The average person does not think about breathing on a daily basis. In fact, normal breathing for everyday tasks is an involuntary process. Your body naturally figures out how much air it needs for each task (speaking, walking, typing on your computer) and disburses it accordingly, without conscious effort on your part. However, it should at first be a conscious task when you first learn breathing for singing.
In most cases, breathing consciousness only comes about when there is something limiting the breathing process (such as congestion due to cold or allergies), or when engaging in a cardio activity, such as running or swimming. But when breathing for singing consciousness and control are central to the functionality of our instrument – the voice. The range of pitch, volume and length of phrases is so much greater when singing than in daily speech, so necessary steps must be taken to insure that we use the breath we have in the most efficient way possible.
A key element to remember in breathing for singing is that breathing is a cycle. There is no stopping point, no end or beginning, but an ongoing, continued process that should never be interrupted. The interchange of intake and expulsion of breath make up this cycle. As you breathe in (intake), you fill up your lungs to their capacity, and then the breath should release (expulsion) and slowly be pushed out. There should never be a moment in between these two processes that impedes this breathing cycle, no break in the motion of the breath. The air should always be moving in one direction (in or out), and never be “held.” Likewise, the breathing muscles should always be engaged in one activity or the other (intake or expulsion), and never be held in any way.
The intake of air is just as important as how you expel the air for your singing, and it must be given the same consideration when learning new pieces or performing exercises to build your voice. A helpful trick for the intake of breath is to remember that breathing in should never be rushed or gasped. By relaxing and slowly drawing air into your body, you are taking full advantage of the capacity you have. Once you have mastered this process, you may begin to take quicker breaths while still managing to take in the largest quantity of air possible. However, when beginning your breath study, it is important to isolate breathing in a slow, controlled fashion, so that your muscles may begin to understand their potential.
Remember, practicing is a way to build muscle memory, and this includes the treatment of breath. Learning to breathe properly, both on the intake and expulsion of breath, happens only with repetition of conscious efforts.
In my next post, I will focus on the musculature and function of each body part in the breathing process – something that every singer should have a basic knowledge of.
And remember: relax, breathe, and SING!