How important is proper breathing when it comes to playing music and singing? Very! For singers, especially, learning how to control your breathing helps with your tone, your vocal power, and your phrasing. Read on as Portland music teacher Bonnie M. explains the 3 simple steps to keep in mind…
If you’re an instrumentalist, how comfortable are you with considering your breath while playing? When you watch an orchestra begin to play, you will notice the Concertmaster’s bow indicate the upbeat at the same time he or she shows an exaggerated breath. This communicates to the orchestra the time of that first measure. The next time you sit down at your piano, and hear the beginning tempo of your piece, take a breath in time as you start your practice session. At the next phrase, do the same, and listen as the music becomes more alive. Please, don’t hold your breath between phrases though!
If you’re a vocalist, you’ll already know that you can’t makes sounds if you don’t breathe. Your breath gives shape to the phrase, and sometimes as a beginner your breath can feel as if it restricts your phrasing. Let’s break down the process:
The lungs fill with air drawn in by the diaphragm. Silence and relaxation are key, as few things disrupt the mood of your song more than a sudden *GASP* between phrases! When the vocal folds are tense, the inhalation of the breath creates that ugly sound. If you’re having difficulty finding enough breath, imagine buckling on a belt of noses around your waist. All those noses are breathing for you, helping you expand all the way around your belly. (Another hint: breathing through your nose is always quiet!)
For a singer, the release of air is carefully rationed to sustain a phrase until the end. I often imagine a feather in front of my mouth, and in my breathing exercises I blow just strong enough to keep the feather uplifted, but not so strong that the feather is blown away from my face.
The easiest thing to forget when you’re focused on singing to the end of that long phrase: the best way to end that note is to breathe IN again. Don’t just let the sound stop by tensing up – gently let your diaphragm fill your lungs once more and that note will end softly, instead of harshly. If you want to go a step further, consider the next word you sing and allow your mouth to form its first vowel while you breathe in again. Then you’re doubly prepared for your next entrance.
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Bonnie M. teaches piano, singing, flute, music theory and opera voice lessons to students of all ages in Portland, OR. She joined the TakeLessons team in November 2012, with a Bachelor’s degree in Vocal Music Education from Willamette University. Learn more about Bonnie, or search for a teacher near you!
Photo by Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson