To develop the proper singing technique, it’s essential to incorporate breathing exercises into your practice routine. The main focus of these breathing exercises for singers is to work your diaphragm muscles.
Using your diaphragm when singing has several benefits. Not only does it allow you to access the full power and potential of your voice, but it also protects your vocal cords from accumulative damage.
In this detailed guide, I’ll present you with four breathing exercises specifically focused on developing your ability to sing from your diaphragm. After practicing them consistently, you’ll notice remarkable improvements in your ability.
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Before you dive into the breathing exercises for working your diaphragm, you need to prepare your body correctly. Posture is one of the most important aspects of singing, and without developing it properly, you will limit your vocal ability.
Although correct posture is simple theoretically speaking, it is something that many vocalists overlook. In the modern world, the average person spends a lot of time sitting down, which can lead to bad postural habits being formed.
The good news is, it doesn’t take much effort to re-correct your posture, even if you’ve developed bad habits. By being consciously aware of the position of your body, you can realign your posture in a relatively short time.
Here’s a step-by-step breakdown, that if followed, will create the habit of correct posture, and prepare you to reap the full benefits of the breathing exercises in the remainder of this guide.
- Stand with your spine erect, and let your hands relax by your sides
- Adjust your feet so that they are roughly shoulder-width apart
- Relax your knees so that there is no tension on your lower back
- Shrug your shoulders a few times to relax your upper body muscles
- Imagine you’re trying to balance a book on the top of your head
- Gently bring your shoulders downwards and slightly backward
- Keep your chest held high, without forcing or creating tension
An easy way to know if your posture is correct is by paying attention to the various pressure points on your body. Your neck, shoulders, torso, hips, and knees should all feel relaxed, and the weight should be evenly distributed.
If you begin your practice routine each day by ensuring that your posture is correct, you’ll form the habit in a very short time. This will improve your singing exponentially, and also your presence on stage.
Now, let’s move on to the specific breathing exercises.
Exercise 1 – The Inhale
Breathing exercises are equally mental as they are physical. The aim is to become consciously aware of the way you breathe when singing so that you can unlock your full vocal potential.
For this first exercise, start by standing in the proper posture I previously described. Then, take one hand, and place it on your stomach, with your middle finger resting on your belly button.
Then, focus your attention on causing your stomach to inflate and expand. As you inhale the air, you should feel your belly pushing outwards.
Next, start to gently exhale through your mouth. Notice how your belly slowly deflates. If you are doing this exercise correctly, you should feel the sensation of your belly moving outwards, rather than upwards when you inhale.
When your belly moves outwards, this causes the diaphragm to engage as the lungs fill with air. Many of us have developed the bad habit of contracting our stomach when inhaling, which prevents us from using the diaphragm.
Repeat this exercise for around 5 minutes, ensuring that you maintain the correct posture, and focus on the way your belly moves as you breathe.
Exercise 2 – The Straw Technique
For the following exercise, you’ll need a straw, cut to around four inches in length. This exercise is great for developing an efficient breathing technique for singing, and it has a relaxing effect on your body.
Firstly, take the straw and put it between your lips. Then, breathe normally through the straw, ensuring that you don’t forcefully suck the air through it. As you do this, the air will slowly fill your lungs, and your body should relax.
Be sure to focus on maintaining the correct posture that you established earlier. Your shoulders shouldn’t raise when breathing, and your upper body muscles should remain untensed.
When inhaling through the straw, count to four. Then, exhale with the same pressure, again counting to four. Repeat this routine for 5 breath cycles. Then, increase the inhale and exhale times to 5 seconds.
After repeating this breathing exercise a few times, you’ll notice that you can breathe through the straw effortlessly, with very little noise being produced. This will naturally engage your diaphragm muscles.
This exercise aims to train you to build the habit of inhaling without gasping. Controlled breathing is the key to singing with sustain, and once you’ve built this habit, you’ll find that the length of time you can hold notes will increase significantly.
Exercise 3 – The Exhale
You’ve now formed the habit of correct singing posture and learned how to breathe silently while engaging your diaphragm. The next exercise encourages you to focus on the relationship between exhaling and your vocal cords.
A common misconception, especially amongst beginner singers, is that pushing out the air with more force will result in being able to reach higher notes. This may work for a short time, but eventually, the straining will catch up with you.
One of the main goals of breathing exercises is to develop the habits that will protect your voice from damage. Singing is something you want to do for the rest of your life, so preserving your vocal muscles is of paramount importance.
When the air is pushed out, rather than released in a relaxed manner, this causes tension on the vocal cords and muscles. This often causes your voice to break mid-note, which can tarnish a performance.
For this exercise, simply start by placing the palm of your hand on your stomach. Take a deep inhale, and as you do so, gently press your tongue against your bottom teeth, while keeping your top teeth resting on them.
Then, release the air through your teeth while maintaining this position. Focus on allowing the smallest amount of air to escape through your teeth, controlling the flow of breath.
The natural sound you should make when performing this exercise is “tss”. Try to repeat the exercise while timing your exhale. Once you can release the air so slowly that your exhale lasts for at least 30 seconds, you’ve completed the exercise.
Exercise 4 – Breathe Deeper
If practiced consistently, the first three exercises I’ve described will help you to build the foundational breathing habits that are required for singing from your diaphragm.
This next exercise is great for expanding your lung capacity and allowing you to have further control over your inhales and exhales. You can do this sitting comfortably, or laying down on your back.
Before you start this exercise, you mustn’t attempt it when standing up, or in any situation where you could potentially fall over. It involves taking deep breaths over a prolonged period, so it’s normal to feel light-headed when attempting it.
When either sitting or lying in a relaxed position, close your eyes and take a long, deep breath in. Focus on starting the breath from your diaphragm, feeling the muscles engage under your ribcage.
Follow the sensation of the breath as it travels from your diaphragm, through your stomach, into your chest, through your neck, and into your head. When your lungs are full, allow the breath to naturally leave your lungs without forcing it.
Repeat the inhale, again focusing on starting it from your diaphragm. Do this for fifteen breaths, then when you get to the last exhale, allow all of the air to leave your lungs and hold your breath for 30 seconds.
If 30 seconds seems like a long time to hold your breath, don’t worry. You’ll be surprised at how long you are able to hold your breath after taking the fifteen deep inhales, as your body will retain the oxygen.
This exercise encourages you to use your full lung capacity when singing. Again, be sure to do it in a safe environment, where you cannot fall over if you become a little light-headed from the increased oxygen levels.
After you’ve done this breathing exercise, you’ll feel extremely relaxed. Now, you’re ready to incorporate your breathing techniques into your singing practice.
Every note that you sing starts with your breath. We often think of singing as being the practice of pushing sound out of our vocal cords, when in reality, it’s deeply rooted in the way we inhale and exhale.
If you practice the four exercises included in this article, you’ll find that your ability to breathe when singing is dramatically improved. This will help you to reach higher notes, and protect your voice in the long-term.