A vocalist’s instrument is built into their body and is based on their breathing. How well a singer can perform depends significantly on how well they can breathe and control their inhalations and exhalations.
Being able to control breathing well doesn’t simply happen; it results from practicing breathing techniques. Here are techniques to help you improve your singing:
1. Breathe From Your Diaphragm
Singers, athletes, and anyone who wants good health should learn to use all their lung capacity, which means breathing from their diaphragms. All too often in daily life, we take shallow breaths that fill only the top portion of our lungs, leaving the depths of our lungs unused. Not only does this adversely affect our health, but it also impacts our singing performance: breathing from our diaphragms results in powerful, sustained notes and the possibility to improve phrasing.
Vocalists struggling with shortness of breath may have an underlying condition like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A pulmonologist can diagnose which condition it is with a spirometer. You can then monitor your condition with a device such as a Spirolyser spirometer.
Practice diaphragmatic breathing by focusing on your chest expanding in all directions and your belly moving out as you inhale. Notice the support this lends to your body. Then, as you exhale, focus on your belly moving in (toward your spine) and your chest deflating. Keep your shoulders down while you do so. Daily practice of diaphragmatic breathing will establish this foundational skill; a side benefit is that you will experience less anxiety and stress.
2. Practice Taking Huge Breaths
Sometimes you will have to sing extended lines on a single breath. To develop your capacity, practice getting large amounts of air into your lungs while breathing diaphragmatically. Breathe in through your nose for a count of four, hold for a count of eight, and breathe out for another eight. Regularly practicing this technique will enable you to take in large amounts of air quickly.
3. Practice Slowing Your Exhalations
Practicing inhalations helps you get air. But producing sound involves exhalation, the more difficult portion of the breathing cycle to control. Practice breathing out for as long as possible, releasing the air in your lungs a little at a time to build control over your singing speed. A metronome can be a helpful aid for this exercise.
You can extend this to singing scales in your range to understand the limits of your voice before trying to push it.
4. Practice Gasping and Panting
Sometimes you will have to take a breath during a brief note rest. Getting enough air in during that fraction of time to finish the phrase is essential. So practice gasping (as quietly as possible) while using your diaphragm, or practice exaggerated panting while using your diaphragm. These exercises train your body to fill your lungs’ total capacity more quickly. You can also practice short laughs between each gasp, which is especially helpful for rapping.
Stop it if you feel light-headed, or you could end up fainting or cataplectic (temporarily paralyzed). Not fun!
5. Practice Physical Exercise and a Healthy Lifestyle
Although many musicians have been known for their wild lifestyles, the truth is that if you want to get the most out of your voice and have a successful career as a singer, you should eat healthily and participate in physical exercise such as running, dancing, or yoga to keep your body in peak condition. A healthier, fitter body gives you greater control over your voice, and exercise helps to reinforce diaphragmatic breathing.
Practicing breathing from the diaphragm, taking huge breaths, slowing your exhalation, and using laughter as an exercise will help you improve your singing performance. And to make the most out of it, enjoy a healthy lifestyle.