April 15, 2024

About the Author: Urpi

Urpi teaches vocals at S&C singing in Dubai and loves helping her students excel and become the best singers they can be!

We all know very well that breathing is a crucial element in the production of the singing voice. As a matter of fact, the quality of the voice and the vocal health depend on it to a large extent, as achieving good air management allows us to store more air and thus be able to project a voice with more power without drowning and without creating unnecessary tension in the body.

However, despite breathing being a natural process for all human beings, an unconscious one most of the time to keep us alive, when it comes to singing, it is not as simple as it seems as a lot is going on the way singers must breathe to sing properly. So, here I am going to tell you all about breathing in singing.

The Process of Breathing

The Process of Breathing

We fundamentally distinguish three phases in the breathing process, and the first of them is “Inhalation.” In this phase, the brain sends a message to the diaphragm, the most important muscle of the Respiratory Apparatus in the Vocal System, to contract and expand while descending. This results in the widening of the thorax with the rib cage and the dilatation of the lungs, which causes the intake of air.

If inhalation is done through the nose, the air reaches the lungs filtered, sterilized, humid, and warm. Although it is recommended to inhale in this way, mostly during rests and pauses in a song, to promote the necessary secretion of saliva to moisten the pharynx, when it comes to quick intakes of air for fast phrasing, singers can also inhale by the mouth.

The second phase is known as “Retention”, and it should be added that this phase only takes place in breathing when singing. In this phase, the air is kept in the body to prepare the closure of the vocal folds, allowing us to be in an active position for phonation. What`s more, learning to retain the air is essential as it facilitates the next phase in singing, especially when it comes to singing high notes, which actually need great quantities of retained air.

Finally, we have the third phase of breathing in singing, “Exhalation.” This last phase is produced by an inversion in the intrapulmonary pressure, which is caused by the relaxation of the lungs, the diaphragm, which returns to its normal form with a curve like a parachute, and the contraction of the rib cage.

Hence, exhalation, which is passive in ordinary breathing, becomes active in singing because the flow of the melody and words we are singing must be precisely controlled. That is why this is said to be the most important and most challenging phase to achieve total control of.

Singers must learn to dose the air very well in order to endure a sung phrase without problems of choking and not sing with excess air, which leads to a voice without clarity. Certainly, singers must learn to sing with maximum air savings, as we mentioned before in the second phase of retention.

Not only that, exhalation can be done in two ways. First, by the nose to maintain heat and humidity of the nasal passages, although during phonation, there are few opportunities to do that depending on the melody, especially if it is slow, and secondly, through the mouth.

Types of Breathing

Types of Breathing

When we talk about the types of breathing, we can distinguish three principal types in addition to the phases of the breathing process.

The first one is the “Clavicular Breathing” or known as “Upper Thoraccic” which is the one that is carried out taking advantage of the upper part of the lungs, raising the shoulders and collarbones when breathing and causing the contraction of the suspensory muscles of the larynx that make its functioning difficult. Besides that, this type of breathing can be useful for other physical activities, but for singing, it is tiring as the amount of air that is inhaled is not enough, and it creates tension when raising the shoulders.

The second type of breathing is “Intercostal Breathing”, also known as “Intermediate thoracic”, which is practised by dilatating the chest and widening the ribs. This type of breathing achieves a partial descent of the diaphragm and increases the amount of air compared to the previous type. Nonetheless, the position holds for it is unnatural and makes it challenging to emit the voice due to the fact that the diaphragm is not totally flat. On the other hand, this type of breathing is typical when yawning.

Then, we have the third type of breathing which is the “Abdominal Breathing”. This is based on the movement of the diaphragm that, when contracted, pushes the abdominal viscera downwards, allowing the lungs to fill with air.

As we mentioned before, the diaphragm descends with inhalation and rises, recovering its original shape with exhalation and this can be feel clearly when the abdomen swells and deflates.

Besides that, this type of breathing is used to relax the body and promote intestinal transit and blood flow.

Nevertheless, although we can breathe like this and sing, it is not the best way to sing either as the amount of singing is reduced. Hence, if none of the types of breathing already mentioned is the most effective for singing although they have advantages, what is the correct way of breathing for singers? Well, we invite you to read the part 2 of this lecture as the answer of this question is waiting for you!

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