Types of breathing
Breath fuels the voice. Without air passing through the vocal folds allowing them to vibrate, we couldn’t make sounds the way we are used to. Nevertheless, not any type of breathing is best-suited for vocal demanding activities such as singing, especially if a resonant and balanced tone is desired. Here are some breathing behaviours encountered in singing and everyday life and some aspects worth considering when adopting one of them.
Also called ‘the breath of exhaustion’, this type of breathing causes raising the shoulders, chest displacement, collapsing of the sternum, and disconnects the upper and lower torso muscle groups. It is a superficial and inneficient way of breathing for singing.
To avoid running out of breath, some people inhale as much as possible without considering the vocal task requirements. This way of breathing will often overcrowd the lungs and lead to body tension.
The incorrect assumption that more significant expansion of the lower torso means a lower diaphragm causes a pushing outwards of the lower abdomen on the in-breath. This also comes from a faulty understanding of the movement observed in the abdomen, which results from the outward movement of displaced viscera when a proper inhalation is employed. The belly can not control the breathing mechanism, nor can increase lung volume. It is not recommended for singing.
When inhaling with a relaxed abdomen, the contraction of the diaphragm increases the volume of the thorax at the same time as the external intercostal muscles open the ribcage. This type of breathing is a natural way and correct approach for singing, but also for other every-day activities such as speaking or exercising.
As a conclusion, we can note that when inhaling, one shouldn’t raise the shoulders, but rather relax the abdominal muscles while maintaining an open and aligned posture to allow the breath to fall into the lungs.
You can practice your breathing by walking through the following steps meant to guide to a better understanding of what you should and shouldn’t do when breathing more effectively. Pay attention to each step and have patience with yourself!
Breathing awareness exercises
First step: breathe in.
– Make sure your body is relaxed, especially your abdomen, to let the air flow in naturally and fill your lungs.
– Don’t overthink it, allow yourself to inhale costo-diaphragmatic (meaning your rib cage expands and your diaphragm contracts/tightens moving downwards). This will determine your larynx to move in a slightly lower position, this being a better posture for effective phonation.
– Don’t over-breathe, think about slowing down this process at first.
– Don’t let your shoulders rise and adopt a balanced body alignment.
Exercise: Inhale slowly through a straw and put your awareness in your body. Feel how the air rushes in your lungs and observe how your body is expanding while being relaxed.
Second step: phonation.
– Try sustaining the inhale posture (meaning you try to maintain the openness of the rib cage and the epigastrium) while making sounds.
– The air will flow through the closure of the vocal folds, therefore allowing your vocal folds to vibrate. A visual cue is singing on the breath and not with the breath. The latter means that more air than needed is escaping through the vocal folds, and this will cause problems in the long run.
Exercise: Exhale on a hissing sound for as many seconds as you can (the target is up till 60 seconds) while keeping the body on the posture of inhalation as long as you can. Keep in mind that this is not supposed to feel rigid, but active (as moving against a resistance).
Third step: recoil breath.
– Allow your body to inhale again, keeping in mind everything we discussed on the first step.
Exercise: Breathe out sharply on a ‘PShh’ sound (you’ll notice your abdomen moving back towards your backbone), wait, and then allow your abdomen to relax. What did you feel? Didn’t it feel like you didn’t have to do anything, and still you breathed in? This automatic bouncing outwards of the abdomen is a recoil breath.
Don’t worry if the recoil breath doesn’t happen instantly. Continue doing this exercise, and it will. Remember that the secret of breathing in is to breathe out.