Singing and Breathing
While we may call it the 'First Secret,' it is not really a secret, just something that not too many people can pinpoint. The 'First Secret' to singing is the control of breath. When you have control of your breath that means you have control over the muscles of your diaphragm, larynx, and vocal chords. This; however, can take years to master. Even Madonna, who is now in her thirtieth-odd year of singing, knows the importance of breathing and muscle control. She undergoes intense vocal exercise, along with strenuous physical exercise on a daily basis. Not only does this keep her in great shape, but also it allows her to control her voice and her breath. Through exercise, she has found that her breathing and vocal range can be extended to last an entire concert or recording session.
Now, you don't need to go out and run ten miles a day (which is about the distance that Madonna covers!), but it is necessary for you to gain control over your breathing, and that requires control over your muscles. Through breathing exercises and practice, you will be able to hone your skills so that you will eventually be able to control and pinpoint all the muscles that you are using while you sing.
As yoga has become more popular across the world, the breathing techniques that go along with it have gained popularity as well. The breathing exercises found in yoga are very beneficial to the singer because yoga teaches breath through concentration and control. This is very such the same way you have to treat your breathing when you are learning how to sing.
Try the following: Take a deep breath and hold it for two seconds.
With most people who are not trained in the art of breathing, this above scenario is the case. When you are learning how to sing, you are going to have to learn to both hold your breath and relax at the same time.
Now, try this: Breathe in slowly, but this time, as you inhale, expand not your chest, but your abdomen. Push your stomach out slowly. Feel how your shoulders and upper chest are relaxed. This is important. You now understand the first step of breathing - that it can be controlled and how you breathe is what is important when it comes to making all the parts of your voice work in harmony.
The important point here is that you now have noticed the two basic places where inhalation occurs and where breath is stored. In order to start singing properly, you are going to have to combine the two methods. This time, inhale about 70% and hold the air in your upper cavity, but this time, try to relax your shoulders and keep your diaphragm taught. This is the 'space' where you air will be stored so that you will have control over the air that is emitted when you want to release your voice.
We will work on this further in the next lesson, entitled "The Art of Breathing, Expanded". Try to go through the next couple of days and pay special attention to how you breathe. Practice relaxing your upper thorax while holding your breath for a few seconds. If you have trouble, ask a buddy or even a yoga instructor about how you can breathe, hold, and relax completely.
The Art of Breathing
If you haven't done so, you should review the last lesson. We talked about control of breath and how one begins to inhale before you even begin to emit a sound. This is the very first step on the staircase of breathing and it is quite important to remember.
Also, we discussed how some singers are naturally gifted with an amazing singing voice even though they have never had singling lessons, or paid special attention to their own methodology. This course is for those who might have a good singing voice and want to expand their knowledge of exactly what it is they are doing well and what they might not be doing so well. For those of you interested in the art of singing and want to learn the basics to be able to practice on your own, follow these next few simple lessons designed for the layman.
Back to the art of breathing. Remember in the last lesson how we discussed knowing how to breathe in order to control your breathing? Well, it's true. We saw that you can consciously choose where you want your breath to go, your lower abdomen or your upper chest cavity. We also discussed the importance of relaxing your upper body while still holding your breath. Here is where you will have the most control over your muscles, which in turn controls the release of your breath and your voice.
Now that you know how to control where your breath is going, you will have to continue doing these exercises for a while until it becomes second nature. Remember to breathe in, hold for two seconds, and make sure your shoulders are relaxed and your diaphragm (lower abdomen) is relaxed, but taught. Fill your lungs with air and allow your ribs to expand. Do you feel the air press against them? Now push the air against your ribs, the same way you did in lesson one where your abdomen pushed outward. Don't worry about pushing out with all the pressure that you can. That is not the point. The point is to control your breath where it is stored.
Practice this one or two times. You might even want to sit down; you may get light-headed if you are not used to controlling your breathing this much. If you do sit, be sure to keep a straight back and keep your abdomen as straight as possible. Do not slouch or bend over, and keep your legs comfortably below you with your feet flat on the ground, knees bent.
Next, you want to be sure not to allow any air to escape through your nose. We will talk about nasal breathing later on. There is a little trick to help you keep the air from escaping your nasal cavity. If you slightly raise your chin in the air and gently press your tongue against your palate, you'll feel the pressure from your chest. Remember to keep your diaphragm taught, but not stiff. Practice this a few times until you are 100% sure that you have felt each area; the pressure and sensation that the breath you inhale can have.
Having control over your breath and your breathing is not just important, but crucial. It is the basis of singing and the primary step used by those with well-trained voices. Once you are able to feel where the air is going and how you can control it, only then will you be able to move successfully forward to the next step, which is that of breath division, larynx control, and vocal chord sensation.