Benefits of breathing for singing

Benefits of good breathing for singers

Many of my clients want to improve their breath control, so they can sing longer phrases. This is a great goal, because the ability to extend a phrase may greatly serve the musical phrasing required, or make the text more comprehensible if there are less interruptions by breaths taken. I have spent years working on my breathing capacity, to give myself plenty of “margin” when faced with a particularly complex or challenging phrase in a song or aria. This margin gives me the freedom to be emotionally spontaneous during a performance, and not limited by a lack of air! A good example – which many sopranos will recognize – is Richard Strauss’s Beim Schlafengehen.

There are actually two issues at play here. The first is using air efficiently in singing. Things like good compression, ideal vocal fold position etc. But equally as important is efficient breathing itself. Note that I’m not talking about ‘supporting the voice’ or use of air here. This is simply looking at the act of inhalation.

I truly believe that to improve breath control in singing, we crucially need to address how we breath in everyday life.

Breathe well, live well

I hope most people today understand that breathing through the mouth is probably not the most ideal way to breathe. There are thousands of research papers giving us the scientific evidence for this, so I won’t delve too much into the benefits of nasal breathing in this article. If you’re interested in finding out more, this is a good place to start –

So why am I talking about nasal breathing in a post about classical singing, when we singers all know that it’s pretty much impossible to nose breathe while singing songs and arias – there simply isn’t enough time for that.

Well, hear me out!

It’s becoming increasingly clear that breathing through the nose is an “important function of preparing inhaled air to reach structures of the respiratory system” (ibid). This is because it is:

* anaerobically much more efficient
* encourages oxygen down to the lower lobes of the lungs
* incentivises the diaphragm to extend downwards more, thus allowing more air to enter the lungs
* which in turn takes the trachea with it, causing the larynx to descend via a ‘tug’ or ‘pull’ (tracheal pull)
* resulting in a slightly lower laryngeal position which is ideal for classical singing.

The bottom line is, even if we can’t use nasal breathing when we sing our repertoire, we should darn well practice it in all other aspects of day-to-day life. For this reason, I encourage all my singing clients to breathe through their nose and to feel the ribcage expand during warm up and vocal exercises. In this way I’m trying to encourage them to practice the benefits of full, efficient breathing techniques. This in turn creates a memory in the body as to how a proper breath ‘should’ feel, which is extremely useful if they find themselves in the middle of singing a difficult fast aria, when there isn’t time for nasal breathing.

I also suggest that they pay close attention to how they breathe during the day, even when not singing. Are they able to maintain nose breathing, feeling the gentle expansion of the ribcage, or are they snatching shallow breaths through the mouth, allowing the chest to rise? If they manage to achieve an efficient way of breathing most of the time, it will definitely improve their breath management in singing. And most importantly, it will make them better singers all round.