Breathing for singing(and other things that are overstressed by singing teachers)
Many of my new students look at me in surprise when I tell them “ I am not going to teach you how to breathe..you already know how!”. These students are under the misconception that vocal study must include hours and hours of ‘breathing study’ and learning how to ‘sing from their diaphragm’. First of all, let’s look at the diaphragm and why you can’t actually sing from it. It’s an involuntary muscle. You can’t control it. Since there are no nerve endings in the diaphragm, you cannot feel it, and therefore, you cannot control it. When you breathe ( which you MUST do to stay alive!) your diaphragm does it’s job on it’s own by moving downward and laterally (outward) which causes the rib cage to expand to accommodate the lungs as they expand. This happens every time we breathe Yes, we do need as singers at times, to take a breath that is not centered in the chest, and be conscious of the ribs expanding and centering the breath in more of an abdominal area, To become aware of the rib expansion, I give my students a very simple exercise where they hold their hands around their midsection, and expand their ribs by taking a breath. I then have them release the breath on a hissing sound “ssss”. Doing this exercise will make the singer more conscious of rib expansion, but it will not help them breathe. They do that all on their own! If you can speak long sentences without thinking about breathing, you can sing without thinking about breathing. And frankly, the more a singer things about breathing while they are singing, the more that process interferes with the singing itself! The best ‘breathing’ exercise is the act of singing itself! When you are phonate (make sound) your vocal folds will open and close, which in turn, is a breathing exercise. Vocal production happens at the vocal fold level. Vocal training is all about negotiation and coordination at the vocal fold level. With good technique at the vocal fold level, the breathing will take care of itself. A vocal instructor such as myself will design vocal exercises to address the issues that singers have. With repetitive vocalizing and regular study with a good teacher, the technique will solidify and stay in muscle memory. So keep singing and let the breathing take care of itself!