Hi, if you don't know me already I am Elizabeth Lusty and I am the choir director of The Love2sing Choir Ealing.
How to breathe when singing in choir is a hot topic. Breathing when singing in choir is something I get asked about a lot. I have put this blog post to give you my thoughts on the issue. I lead a large community choir in West London and my experience covers (for the most part) contemporary and popular choir styles. *It is worth pointing our that I am not a classically trained singer and I do no profess to knowing how to train the classical voice.
In my experience choir singers tend to feel that if their tone is not stable, they cannot reach high notes, they cannot reach low notes or they cannot maintain breath control it is because they do no know how to breath properly and they have a breath problem.
In my experience it is rare that the problem is breath control alone. It is usually one of the following - posture, uneconomical tonal sound quality, stress or even your tongue. But, lets just say, for arguments sake, you don't know how to breath correctly. Here is my guide to the basic dos and don'ts of choir breathing for singers.
Breathing when singing. Does it really have to be such a tricky business? I think not. It is important to keep in mind that you are breathing automatically right now. This is something you know how to do. How cool is that!?
How it works? When we breathe we take in exactly how much breath we need for the task at hand. However, when it comes to singing sometimes we overthink the process. If you are breathing correctly you will take in enough air for the line (lyric or phrase) that you are about to sing and by the end of that phrase you will have used it up. You will then breath in and start the next. If it is a long line this might be a deep breath. A short line may require a short sharp intake. Breathing has to be flexible and cannot be done (sorry!) just one way. Here are some dos and don'ts:
Raise your shoulders
Move your chest or shoulders back or forward
Make lot's of noise (be flexible - if you're exerting yourself you'll make noise)
Collapse your chest on the exhale
Take in more air than you need
Take another breath when you have not finished exhaling the last
Hold tension in your abs during singing (this is a biggy)
Take a deep breath when you need more air
Take a shorter higher breath when that is what is required
Allow your stomach to move naturally when you inhale (expand)
After you exhale allow your stomach to snap back
Keep your chest raised and still
Make sure that you have finished exhaling before you take in another breath (this is a biggy)
Maintain good posture
Posture is key. Without good posture your breathing will never feel right or be effective. Stand with your feet hip width apart. Soften your knees. Roll your shoulders back and down. Raise your chest, pull your chin back and maintain a long neck. You should feel you are holding your head correctly in the nape of your neck. Think of your frame as the scaffolding around your larynx. If your body is strong and prepared then your larynx is able to move freely and create pleasing and secure sounds. Your pitching, tone and breathing will be better.
When you inhale your tummy should expand and outwards. To practice getting this right imagine that you have a balloon in your tummy and that when you breath in you are filling this balloon up. As you exhale and let the air out the balloon will deflate and your tummy will draw back. There is minimal movement around your chest and you shoulders should not be moving up and down. Raising your shoulders or moving your weight forwards or backwards is unnecessary.
Now you know which way your tummy should move you need to focus on a natural breathing movement. Take in a breath and then blow out all of the air. You should feel a little tightness in your abs (this is a by product of the air leaving your lungs do not manufacture this). Once the air is gone release this area. If you released your abdominal area then your tummy will naturally expand and draw in a breath. There is no reason to collapse your chest. Practise this again but this time sing something simple like 'row row row your boat'.
Exercise - Breath in and sing 'row row row your boat gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily life is but a dream' let your stomach expand and inhale - sing ''row row row your boat gently down the stream, and if you see a crocodile don't forget to scream' release and breathe in. If the lines here are too long then pick another song.
Whilst you sing the line air is naturally being released and your tummy will draw back. Try to relax and let this happen. When the line ends release and let the lungs draw in a new breath. Aim to have minimal tension across your tummy whilst singing.
It is important that you exhale the breath fully before taking in any more air. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that as long as they take in as much air as they possibly can they will have power and stamina. This isn't the case. In fact, taking in too much breath can have the exact opposite effect. It can mean that the air is literally leaking through your tone and out into the world creating a weak, breathy and uncontrolled sound. - does this sound like you? Then move to the blog Free you voice.
Too much breath will leave you with a very uncomfortable feeling in your chest. You may actually feel breathless and exhausted from over breathing and your throat may feel dry and uncomfortable.
Here is a video that I think correctly shows how to take deep breaths for choir singing. It is hard to find videos that show a flexible approach to singing popular styles so
**I want to point out that I disagree with the statements in this video that you should never take a short sharp breath. My teaching on breathing in choir focuses on flexibility. When singing popular styles you may have a very, very short time frame to grab a short breath. You shouldn't raise your shoulders to take higher, shorter breaths but they do happen and are needed at times. To say singers can only breathe into the belly is simply not true. But, when you do belly breathe, this is how you do it.
I hope that you have found this blog useful.