If you have been singing regularly or maybe occasionally at KTV, you may notice that when you sing, you may run out of breath very quickly even though you took in a huge amount of air in preparation of a long note.
You might also notice that your voice tensed up and your face turned green, and you strain very hard sometimes to not run out of breath when you sing!
So, does breathing in deeper guarantee that you will be able to maintain your long notes when you sing? Or is there something else you might need?
In this article, Intune Music Director, Aaron Matthew Lim, will show you what is the reason you ran out of breath when you sang, even when you took in a huge amount of air at the very start. Also, we will explain if diaphragmatic breathing or using the 丹田 (dan tian) is still such an important factor when singing!
This article is a continuation from the first article, so do read the previous article ( Breathing for Singing: The Greatest Vocal Myth Revealed!) before reading this one.
(Direct Link: https://youtu.be/q1iuLtHcAuc)
If you have noticed, usually for novice vocalists and vocal hobbyists, they tend to take in a deeper breath for their first line when singing.
However, they start to struggle even before they have finished that first sentence, and their voice tenses up when holding long notes, as they realise that taking in a huge breath does not really help them with their singing!
Here are some of the first few warning signs of running out of breath when you sing:
- You are unable to hold high notes for required duration and your tummy muscles tense up and squeeze tight very frequently
- Your pitch starts to go out of tune
- Your throat starts to tense up and feel very tight
- You need an oxygen tank and a paramedic after singing just 1 song
The question on everyone’s mind is, why do we run out of breath when we sing, even though we took in a huge breath before we started?
Many beginner singers focus a lot on finding out how to take in more breath before singing, and so they try ways and means to increase lung capacity and breathe in more air at the very start.
Yes, it is possible to increase lung capacity through various exercises like swimming or running, but does it necessarily mean that swimming champions or marathon runners will naturally be great singers?
So, national swimmer Joseph Schooling and national marathoner Mok Ying Ren should be wonderful singers and they should be able to hold long notes when they sing?
Truth be told, a larger lung capacity does help in certain ways, but is that the real reason why we tend to run out of breath when we sing?
First, let’s do an experiment to bring us to a perspective of why larger lung capacity is not the solution when you try to solve your breathlessness concern when you are singing.
- First get yourself 2 bottles – 1 x 1.5 litres and 1 x 300ml capacity, both filled to the brim with water.
- At the cap of both bottles, you create two different openings. On the 1.5 litres bottle, cut out a 5cm diameter hole and on the 300ml bottle, cut out a 0.5cm hole.
- Applying simple physics or common sense, the water in the 1.5 litres bottle will get emptied faster than the 300ml of bottle! Despite the fact that the 1.5-litre bottle has much more water than the 300 ml bottle.
Therefore, this experiment shows that having much more water in the bottle, or more breath in your lungs, does not naturally guarantee that you will not run out of water / breath very quickly.
So, what is a CRUCIAL factor when we think about how to manage our breath when singing?
First, we need to understand what vocal folds are.
What and where are your vocal folds?
Vocal Folds are two very thin layers of tissue, which are just the size of a fingernail, located in your larynx or voice box.
As we speak or vocalize, the breath that passes through the vocal folds when we exhale will draw the vocal folds into vibration gently. And so, when the vocal folds vibrate at certain regular frequencies, this will produce the pitch and the sound that we need when we sing.
And so, what we need in order to not run out of breath when singing, is to have GOOD VOCAL-FOLD CONTACT !
Now, what is Good Vocal-Fold Contact?
Good Vocal-Fold Contact happens when your vocal folds are vibrating well and regularly, and they actually come into contact fully when they vibrate.
How would you sound like when you have good vocal-fold contact?
- Solid Voice
- Thick Voice
- Not breathy
- No difficulty in holding high notes
Bad Vocal-Fold Contact occurs when your vocal folds barely touch each other, or maybe don’t even touch each other at all.
How would you sound like when you have bad vocal-fold contact?
- Breathy Voice
- At times difficult to understand
- Difficulty in holding high notes
- Breath / Lung Capacity is used up very quickly
Hence, most of the time when you thought that the reason for your breathlessness was because you were not taking in enough air before singing, it is in fact because your vocal folds were not having very good contact !
As illustrated in the experiment above, it is more about how big an opening we have at the bottle cap (VOCAL FOLD CONTACT), rather than just being concerned about how much ‘water’ we can fill up in our bottle, or how big the bottle is (LUNG CAPACITY) !
So, another question that is commonly asked by many singers is, “Is diaphragmatic breathing or using your 丹田 (dan tian) the MOST IMPORTANT factor when singing?”
The answer to that is, by just depending on breathing techniques or lung capacity, it certainly is NOT THE ONLY and MOST IMPORTANT solution, but we also have to use other breath management techniques too.
All the following factors – Breathing Training, Knowledge of the supporting muscle groups, as well as GOOD vocal-fold contact – all have to work together in order to produce a strong and powerful singing voice!
So, whenever you sing, think of having good vocal-fold contact so that you can utilize your breath even better than what you could have done so.