Singers, do you feel out of breath before the end of a phrase? Do you lose your stamina toward the end of a song? There are two concepts that can help stabilize your breath support and give you the foundation from which to increase your stamina and comfortably sing longer phrases with more efficiency and resonance.
1. Think of the inhale as a release.
It’s not our job to grab and pull the air into our lungs. The Law of Equilibrium teaches us that the air already wants to travel into our lungs since the air pressure outside our body is different from that in our lungs when we’re ready to breathe. So our only job is to release, open up and make room for the air that already wants to be there.
When we allow the breath to come into a free and open space, not only do we get more air, but we also set up the ensuing phrase to come from a place of freedom rather than tension. That freedom contributes to greater stamina, efficiency and resonance.
Tip: Fully release the lower abs when you allow the breath to come in. Many singers still have some residual engagement of their lower abs from supporting the previous sung phrase when they breathe for the next phrase. This contributes to a tense, high breath. I tell singers to “drop your belly” on the breath. Really let it go, feel the muffin top,—it’s ok. The belly should be totally soft and released on the breath.
Tip: If you feel the breath filling up above your armpits, you are likely over-breathing. Allow the back ribs to release, swing open, and direct the air down into the back lungs.
Tip: Release your jaw, let go of your tongue, and soften your scalene muscles (the muscles that run along the sides of your neck) as you release into the inhale. Use a mirror or ask a friend to watch you to make sure you are not craning your neck upwards on the inhale.
2. Proper breath support engages muscles down and out.
Let’s be clear. I am not advocating that pushing your belly out is proper support. Rather, the purpose of breath support is for the muscles in the abdomen, pelvic floor, and lower back to help stabilize or “support” the diaphragm to stay low and move slow creating the most efficient, constant, and stable stream of air to vibrate the vocal cords at the optimum rate for the best resonance.
Many singers think breath support involves pushing their abs in and up, but all they are really doing is affecting the diaphragm to rise forcefully thereby pushing more air out then necessary which creates a less resonant, airy sound and uses up their air more quickly. Proper support does the opposite. It engages the muscles of support in a downwards and outward sensation which stabilizes the diaphragm to move the optimum amount of air.
Tip: Acquaint yourself with the muscles involved with support, first and foremost your pelvic floor. Acquaint yourself with the connection between your pelvic floor and your other abdominal muscles of support.
Tip: Experiment with engaging the muscles of support on a hiss before adding any kind of vibration. Do a series of short onset and release exercises (see video) on a hiss to feel the difference between engagement and release and build that muscle memory. Once you feel confident in the sensation, add a vibration on a lip trill (see video). Lip trills are great because they approximate the vibration of the vocal cords and they let you know right away if your support is efficient because the lips will not vibrate freely and consistently otherwise.
Understanding and practicing these concepts will help stabilize your breath support and give you the foundation from which to comfortably sing longer phrases with more efficiency and resonance. Watch the video for a how-to demonstration of the exercises and techniques discussed:
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