Often times we may notice that when singers prepare themselves to sing a long and high note, like in Sia’s “Chandelier” or Jessie J’s “Flashlight”, some of them tend to take in a huge breath in preparation for that potentially difficult note. Our question today is, would that be good advice, especially for beginner singers?
In today’s article, we explore a few different types of breathing techniques, and debunk one of the oldest vocal myths of all time!
Generally, there are two main types of breathing techniques for singing – Diaphragmatic Breathing and Chest Breathing.
1) Diaphragmatic (or Belly Breathing)
Also scientifically known as “eupnea”, diaphragmatic breathing or ‘belly’ breathing is breathing that is done by focusing more on the diaphragm, a muscle located horizontally between the thoracic cavity and abdominal cavity. As the diaphragm contracts, our chest expands, air enters our lungs, and our belly or tummy also will expand during diaphragmatic breathing.
In layman terms, to achieve diaphragmatic breathing, the air that you take in would feel as though it descends all the way to the stomach or abdominal area. We allow our tummy area to expand, and the breath that we take in is a bigger amount.
One of the ways to see if you are doing it correctly is to lie down flat on the floor with a book on your abdomen and take in a deep breath. You should see the book rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale.
And so, this is one of the most commonly recommended techniques you may have heard of when talking with friends who sing, or singers who have had singing lessons.
2) Chest Breathing
Chest Breathing involves shallow breathing with lesser amounts of breath, and only using the top half of the torso. For example, when one experiences a shock, we tend to take a short, quick and shallow breath. That is chest breathing, and usually with chest breathing, your shoulders will rise and fall as you inhale and exhale.
So, what is the ‘correct’ way to Breathe for Singing? Is there a proper way to breathe?
Contrary to what most people may think, there is NO single specific way that we should be breathing for singing!
Diaphragmatic breathing is NOT the ONLY way that we should breathe when we think of singing. Sometimes we will use chest breathing as well!
Most of the time, when we learn about breathing for singing, ‘chest’ breathing seems to be a ‘dirty’ word and many vocal coaches don’t even want to go near that form of breathing. Most vocal coaches advocate diaphragmatic breathing, in order to encourage singers to take in deeper breaths when they sing.
However, our opinion is that the breathing techniques that we use in any specific song would certainly have to depend on the requirements of the song performed.
For example, if there is a need for falsetto, that would mean that more breath is required to be taken in before we sing that falsetto phrase. However, for us to be able to sing a solid and loud note (watch “How to Sing High Notes Easier with 4 simple Tips” Video Below), there is no real need to take in an excessively big breath in order to be able to hit that note well.
From our teaching experience, most of the time when we ask our vocal students to pay attention to their breathing technique, he or she will prepare to take a deeper breath, tense up more in their body, and then their throat and abdominal muscles will also start to tighten, causing their breathing to become more unnatural.
However, we must know that our human bodies have limited capacity for breath, and we certainly cannot keep training to increase our lung capacity just because we want to not feel breathless when we sing. And taking in that big breath may make us more uncomfortable and feel more strained.
Try it out yourself with this simple experiment!
- Take in a huge breath that you can, with any form of breathing that you do, and then exhale all that air out.
- Now, take in another deep breath (the deepest you can manage), hold it for 5 seconds, and then exhale fully.
Do you feel that you tend to tense up and your throat starts to constrict when you have to hold that full breath of air in your body? And also, you may feel that all that air that you took in actually only wants to do one thing, which is to LEAVE your body.
This simple experiment provides us with a good sense of how taking a deeper breath may, in fact, tighten up your throat and create a lot more tension in your body, inevitably affecting your singing.
It is a general misconception that if we inhale a deeper breath, that big breath will be able to help us to hit a high note or sustain a long phrase in our singing. A huge breath actually may also have an adverse effect on our voice, causing more strain in our throat and our vocal folds.
So, what then is the solution for us to not feel breathless when we sing, and also to be able to sing long and high notes without running out of breath? Read the next article by Intune Music’s Vocal Director, Aaron Matthew Lim, to find out more!