If you’ve heard anything at all about singing technique, the likelihood is that you’ll have heard of diaphragm breathing. It’s the singing teacher’s go-to first technique, with good reason – it’s the first and most important change that you can make to a singer’s voice to get them singing with more freedom.
Here are the top things to remember about breathing.
Keep The Ribs Still
When you breathe in normally, the ribcage raises, creating tension in the base of your neck. This disrupts the muscular functions of the larynx, which need to work freely to produce clean notes. Keeping the ribcage (and shoulders) still is the first fundamental to a free sound.
Activate The Belly
A freely moving abdomen is crucial for getting the diaphragm to drop. The belly should softly move out on the breath in, allowing the diaphragm to drop through into the lower abdomen. If there is any tension in the belly, especially in the six pack muscle (or rectus abdominous), this will re-engage the ribs and cause tension in the larynx.
Take In Less Air Than Normal
This is a little trick of perception. Because diaphragm breathing utilises the base of the lungs, which are larger than the top half of the lungs, you can take in more air before you feel yourself filling up. Usually, the brain relies on kinaesthetic feedback coming from the movement of the ribs to work out when it feels ‘full’, but since we’re keeping the ribs still it doesn’t have that feedback.
The problem comes that when you take in an extra-large breath, your body may look for your normal feeling of ‘full-ness’. This means it fills the lower lungs first, and then takes in a little extra into the tops of the lungs, lifting the rib cage and causing the laryngeal tension. So take in less air than you think you need to prevent lifting the ribs: you’ll be amazed by how much breath you actually have.
Focus Attention On The Out-Breath
Focusing too heavily on the in-breath can actually have a detrimental effect on your breathing. The pressure to “BREATHE” can cause tension in the movement of the belly and re-engage the ribs. The idea goes: wherever you put your attention, there will be tension.
So focusing on bringing the belly in on the out-breath means that, from this held-in position, you can allow the breath to come in. When the breath is allowed entry, the belly recoils from its tensed, inward position to pull the breath in automatically. This takes out the strain beautifully and means that you can focus your attention on your singing, rather than breathing.