Breathe Easy: Practicing Breath Awareness for Singing

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By Jennifer O’Donnell, Voice & Clarinet Instructor

When it comes to learning how to sing, most would agree that good breath support is of the utmost importance. However, learning the fundamentals of breath support is often a stumbling block for the beginner and can even elude the more advanced singer. Although breathing is an involuntary action necessary for life itself, many of us are disconnected from our own breath.  We are living in an age of unrelenting stimulation, hectic schedules, and constant stress. We often cope with this by developing habits of holding and patterns of tension that restrict the natural ease and movement of the breath. When we step into the studio and begin lessons, we very quickly discover what our own patterns of tension are, and begin to learn how to release them.  Since the way we use our breath in singing is a controlled and extended version of our natural breath, the first step is to become aware of our breath, which takes some practice. A good practice is to carve out ten to twenty minutes, find a comfortable position, and tune in to your breath. Follow it in and out and notice the movement in your body.  Feel your whole body expand and release with your breath. Try not to force yourself to breathe deeper or longer; just be an observer.  Take note of any place you feel tight or blocked and allow yourself to soften in those areas.  As you follow your breath in and out, notice the wave-like movement that is happening throughout your body.  Release the weight of your body into the chair, or the floor if you’re lying down.  Notice the quality of your breath. Is it shallow, jerky, or laboured? Does it feel smooth and relaxed? Take care to approach this exercise as a process of exploration and observation rather than trying to “fix” your breath by forcing yourself to breathe deeper.  You will find that a deeper, more released breath will emerge as the result of letting go of patterns of tension. As tension is replaced with a deeper sense of breath awareness, you may be surprised at the ways in which your singing experience is transformed!