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"The In’s and Out’s of Breathing"
by Tammy Frederick - Canadian Musician Magazine

Breathing is our life support and an involuntary action that our body performs, so you would think we couldn’t get it wrong. But, many of us do not breathe properly, especially when we start singing. This can lead to a host of problems
including hoarseness, vocal fatigue, inconsistent performances and can even affect your pitching. Breathing should feel free and easy - extra musculature and tension only serve to drain you of your much-needed energy. The main elements
involved in breathing are the diaphragm, your posture, the inhalation and the exhalation. Once a basic understanding of these functions is developed, you can put it together to create superior vocal production.

Before reading any further, stop. Find a mirror and take in a deep breath. What does your reflection show? What are your shoulders doing? Do you look relaxed or tense?

Most people when asked to take in a deep breath will raise their shoulders and suck in their stomach. In reality your body requires the exact opposite action to happen - your shoulders should stay down and the stomach should expand
outward allowing the diaphragm to drop. There should be no dramatic change in musculature and you should look relaxed. So let’s consider the factors involved in achieving this.

The Diaphragm

The diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle that separates the chest and abdominal cavities. It is attached in front to the bottom of the breastbone and attached in the back about three or four inches lower. The perimeter of the diaphragm is attached to the inner chest wall. When you inhale the diaphragm contracts downward giving the lungs room to expand. At this time the intercostal
muscles between the ribs expand outward creating a partial vacuum. When you do not allow the diaphragm to drop fully you restrict the airflow and only partially fill the lungs.

Your Posture

Good posture equals great sound. Proper body alignment will maximize your body’s ability to breathe efficiently and effectively. So what is good posture?

Exercise #1 ~ Finding Proper Alignment

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, weight evenly distributed. Looking straight-ahead keep your chin parallel with the floor. Do not tilt it up or down. Envision a string attached to the top of your head pulling you toward the ceiling. Roll your shoulders around to loosen them up and then relax them down and

back, they should feel inline directly over your hips. Relax your knees slightly and tuck your pelvis up.

Try to implement this posture into your practice routines. Although it may seem uncomfortable and odd at first, your body will soon adjust to this optimum alignment.

The Inhalation

When you inhale for singing open your mouth and drop your jaw. Don’t force your jaw downward, instead think of unhinging it, and simply let it drop comfortably. Allow the air to fall in gently and fill your lungs. Think of yawning in your breath. It
is important that the inhalation be inaudible. Do not gasp or suck in the air. If there is sound created on inhalation the vocal cords have come together and vibrated. This means that the vocal cords are never allowed to relax fully, putting
unnecessary strain on them.

The Exhalation

It doesn’t take muscle to exhale just relaxation. Do not push or force your air out, this will only cause more tension and strain. Pushed air causes too much air pressure to build up under the vocal cords making it much more difficult for them
to maintain their connection. Keep your abdominal muscles relaxed. Rather than
controlling the exhale, think instead of allowing the air to escape. When you exhale try to maintain a small steady stream of air.

Exercise #2: Diaphragmatic Breathing

Stand in front of a mirror so you can monitor your shoulder tension. Find your proper alignment. Place a hand on your stomach just above your belly button. While keeping the shoulders down, allow the stomach to move your hand forward
as you inhale. Inhale for a count of five, pause, and then exhale for a count of five. Repeat. Continue to monitor your shoulders. If you are having difficulty with this coordination try laying on your back on the floor with your knees bent and
both feet on the floor. Lying on the floor will ensure your posture is correct and you will be able to monitor your stomach rise and fall with the diaphragm’s actions. Repeat the exercise, and then try to duplicate it standing up. When the
diaphragm contracts downward it slightly pushes your organs forward. Putting your hand on your stomach enables you to monitor whether you are allowing the diaphragm to drop.

Although this may be challenging to some at first remember this is how your body was designed to breathe. Unfortunately, we often get in the way of this natural action when we try to control or manipulate our bodies. Do not be alarmed if you
feel dizzy or light-headed when doing these exercises, it is simply that your body is receiving an extra abundance of rich oxygen. With practice your body will adjust.

Putting It Together

Try paying attention to your breathing in every activity you do throughout the day. Whether standing in line, walking, talking on the phone or driving in a car: be conscious of allowing the diaphragm to contract down as you inhale and relax as you exhale. Once you feel you have a developed the basics of proper posture and breathing it is time to transfer it to your song work.

Exercise #3: Developing the Muscle Memory

Choose a song from your repertoire. Place a hand on your stomach just above your belly button and find your proper alignment. Sing through the song one phrase at a time allowing the diaphragm to drop every time you inhale. Be conscious of exhaling a steady stream of air throughout the entire phrase. Think of the lyrics floating on a cushion of air. Try slowing the tempo down as well, singing through the piece slowly will allow you time to develop the new muscle memory. Then try working your piece a tempo maintaining the diaphragmatic breathing.

Good posture and proper breathing will provide the most success in producing good quality sound and overall vocal health. Take the time to practice these techniques and you will build the muscle memory needed to carry you into successful performances night after night.

Reprinted with kind permission from Tammy Frederick, columnist for Canadian Musician Magazine and vocal teacher who offers private lessons and voice workshops through her studio Tammy Frederick's Voice Studio in Toronto, Ontario.

Visit her website at:

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