(some resources/messages/concepts were taken out of text books I used in College)
Everything we do in barbershop and singing in general revolved around breathing! I can’t express that enough! You all laugh at me or give me nasty looks from the risers when I encourage you to do a lip trip or “bubble” and I suspect the reason why is because you don’t know how or you can’t do it. Lip trills and “bubbling” starts with proper breathing!
Ever wonder why quartet guys like Tim Waurick (Tenor of Vocal Spectrum, known for holding his very long tenor notes) can sing and hold notes that long? It’s because he’s practiced a whole lot and he’s done some of the things mentioned below:
The easiest way to find out how you should breathe for singing is simply by feeling it. Being able to visualize and feel the proper way to breathe helps make the process more natural for you, too.
Singing songs requires getting a full breath quickly — a quick inhalation. So knowing how your body feels when you inhale helps you to get air in your body quickly to sing the next phrase. Use the following exercise to explore your own inhalation. Get a feel for how your body should move when you inhale and exhale.
- Pretend that air is really heavy as you inhale. Visualize it weighing 50 pounds and let it fall low into your body.
- Let it fall lower than your belly button. Explore this sensation.
- Then let the breath fall in faster. Still visualize it being heavy but let it fall quickly into your body.
- You can also fill your lungs as if you were going to blow up a balloon. You will feel your abdomen and lower back expand.
This sensation of quickly filling your lungs with air is how you properly inhale for singing.
Yawning happens all the time when working on breath control. The body gets confused with the different amount of air coming in, and you yawn. (Special Note: When I see YOU yawning on the risers, don’t worry I won’t be offended (Bob might)… but when I was in college I would be yawning plenty during lessons. Don't worry — it's okay to yawn when you're working on your breathing.)
Exhaling to sing
Singing means that you have to control your exhalation. You want to have a sustained and smooth exhalation. This control helps you to sing those demanding high notes and long slow phrases.
To explore exhalation, blow a feather around the room. If you have a spotless house, you'll have to use an imaginary feather.
- Try to blow the feather really high up in the air and use a long stream of breath to get it to go up.
- Try not to collapse your chest as you blow the feather.
- While chasing the feather with your breath, notice what moves in your body as you exhale. You should feel that your abdomen has slowly returned to normal and that your chest has stayed in the same position the whole time.
- At the end of the exhalation, you should feel the need to immediately inhale again.
Posturing yourself for breathing
Breathing efficiently when you sing is a combination of great posture and skillful inhaling and exhaling. Remember the importance of good posture; it allows you to get a deep, full breath. If you slouch or you're too rigid, your diaphragm locks and prevents you from getting a correct breath for singing. If your breathing and your posture work together as a team, you can improve your singing.
To sing your best, you want to develop good posture while you breathe. When your body is aligned correctly, taking and using an efficient breath is easier.
Your own two hands can help you to maintain great posture while breathing. As you work through the breathing exercises, place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your abs. As you inhale, use your hand to feel whether your chest stays steady; you want it to stay in the same position for both the inhalation and the exhalation. (If your chest rises during inhalation, you create tension in your chest and neck) With your other hand, feel it moving out with your abs as you inhale and back in toward your body as you exhale.
Positioning your body to feel breath
Different body positions also help you to feel your breath movement. Moving through different positions can help you feel the movement of breath.
Start flat on the floor and gradually work your way up to standing. It's great to work your breath on the floor, but you can't perform on the floor. You have to get up sometime and breathe correctly, so it may as well be right away. By starting out on the floor, you're able to totally focus on breathing and the movements in your body. By gradually working your way up, you can continue exploring the same movement of breath while working your way up to standing. Some singers have trouble finding the right movement for breathing when they stand. When they begin on the floor, they often find a sense of release in their body and can really feel the movement.
Lying on the floor
- Lie down on the floor or bed with a heavy book on your abdomen.
- As you inhale, you should see the book rising up then lowering back down as you exhale. If you don't see the book moving, notice what's moving as you breathe. Feel the sensations in your body. When you inhale, your lungs expand and take in air. Your body, specifically your abdomen, moves out as you inhale.
- As you exhale, the air is leaving your body, and you should see or feel the abs moving back in. This movement happens because of the air moving and not because you move your abs. You can bounce your abs without breathing, but that won't improve your singing.
Getting down on your hands and knees
- Get down on your hands and knees. Yes, you need comfy clothes to survive these exercises. In this dignified position, take some slow breaths and notice what you feel moving in your body.
- During inhalation, your abs fall toward the floor.
- During exhalation, your abs move back in with the outgoing air. If you feel just the opposite motion, try it again.
- Your chest should stay steady and not collapse.
- Notice how your back expands out with the inhalation.
When you're successful and feel the correct movement of your body and breath, try the next exercise.
Squatting is just as exciting as getting down on your hands and knees, and it requires comfy clothes, too.
- Squat down on the floor.
- You can keep your heels on the floor or lift them up off the floor. You can also place your hands on the floor to steady your balance. Don't fall over!
- As you inhale, notice the movement across your back.
- What you want to feel is your abs moving out and your lower back expanding as you inhale. If you're not sure about this breath movement, change your position just a bit. You don't have to be in a squat exactly.
Slumping is illegal among singers, but don't tell anyone.
- Stand up and slump over.
- As you're slumped over, feel the movement in your body as you breathe.
- Release your neck so that your back can stay pliable for breathing.
- Notice that when you take in the air, you can feel the lower abs moving out, because they're all flabby from being slumped over. Those of you who are really thin, you may not feel your abs move much in the beginning. That's okay. You can still acquire great breathing habits for singing.
- Notice also that your lower back opens as you inhale. Try to let your ribs close slowly as you exhale instead of collapsing right away.
These charming, physical positions help you to feel the breath moving in your body. Try standing tall and notice what your body does when you take a breath.
It's okay if you're really confused right now or feel short of breath. Feeling short of breath when you begin working through these exercises is normal. Be really patient, and you'll begin breathing efficiently. It takes a while to create a new habit in your body, and breathing for singing is definitely new. Your inhalation was perfect when you were a baby. If you watch an infant breathe, they know exactly what to do. As you age and your life becomes more complicated, stress affects your body. You start to carry unnecessary tension in various parts of your body, which can prevent you from breathing correctly. Your body gets stressed out.