My thoughts...Wisdom from over the years

Breathing Essentials Part 2

Posted in: Blog, tip of the week ♦ Monday, November 12th, 2012, 11:08 am ♦ No Comments on Breathing Essentials Part 2


Once you’ve mastered the movement of the diaphragm and the rest of the essential breathing muscles, then you can learn to control the flow of air.  It’s important to maintain control over the force and the amount of air that leaves your lungs. First let’s talk about flow.  Let’s use a balloon again as an example. Think about the force of air with which a balloon deflates. The rate is related to the amount of air pressure inside the balloon. If the balloon is VERY full of air, the air will rush out more quickly than if there is just a little air inside. In the same way, if you over-inflate your lungs, your tendency will be to use more air than you need. It will all rush out quickly.  So try ‘topping it off” before you sing. Don’t overinflate. If you take in a HUGE breath, its going to tend to flow out too quickly and with less control than you want, so let a little out before you start singing. You’ll find that you have more control over what’s leftover.

In an effort to help you fully understand how little air you really need to sing or speak, try this.  Take a deep breath and let it ‘all’ out. Without breathing in again, try talking. You’ll find that you can actually go on for a lot longer than you thought—probably 20 seconds or more.  You don’t need a lot of breath to phonate.  What you DO need is the support of that diaphragm. The diaphragm can take even the smallest amount of air and apply it. I use this illustration to help you see that its easy to use too much breath in your singing, and that’s likely why you run out of air so quickly when you sing.

In order to begin to get a hold of the power of the diaphragm and other essential breathing muscles now, let’s try some exercises that will help you strengthen your control.

Try this in order to slow down the amount of air you let out. Take a deep breath and ‘hiss’ like a snake. The tongue should be directly behind your teeth and disallowing the air to flow out rapidly. Time yourself. Repeat the exercise and try to extend your time. You should be able to work yourself up to 30 seconds (maybe more!) pretty easily.

As you get to the end of your air, you should really feel the breathing muscles working hard.  At this point it is working hard to get the last bit of air out. That feeling is one you want to take note of. You want to ‘imitate’ that strong pull any time you need more support. You don’t have to be running out of air to get it! That force is exactly what you need when you want more power to either sing more loudly OR to sing very quietly yet with a powerful tone. Singing quietly take at least as much power/effort as singing loudly, one is just louder!

It’s important to maintain control of exactly how much air you let out and how fast. It’s also important to make sure that you are ‘aiming’ the air exactly where you want it as well. Using too much force of air can do a number of things you don’t want. First of all, too much pressure on the vocal cords is stressful.  Also too much air will only have one place to go and that’s out! However, it will pass through the cords on the way out and leave you with a breathy tone. So making sure you focus your air to vibrate the cords and using just the right amount will help you to utilize your breath better (sing longer phrases) and it will help your tone as well.

Another exercise you can try that may help you gain control over the amount of air you let out is what I call the ‘Alphabet Exercise’.  Take a nice breath in (through your nose) and let it out slowly while saying the alphabet very quickly. You should be able to work up to saying the alphabet at least four times with one breath (approx 20-25 seconds).

Additionally, over breathing is not helpful. It’s important to make decisions as to where you want to breathe and not just leave it to chance. Leaving it to chance will result in an overabundance of ‘catch breaths’ and you’ll always have the feeling that you’re running out of breath.  Making the decision as to the best place to breath not only takes the guess work out of breathing but can also help avoid making the mistake of breathing in an inappropriate place. But more importantly, you’ll find that you have much more control by simply controlling when you breathe.  Many times we’ll feel out of breath trying to catch our breath when the verses seem to run into each other quickly. For example:


I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” by Martin Smith

“Over the mountains and the sea” (breathe)

“Your river runs with love for me,” (breathe)

“And I will open up my heart,” (breathe?)

“And let the Healer set me free.” (breathe)

“I’m happy to be in the truth,” (breathe)

“And I will daily life my hands,” (breathe)

“For I will always sing of… (breathe?)

“When Your love comes down, yeah” (breathe)


By the time you’re done singing this you feel like you’ve run a marathon!

Ok, remember when you did the ‘hissing’ exercise? I feel confident that you were able to ‘hiss’ for at least 20-25 seconds. Furthermore, I believe you were able to work up to doing at least 4 times through the alphabet which should’ve taken you about 20-25 seconds.  This is proof that you can phonate for at least 20 seconds right? Now the song example is around 20 seconds in its entirety! That’s right, the entire verse shown can be sung in around 20 seconds depending on tempo. So what I want you to do is first try singing the verse as shown with the breaths as marked. Then try singing the phrases as I’ve remarked them below:


I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” by Martin Smith

“Over the mountains and the sea Your river runs with love for me,” (breathe)

“And I will open up my heart, and let the Healer set me free.” (breathe)

“I’m happy to be in the truth, and I will daily life my hands,” (breathe)

“For I will always sing of when Your love came down, yeah” (breathe)


Typically, you’ll actually feel less winded after having sung the entire verse in one breath!

You can decide for yourself which way serves you best or come up with your own places to breathe. But I think you will have a clearer picture now that sometimes ‘less is more’ when it comes to taking and using breath. In addition, I hope you’ve seen that you may have more breath capacity than you previously thought.  Practice will make a big difference when it comes to gaining and maintaining breath support and control. So keep working!


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