In this blog post, I am sharing some of my favourite breathing exercises for singers that will make your voice powerful, flexible and free.
Do you run out of air when singing?
Do you strugle to control your breath?
Do you strain your voice?
This blog post offers eight effective breath control exercises that will help you overcome these difficulties.
(If you did not read the first part of the series, click here to read about breathing techniques for singing.)
What Will You Need?
It is a great tool for every singer because it gives you imediate visual feedback during practice.
(And you definitely need a mirror if you don’t have a vocal teacher beside you!)
Placing your hands on both sides of your body (above your waist) or on your upper abdomen (above your navel) is helpful in getting feedback about body movements during singing practice.
Bonus: Get a free breathing checklist to find out if you breathe efficiently for singing and start improving your singing right away. Click here to get it now!
Other considerations when practicing these breathing exercises:
- Take only as much air as needed for the sung phrase
The goal is to match the amount of air during inhalation to the amount of air required for the sung phrase.
This will help you avoid tanking up (taking too much air for a given vocal task), gasping for air (not taking enough air for a given vocal task) or holding your breath (inadequate timing of inhalation).
2. Inhale through the nose, through the mouth or both at the same time.
Some teachers will prefer one method over the other.
However, I believe that we are all different and we may do better with one or the other.
So try them all and see for yourself.
3. The goal is to achieve a fairly quick inhalation that is silent
Breathe in quietly. If you hear noise when you inhale, your vocal tract is not open enough. Prepare the vocal tract for singing – raise the velum (soft palate), lower the larynx and get the tongue out of way.
4. Be patient
5. Have fun!
Here are some of my favourite breathing exercises for singers:
Breathing Exercise #1
Goal: To explore the inhalation phase and body movements associated with inhalation
Find an optimal posture for singing.
Place your hands on your lower ribs with fingers pointing toward the navel and thumbs pointing backward.
Exhale slowly while sustaining the “sss” sound.
At the end of exhalation, hold your breath “on empty lungs” and wait until you need to inhale again.
Inhale and observe and feel your natural body reaction.
The air will be drawn into lungs effortlessly: you will not need to work hard to get the air into your lungs.
Your back, lower ribs, sides and abdomen will expand to allow the air to “fall” into your lungs. Repeat several times to become aware of the correct body movements during inhalation.
(More about explorations during inhalation, visit this blog post: The 360 Ring of Breath).
And don’t forget to watch this video, in which I explain how you inhale for success. This video introduces a breathing exercise during which you explore proper technique for inhalation. Enjoy it!
Breathing Exercise #2
Goal: To resist the urge to return your body to the resting position
Start with good posture for singing. Again!
Inhale while focusing on the correct movement of the back, abdomen, sides of your body and lower ribs.
Before exhaling, suspend your body in motion.
What does it mean to suspend your body in motion?
Keep your chest raised, abdomen, sides and ribs in the outward position without either inhaling or exhaling.
Suspending the breath does not mean holding the breath.
(Note: when you hold your breath you feel tension at the laryngeal level and your abdomen, which is a similar feeling created when lifting a heavy object.)
There is no tension anywhere in your body.
You are trying to “postpone” the beginning of exhalation in a relaxed state.
Pay attention to the feeling of your body trying to get back to the resting position as well as the feeling to resist this urge.
This will help you slow down your exhalation and keep it steady, which is important for singing long phrases.
Breathe in for the count of three, suspend the breath for the count of three and exhale for the count of three.
Challenge yourself and gradually increase the time for each step to ten seconds, which is 30 seconds in total for one breath cycle(!).
Practice this cycle several times every day.
This is an advanced exercise for breath control for singing, so give yourself a permission not to be perfect right away.
Breathing Exercise #3
Goal: To exhale in a steady manner and to extend the exhalation phase
You may know this exercise as “bending the flame” (in which you blow into the flame of a candle to bend it).
In this exercise, imagine having a candle flame in front of your mouth.
Inhale in a correct way and exhale gently, slowly and steady – just enough to move the flame but not make it flicker.
If you have a hard time imagining it, make yourself a cup of tea and blow into the steam coming out of the cup.
(Do not burn yourself!)
As you are exhaling slowly, count in your head to see how long you can blow out.
Make sure you don’t end up exhaling a great amount of air at the end of the cycle or gasping for air.
You can try to extend this number on your next try.
Set a goal and practice until you get to the chosen number (don’t forget, this is not a competition and correct inhalation and exhalation body movements have to be maintained throughout the exercise).
Breathing Exercise #4
Goal: To develop control over exhalation with sound
Similarly to the previous exercise, you want to learn to exhale in a steady manner, this time while producing a sound (you don’t need any candles or a cup of tea for this exercise).
Start with a good posture for singing.
Inhale slowly, suspend your breath for a second or two; then let the air out with a steady “hiss” (“sss” sound). The S sound is a voiceless sound, which means that your vocal cords do not vibrate when making this sound. This makes the exercise easy because you do not need to coordinate vocal cord closure with breathing.
(But if you want to challenge yourself, add a simple note to this exercise and try to sing it in a controlled manner.)
Listen to the hiss and make sure there are no bursts of air making the hiss louder or faster.
Keep the exhalation steady.
You can also practice a steady air flow during exhalation while singing a high note (choose a comfortable note in your head register).
The tone should feel light and steady. If you feel any variations in volume or tone quality, you are letting inconsistent amounts of air out.
In this exercise, focus on quality not quantity.
Breathing Exercise #5
Goal: To match the amount of inhaled air to the amount of air required for a sung phrase
Sing one or two short (quarter or half) notes of a scale on the syllable “mee”.
Take in a short breath before singing each note while keeping the correct body posture.
Notice that only little air is needed for singing such short notes.
Then increase the sung phrase to several notes (short 3 or 5 note scales) on “mee”. Again notice the amount of air needed to sing these scales.
Lastly, sing an ascending and descending octave in one breath using the syllable “mee” and focus on the amount of air used for singing this exercise.
Then, vary the length of the sung phrase (one note, short scale, or octave) and compare the amounts of air required for each of these phrases.
During this exercise, you should feel control and smoothness of the breath cycle without any tension anywhere in the body.
Breathing Exercise #6
Goal: To sustain a sound and build endurance for singing
Lip rolls are great exercises to practice breath support because lip rolls do not work if you do not apply the right amount of air.
Excessive or inadequate amounts of air will not set lips into vibrations.
In this way, you learn an efficient way of sound production with the ideal amount of air going through your vocal cords.
You can practice breath support with lip rolls on one pitch.
First, inhale and sustain it for the count of five. Do not collapse your chest!
If you can do this without compromising the accuracy of both inhalation and exhalation (as explained previously), extend the lip roll for longer time. In this way you can build your endurance.
Another variation of this exercise is to use lip rolls on short 3 or 5 note scales.
Inhale, then use lip rolls for one scale, inhale again and continue.
Again, the goal of this exercise is to improve your breathing technique.
So focus on your body movements during both inhalation and exhalation.
To extend the breath, use lip rolls to sing two short scales in one breath (for example, 1-2-3-2-1-2-3-2-1).
You can gradually increase the length of the sung phrase – either slow down each note or sing more scales on one breath.
Make sure that you do not run out of air at the end of the phrase or that you gasp for air.
Breathing Exercise #7
Goal: To sing long phrases with efficient breath control
Choose a song with long phrases (for example, “Over the Rainbow”).
First sing the song to remind yourself of the words and to notice where you take breaths in.
Somewhere over the rainbow way up high
There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby
Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true
Next, inhale slowly before each phrase focusing on the correct inhalation movements. Then sing the song slowly with slow and steady exhalation.
Once you can do this, speed up your inhalation getting the appropriate amount of air required for a given phrase.
Breathing Exercise #8
Goal: To improve breath control in a practiced song
Practising breath control in a familiar song can be a good and fun way to develop this skill.
When you use a familiar song to develop a new skill, you don’t need to focus on other aspects of the song, such as melody, rhythm, lyrics, etc.
Just focus on the one skill that is your goal – breath control.
Choose a familiar song that you like to sing, preferably a song with a slow tempo and legato notes.
Let’s demonstrate on a well-known song by Elvis Presley “Only Fools Rush In”.
First, sing the song to remind yourself of the melody and lyrics.
Here are the lyrics for the first part of the song:
Wise Men say
Only fools rush in
But I can’t help falling in love with you
Shall I stay
Would it be a sin
If I can’t help falling in love with you
Sing the first part and focus on inhalation.
If you determine that you do everything correctly during inhalation, turn your focus on exhalation.
You want your body to move slowly back to the resting position.
If you exhale too quickly, you are left without a breath at the end of the phrase.
Now notice after which words you inhale. You probably sing “wise men say” and then inhale.
Now, try to prolong the phrase that you sing on one breath (for example sing “wise men say only fools rush in”).
Here are some key points to focus on:
- Keep focusing on exhalation – more specifically on letting the muscles move back slowly into their resting position
- Use only as much air as needed to sing every phrase
- Do not let too much air escape at once
- Don’t push or squeeze air at the end of the phrase
It may take some time to figure this out.
If you feel that your body tenses up in any place (such as your larynx or belly), stop and try again.
Don’t overfill your lungs when you breath in – that will create tension right from the beginning.
To reiterate, focus on breathing out and keeping your ribcage open while singing the phrase.
Another good song to practice breath support is “Amazing Grace”.
Bonus: Get a free checklist to find out if you breathe efficiently for singing and start improving your voice right away. Click here to get it now!
And that is all for today.
Which one is your favourite breathing exercise?
Don’t forget to share these breathing exercises with your friends!
To read more about breathing and singing, go to my other blog posts: