Breathing is easy right? So why am I out of breath when I sing?
B.B. King said
- “Singing to me is like talking, if it ain't natural, it ain’t right” ...
When we talk, we rarely if ever run out of breath, unless you're in a conversation where you can’t get a word in edgewise and run your sentences together (my family gatherings for instance).
To oversimplify it, singing is speaking - on pitch. Ok, so singing is somewhat different from speaking, but there is truly so much overlap. I’m always saying to my students “Never suck air in, or push air out”. Think of it as more of a natural process, that it is, inflate and release. Also called inspiration and expiration. There’s a pause too, as we don’t breathe in and out non stop, but more discussion on pauses... another time.
And one of the biggest myths is that you always need to take a big, deep breath, or even conversely just a tiny breath when in fact you take what I call, the ‘Goldilocks Breath’. Not too much, not too little, but just right. And it should feel as relaxed as speaking. Experienced singers truly understand that it’s all about having BALANCED breath. Here’s an exercise to start you on the ‘balanced breathing’ path. 1. Look at the phrase ahead of you, I’ll use the beginning of House of the Rising Sun.
...“There is a house in New Orleans, they call the rising sun”...
You might look at that line and think you’d have to take a huge breath. There are 12 words, sung rather slow to moderately. It may seem daunting to know where to breathe. I‘ve had students who have unconsciously thought that the breath they take at the beginning is the only one they’ll use for the whole line. This of course couldn’t be further from the truth. The secret sauce is in how you choose your phrasing. There are many ways to create phrases. Below I've chosen manageable phrases, (especially for beginner singers) by breaking up the lines. This will allow for more relaxed ‘speaking like’ breaths. And like speaking, sung phrases should make sense.
…”There is (breath) a house (breath) in New Orleans... (slightly bigger breath) They call (smaller breath) the rising sun”...
I’ll keep it going in the same vein
(Moderate sized breath) …”And it’s been the ruin (breath) of many a poor boy. (bigger breath to rebalance after the longer phrases before) And God, I know (breath) I’m
Notice how I've suggested a slightly bigger breath when it comes to the phrase “they call” and “rising sun” as they’re held for longer and generally need more emphasis and projection than the preceding short phrases. Remember that sung phrases are designed to make sense to the listener, so use your breath intake thoughtfully. From years of practice, experienced singers have the skills to regulate their breath so they can sing longer phrases.
Two things to be aware of if you are practising this with no musical backing:
Your phrases should make sense. Avoid the temptation of breaking up a word. I've heard singers breath in the middle of the word ri-(breath)-sing. (I’ve done it myself before!)
Keep the timing steady all the way through. (ie don’t speed up or slow down). I tell my students to imagine that you can “hear the band” playing behind you (in your head of course)
Above is one just one example, but honestly, there is always more than one way to peel an orange. I find playing with phrasing incredibly fun. I treat it like a game. Try this with a song that you generally run out of breath with, or believe is difficult, even playing around with moving where you breathe. You’ll be thrilled that you not only feel more in control of your breath, but your phrasing and breathing become relaxed and your singing voice gets better! - Yani Sept/15/2020