Breath control – it’s easier than you think!
As a singer, breath control is es-sen-tial. Like, probably THE most important thing to master. I’m gonna be honest with you and admit that when I was at the beginning stages of my vocal journey, I had a bit of an aversion to the phrase ‘breath control’. Maybe because it sounded like a lot of work. Maybe it had something to do with the word ‘control’? I guess I do have a bit of an authority problem (lol). In any case, it didn’t sound like fun. And I wanted singing to be fun.
Well…I was right about the ‘fun’ part, but so wrong about the ‘breath control’ part. I was a pretty good singer, but – no matter how hard I tried – I was always a bit pitchy and was unable to create volume. And it wasn’t until years later that I discovered…it’s because my breath control SUCKS!
Let me explain to you how I fixed it. And how easy it actually was. But first, let me give you a list of all the things that will improve if you apply healthy breath control:
- Your pitch
- Your volume
- Your high register (high notes, meaning belting as well as falsetto)
- Your low register (low notes)
- Your steadiness (no wobbling or shaking)
- Your ability to sustain notes (sing loonngggg notes)
- Your ability to sing dynamically (be a virtuoso like Ariana or Tori Kelly)
- Your ability to move around like Beyoncé on stage and still sound awesome
Worth learning more about, right?! Here we go:
Oh…little disclaimer: As you know, I like to explain things as if I’m talking to a 4-year-old. First of all, it’s my favorite age and I encourage anyone to be more like a 4-year-old. But also because complicated jargon sounds nice and all, but ‘sing from the diaphragm’ simply won’t help you as much as ‘pretend you’re holding a huge tray with Fabergé eggs’. I believe singing should be easy!
So, here are some tips that should make it eeeeeeasy to apply healthy breath control:
Pull the air back
At my first singing lesson, my teacher told me I sang like a hot-air blow dryer. It’s true, I loooooved singing with a breathy voice (thanks to years of listening to Mariah). Later on, I learned that you actually add breathiness – almost as an effect – over a healthy tone, instead pushing all that air out. More on that later. For now, all you need to know is: never ever ever ever push your air out. That includes sneaky little consonants such as p’s and t’s and f’s. A great way to much better breath control is to pretend you’re pulling the air back. Flip that blowdryer, and send the airstream to the back of your head. If it feels difficult, try dropping the jaw. A good OMG face always helps your singing voice.
Do some planks, for God’s sake
Don’t worry, I’m not encouraging you to revive the 2011 trend. I’m talking about putting those core muscles to work, darling! A little sweat ain’t never hurt nobody! Developing the core will help you tremendously. For healthy breath control, you need to engage the core, the obliques and your lower back muscles, there is just no way around it. So get cracking!
PS: If you don’t know where your core muscles are, put your hand on your belly and cough. Feel that? You just found ’em.
Pretend your belly drops as you sing
Ok, uhm… I’m gonna try to do this section without sounding inappropriate. Wish me luck. As Kristin Chenoweth says: you kinda need to breathe from your hoo hoo. As you sing, pretend there’s a magnet in your…lower regions, and it’s pulled to the ground. Or, pretend to be the beautiful belly dancing Shakira, and mimic the sensation of your belly dropping to the floor as you make a sound. Make sure to keep your chest open while you do this!
Push something down. Or squat.
Try this: go stand in front of your desk, stand tall like a supermodel, bend your knees slightly, put your hands on the desk and push down. Feel what’s happening? If you’re not sure, try this: go stand in squat position (sorry to make you do physical exercise again. You can have a cookie later.). At the same time, carry an imaginary tray of something fairly heavy. Come out of the squat and notice the muscles that are activated. Yes, your booty muscles, duh. But also…the magical core muscles! If you sing a note this way, you will most likely feel a huge difference in volume, steadiness, and ease.
Ask someone to push YOU
If that previous tip wasn’t really doing it for you, here is the real winner: Ask someone to push you. Seriously! Hang on, hang on, follow these instructions before anyone gets hurt: First, you put one foot in front of the other to get some good stability. Bend your knees a little bit. Relax your neck and shoulders. K, you’re ready. Your friend should now stand behind you, also putting one foot in front of the other. Let them put their hands on your waist. As you sing a word or a line, they should push and YOU should resist. Don’t forget that last step or you will fall over 😀
Hope that helps! If these tips don’t feel easy or your throat feels too active, you are probably not open enough in your upper body. So drop that jaw, drop the larynx, expand the chest and try again.
Want to learn more about breath control, and other ways to make the most of your voice? Check out the Vocal Technique online course!
Photo credit: rudgr.com