Proper Breathing- The Basics
As a vocal coach, one of the most common things I run into when I start working with a new client is poor breathing technique. Most people who've been around the block a few times are able to throw out a few buzz words like "Stomach" or "diaphragm" but 9 times out of 10 they...
A: can't tell you how to actually take a "diaphragmatic" breath
B: Have no clue if they are doing it right or wrong
well.... I'm here to help!
So let's start with the basics. There are 4 different types of breaths and they all have their own strengths and weaknesses...
1. High Breath-
We call this a high breath because (you guessed it) It's placed high!!! Meaning mainly in the chest and shoulders. It's the kinda breath you see a kiddo take before they blow out their candles on a transformers themed cake. Or the kind of breath my mom used while teaching me to drive! Great for hyperventilation but not so effective for actually intaking air.... I'm sure there is some fancy technique out there in opera-land where this might be a smart way to breath but to you it's DEAD! DEAD DEAD DEAD DEAD GROSS DEAD EW.
not only is a high breath not maximizing the capacity of your lungs but it'x also a one way ticket to a dried out and fatigued throat. Go ahead, take a couple massive gasps, pay attention to how that feels and how quickly you get all crusty and bleh in your windpipe region. Despite all of that nastiness...this is still the way most people breath when they sing. It's just a quick way to get in air but it's by no means effective. You'll know you're taking one of these breaths if your shoulders go up, so keep a sharp eye on them!
remember: DEAD DEAD DEAD GROSS DEAD EW GROSS
2. Belly (diaphragmatic) breath-
This breath is the shiznit....like, the best thing since dunk-a-roo's. So you have this muscle (the diaphragm) that is pretty much attached to the bottom of your lungs. When you expand that muscle it pulls you lungs down with it!!!! That means you actually have more physical space to intake air when you use this kind of breath!!!! It's so exciting for so many reasons...mainly because not only can you take in more air ,but you can also control the rate at which you expel it. You can put a little resistance on that muscle and BAM you are taking the most effective and controlled breath of your life.
"HOW?!?! How can I access this beautiful gift?!?!?!" Well weary singer let me tell you!
I would love to say it's as simple as just picturing your breath coming from that little spot right above your belly button...and it kinda is. BUT most of the time that won't get ya breathing right, so let's talk about a few other options.
DO NOT: Flex your ab muscles....this is not the time and place, macho man.
DO: Lay down on the floor...I know it's weird but trust me! Our planet has this cool thing called gravity, when you lay down on your back (preferably on a hard surface) gravity makes it so you cannot take a stupid, gross breath. That's why many singers *cough* Andrea Bocelli *cough* record vocals while laying on the floor. It's a fool proof way to get a solid belly breath. All you have to do is get a good sense for how that feels and apply it while you are standing up! CAKE!
3. Rib Breath-
So this one is obscure and advanced and all sorts of confusing. Basically the only way to use this breath effectively is as part of a combination breath. When you use a rib breath and a belly breath at once it's like you unlock this bonus level where you're breath never ends and now you are a super hero. I have found that the rib breath is most effective for my hip-hop clients. If you're a rapper, it's not a bad idea to experiment with this kind of breathing.
The best way to try and get yourself to take a rib breath is to put both of you hands on the non-dominant side of your body, right at the base of the rib cage. Then you just have to put your mind to work and picture yourself breathing into that spot. You will notice a very minute expansion in your ribs but again NO FLEXING, it should be very natural. Good luck! This one is a toughy.
4. Back Breath-
I LOVE the back breath. This kind of breath is a great way to unlock some major vocal support systems that sometimes escape from us in the heat of the moment. This one is the hardest to feel but once you master it, you shall be the happiest camper! It helps stablize any shakey notes and will whip a vocal wobble right into shape. This is how you make it happen..place the backs of your hands in the middle of your back, right at the base of your shoulder blades. While you are doing that just be mindful and picture yourself breathing from that spot. You will notice a slight raise in that spot if you are accessing it correctly. It's super easy to fall into a high breath while practicing this so BEWARE!
Those are the basics! I hope you are able to find the kind of breath that works best for you and your music. If you have any additional questions, comments or concerns feel free to reach out on the "get started" tab in the top right hand corner!