Advanced Breathing Techniques for Singers

The most perfect breath that we could ever hope to take while singing a song is a breath that is allowed to be taken in slowly. In fact, there are many places in a song that will allow us this treasured opportunity, such as the intro to the song or after an instrumental section. Of course, there are also times where we may need to take in a breath within a split second, and then again and again. This is the very situation that can get us into trouble. It’s almost like a battle that’s going on between a voice that wants to do its own thing and the vocalist who wants to take control of it. As singers, we must learn how to:

1) Take in breaths as quickly as the song demands, without

2) Taking in too little or too much air, without

3) Tightening up the neck and abdomen.

To take in breath as quickly as a song demands is quite a challenge because we don’t want to take a one second breath when there is a two second pause in the song. Even worse is falling behind the rhythm by not taking the breath fast enough. I would have to say that most people fail the first of these two scenarios more than the latter because every singer knows that falling behind is as bad as it gets, and is very noticeable to any listener. Since this is generally regarded as a no-no, singers sometimes fall into the trap of taking what I like to call ‘panic breaths’. These are the breaths that are taken where the singer will do anything not to fall behind the beat. They will lift the chest, flex every muscle, and take in a so much air so far ahead of the beat that it becomes a very fatiguing and unmusical ordeal. Singing should not be an unpleasant ordeal. It should be a free and enjoyable experience.  And it can be!

Here is a great statement from my online voice lessons that has helped me over the years and I would highly recommend for you to commit to memory as well. It is: We do not want to be tense when singing becomes intense. In order to avoid tensing up in a panic when a song becomes ‘air demanding’ we will learn about and hopefully apply a helpful technique that will enable us to win the fight between the will of the voice and the will of the mind.

Catch Breaths

A great technique that we will use to help us with faster inhales is appropriately named ‘catch breaths’. You will see its benefits immediately with any song or vocalise  that you apply it to.

As you know, when we decide to start singing a song we need to take in our initial breath. The first breath that we take is going to be the most important breath in each song section and it is quite different from the rest that follow. We can actually compare this breath to eating breakfast in the morning. Breakfast is said to be the most important meal of the day as it sets us up with the initial burst of energy we need to start the day off right. If we don’t eat an adequate amount of food in the morning we will wind up being sluggish throughout the day and even after our next good meal. The same is true with our initial breath. If it is drawn in too shallow then the rest of the phrase will suffer. Hopefully this first breath will be drawn in somewhat slowly and held for a second in order to allow us time to seat the air pressure in the chest.

As we sing we will obviously lose air, and when we are done a particular phrase we usually still have some air left over. It is at this moment that we have problems. People do one of two things wrong at this particular point of the song.

They either: a) Dump all the air out of there lungs and then re-inhale it all back, or b) Take in the next breath as big as the first one which turns out to be too much air in their lungs. Both of these scenarios are extremely common and extremely bad. What we need to do is utilize ‘catch breaths’. In other words, we only need to replace the air that we lost. This usually turns out to be a little whisp of air. You would be surprised at how little air we actually need in order to sing most phrases. Therefore, usually do not need to take in another huge breath. We only need a catch breath that will catch us back up to where we were.

If our initial breath is compared to eating breakfast then the catch breaths are little healthy snacks that follow. This is of course what so many dietitians recommend for us for healthy living: To eat a good breakfast and then stabilize the rest of the day with several mini meals. Instead of eating properly, many of us eat a large breakfast, a large lunch and a large dinner plus snacks in between. Of course, the immediate result of this over eating is feeling sluggish. The same is true with over breathing. We become sluggish by being stuffed with air.  So again, only replace the air that was lost.

As far as dumping all the air out of the lungs when we are done singing a phrase is concerned, I have to warn you that this is extremely fatiguing and should be avoided within each phrase. This would be akin to throwing up a meal and then going back to eat more. This is obviously not a good approach to singing or eating.

Timing Your Breaths

To avoid inhaling too early or too late, there is a simple solution that we should consider while practicing our vocalises or when were singing songs. We should always move some part of our body to the beat of the music. This is one of those easy flash fixes that if applied throughout a vocal performance will fix many potential problems before they ever happen. We must move to the beat of the music and inhale on those beats. Breathing can be a very expressive ornament and should not just be guessed at.

Each breath must be taken musically, not haphazardly. If we just stand there like a bump on a log without embracing the music’s rhythm and tempo, then how can we expect to correctly our breaths. Timing is more felt than it is calculated. If we move any part of our body, whether it is through hand motions or tapping of the foot or a whole body sway, we will find that timing becomes accurate without thought. Again, it is something that is felt rather than calculated. And remember, you will find it very difficult to find any professional singer who just stands there while performing. How boring that would be to watch.

I hope that you have great success in developing control over quick inhales and I encourage you keep working on your catch breaths and the timing of your inhales through body motion with every exercise and every song. You will find that perseverance and study with online singing lessons pays off. It is these seemingly small details that enable us to be great. But, as with all goals in life, the end result is worth the labor to achieve them. This great truth has been put into perspective so beautifully by the French novelist Emile Zola when he stated that “The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without the work.”

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