Master Inhalation With These 7 Tips

Inhale Like a Pro

Breathing well is the most important aspect of successful singing. Not only do you have to use your diaphragm while singing, but you have to steal time between phrases to take breaths, take them quickly, make sure they are silent, and do all that naturally and without tension. Though some people find breathing natural, others have to consciously practice each aspect of breathing until it is thoroughly engrained into their bodies.

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Diaphragmatic Breathing. Girabbit85 via wikimedia commons

The first step to fantastic breathing while singing is taking a deep breath using the diaphragm. Your diaphragm is located between the lungs and stomach and splits you in half vertically. It descends down as you take in a low breath, pushing the stomach out. Inhaling low is also mandatory in order to properly support your tone.

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No Shoulder Movement

Holding your hands up in a "T" will make it harder for you to lift your chest during breathing, forcing the breathe down. Photo © Katrina Schmidt
Under no circumstance should the shoulders rise while you inhale for singing, even if your stomach goes out and diaphragm extends. There is a muscle that connects the larynx or Adam’s apple to your shoulders, and if they rise, so does your larynx. This narrows the space in the back of your throat and you may feel like choking. Low breaths are especially important when you sing high, because the larynx can rise anyway when beginning singers have not learned to shorten the vocal chords to create higher pitches.
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Book on Abdomen
Photo © Katrina Schmidt
Some people breathe backwards. They inhale when the tummy goes in, and exhales as it goes out. Though it may feel right to them, the lungs need room to expand to take in air. Either you need to raise the shoulders, lower the diaphragm, or do a combination of both in order to do so. Pushing the stomach in during inhalation does not create space for the lungs to fill. Even though it feels right, it is a bad habit that can be broken with time and diligence.
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Image courtesy of Peter aka anemoneprojectors via flickr cc license
Gasping for air can ruin the beauty of your singing. The sound between phrases is not only distracting, but taking a quiet breath requires you to lift the soft palate and create space in the back of the throat. Since both are required for good singing, you set yourself up for a beautiful, open, and well projected tone while you sing.
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Surprise Breath
Gasping or pretending to be surprised or shocked causes you to take a quick low breath. Photo © Katrina Schmidt
When you first learn to breathe low, your breaths take a bit longer. There is nothing wrong with a slow, low breath when you have time. But many times a quicker breath is required when you sing. Most people find that if they practice a ‘surprise breath,’ they easily learn how to quickly take air in. Just gasp as in shock and open your throat as you do so, in order to make a quick and silent breath.
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Image courtesy of RelaxingMusic via flickr cc license

Breathing between phrases can be a challenge, whether the song is fast or slow. Fast songs tend to require quicker, shallower breaths and slow ones tend to require deeper breaths that take a bit more time. Either way, you will need to steel time from the ends of phrases in order to start each new phrase on time.

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Shaped Like a Vowel

Image courtesy of Tambako the Jaguar via flickr cc license
When you inhale with your mouth, you should breathe in the shape of the subsequent vowel you are about to sing. For instance, when singing ‘alleluia,’ create the ‘ah’ shape with your mouth. The same goes for words starting with a consonant. So, when you are about to sing, ‘the,’ shape your mouth as you would when you create the vowel ‘uh.’ Shaping your mouth into a vowel provides a wide open space for the air to go, which sets you up for an inhalation that is silent and quick. It also gets you ready to sing a pure vowel on your first word.