Mastering breath support – and continuing to improve it as you progress as a singer – is crucial to your success. Here, Toledo, OH teacher Elizabeth B. shares a helpful exercise to try…
As a young singer I had no idea how important breath support was to singing. I would stab blindly at a phrase and hope that I had taken in enough air. Most of the time, I was unsuccessful. It wasn’t until I finished my master’s degree that I had any kind of understanding of how to sustain my air. Now that I’m a teacher, this is one of the most important things I focus on with my students.
I start every voice lesson with breath exercises. I have my student inhale for eight counts and hiss out (I use the snake metaphor) for as long as he or she can, and I keep track of the time. I also notice what happens naturally when he or she takes in air and then expels it. Often, my students are not inhaling using all of their lung capacity and when they exhale they are letting their ribs collapse.
Some things I encourage my students to think about after doing this exercise are:
- When inhaling, think about filling up your lungs all the way around, not just the front.
- When exhaling, think about staying lifted in the rib cage – there should be little to no movement in the shoulders when you exhale
After discussing these things with my students, I have them bend at the waist, as far as is comfortable, and take in a few breaths, really focusing on breathing into the back vertebrae. Then I have them repeat the exercise as before. More often than not, their ability to sustain their breath is doubled!
Another exercise you can try at home is breathe in for eight counts, remembering to fill the lungs completely, and hiss out for 20 counts. You’ll notice that you have plenty of breath left at the end. You’ll then breathe in for six counts and hiss out for 25; again you should still have some breath left. Continue and breathe in for four counts and hiss out for 30, and finally breathe in for two counts and hiss out for 35.
This exercise, especially the last two, will be difficult at first, but as you learn how your body responds to proper inhalation and controlled exhalation it will become easier. You’ll also learn to not let all of your air escape in the first eight counts, which is often what happens.
Looking for more specific exercises you can add to your singing routine? Check out the following video for some helpful tips.
The last thing I tell my students is to breathe when the music allows you to do so. If you have a rest in the music, breathe! Don’t hold onto a note too long and short yourself on your much-needed breath before that mega-long phrase.
I hope these ideas help build your breath capacity and bring your singing to the next level!
Elizabeth B. teaches Broadway singing, opera voice, and music performance in Toledo, OH. She has a Bachelor of Music from Grand Valley State University and her Master of Music from Chicago College of Performing Arts. Elizabeth has been teaching students since 2011. Learn more about Elizabeth here!
Photo by InSapphoWeTrust