freely to make room for the lungs filling with air.
Misconception #2: Support means pushing the abdominal muscles inward while you sing.
Oh dear, this one comes up all the time. Pushing your abdominal muscles inwards to sing pushes the diaphragm up prematurely, causing an excess of air to be pushed out of the lungs prematurely which means you end up out of breath more quickly and with a much airier, less resonant sound. If you’re pushing inwards to support, you also likely experience quite a bit of tension in either the neck or jaw while you sing because your body is experiencing a veritable flood of air coming out.
As a response, the neck and/or jaw tenses and grabs around the vocal cords as a way to block or dam all this extra air in order to make the sound more resonant. But it’s a false resonance resulting from holding and tension. That kind of tension is unsustainable and one of the main contributing factors to vocal nodes, vocal hemorrhage, and other vocal misuse issues.
Correction: Optimal support comes from a consistent, expanded engagement of the abdominals, pelvic floor, and lower back muscles. This gentle “leaning out” feeling stabilizes the diaphragm. It’s called breath support because it’s about using these groups of muscles to support the stability of the diaphragm by helping it stay low and move up slowly. We do this so air will move in just the right volume and at just the right velocity to create the optimal amount of sub-glottal pressure to vibrate your chords in the most optimum way for the best sound.
If you’re a singer who doesn’t always feel supported by your support, consider the psychological and emotional cycle you’re in. A lack of consistent support breeds a lack of trust. A lack of trust breeds fear and what do we do when we are scared? We hold on for dear life! Fear breeds physical tension and tension contributes to us making the very sound we are afraid of.
It’s a vicious cycle but grounding your singing in a consistent and reliable support goes a long way to eliminating the fear and allowing you to sing from a place of freedom, power, and comfort.
*This post was originally published on Feb. 27, 2018. It has since been updated.
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