What to Do If You're out of Breath When Singing

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Do you feel like you never seem to have enough breath when you sing? Are you constantly grabbing bigger and bigger breaths only to run out of air on the same beat each time? If so, the problem may be that your breath quality is affecting your air quantity.

Many singers unknowingly approach breathing for singing as a fast manipulation to pull as much air into the body as possible in the shortest amount of time. They think the only way they’ll be able to get enough air to make it through the phrase is if they actively grab, take, pull, suck, force, or “tank up” as much air as possible into their lungs before they sing. What these singers don’t realize is that a breath of this quality creates tension (in the ribs, in the muscles of the abdomen, in the muscles of the neck and throat, and in the jaw), and this tension negatively affects the quantity of air they are receiving. The very thing they are doing in an effort to draw in more breath is actually causing them to receive less. If there is any tension in the body during a breath, a singer will bring in much less air than they would if their body were free, open, soft, and released on the inhale.

Instead of trying to force more air into your lungs on the inhale, try focusing on releasing your body to a more open and free place to receive the air. We actually have the laws of physics on our side to help us with this, so don’t worry about trying to pull more air into your lungs. Instead, allow equilibrium to do that for you. When our lungs are empty and it’s time to inhale, the air pressure inside our lungs is different from the air pressure outside our body. When we apply the principles of equilibrium, we find that we do not have to do a thing to help fill our lungs with air. The air will arrive in our lungs on its own because the difference in air pressure wants it to be in there. All we have to do is release some space for the air to travel through. When we physically do something to help pull the air into our bodies because we are focused on breath quantity, we create tension that gets in the way of this efficient mechanism. If we focus instead on having a peaceful breath quality, we can release our ribs, our bellies, our throats, our jaws, and our mouths to let the air come in freely on its own. We will receive much more air this way and our resonance will improve because we will be starting our next sung phrases from more free, open, and less “muscled” (tense) places. This is the foundation of freedom from which good singing technique is built. I’ve seen it work time and again.

Practical experiment: Blow all the air out of your lungs. Get rid of it entirely. Then, all at once release your ribs, throat, jaw, and mouth, and soften your belly to let the air come in. You will feel the air flood into the space you have created. Notice that you have received plenty of air without having to physically take it, pull it, or draw it into your body in any way. This is the sensation of “letting a breath come in,” which creates a good quality of breath. All you have to do is release to create the space for your breath and plenty of air quantity will follow.

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Arden Kaywin
Arden Kaywin is voice teacher, vocal coach, and vocal producer in Los Angeles with over 10 years experience working with developing singers and nearly 20 years as a professional singer herself. She holds a master’s degree in music and vocal performance from the Manhattan School of Music in NYC, where she studied classical voice and opera.
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