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Breath is a topical subject right now. I’m no health expert but it is widely accepted that singing is a wonderful way of exercising the lungs, and keeping our lungs as healthy as possible.
Whether as a professional singer you just want to keep your voice in trim, or you would like to be fully ready for your choir rehearsals post lockdown, or if you simply like to sing in the shower - some exercises focusing on the use of your breath will always be beneficial.
I was inspired to make this the subject of my first blog for two reasons.
1: The wonderful choir that I lead launched into a completely new field of recording individual voices in isolation – a very scary prospect for anyone who hasn’t done this before, and
2: Phoene Cave, who gave an online lecture last week on singing for your lungs, in which she spoke about singing with impaired lung function due to restrictive and obstructive lung conditions.
It’s so easy to lose track of why we sing when we strive to create what’s in our minds. What comes first, the drive to produce the perfection we’ve heard, or the wish to feel connected with the world around us through music? Your voice is your voice. Just as we often dislike looking at photographs of ourselves, we often listen to recordings of our voices and wince. Why? Our bodies, our voices, are our own – we own them and we deserve to be comfortable with them. Without breath we have no intrinsic voice to connect, so let’s get practical and let’s breathe and sing!
Take time to allow yourself the luxury to feel what is happening when you inhale and exhale. No directives, no compunction, just allow the breath to drop into every part of your body and then release it. Whether you’re sitting or standing, you will feel some expansion around the lower back and the lower tummy. We should endeavour to retain a good posture* on the release.
Just do this a few times on any sound you like: it could be ‘sh’, ‘sss’, ‘fff’. It will probably feel like a sigh but without the floppiness! Try this on any voiced sound or on an actual pitched note that you find very comfortable to sing.
Now, let’s extend this out-breath, and be aware of your lower abdominals coming into play, at all times remaining mindful of where any slight effort is. It’s easy with long notes/long phrases to put this effort/control into our neck region. I certainly can slip into this when I’m tired and/or excitedly encouraging a student!! Try to keep the effort/mind awareness on the lower abdominals, so as to redirect any effort or “tension” that comes from thinking “I have to sing a long note“ to the lower body - especially when you think you have no puff left! Singing, as breathing, is a whole body experience. Why shouldn’t it be?
Just spend some moments allowing yourself the luxury of redirecting any effort you may feel in your throat, to a more ‘whole-body’ function as you exhale. This is perfectly normal. It’s a holistic experience. We live, we breathe. We breathe, we live. Allow the passageways - we could call them our ‘motorways’ - to open and not become switched off or blocked.
Gradually increase the length of the ‘out-breath’, keeping these ‘motorways’ flowing, whether it’s a silent ‘out-breath’ or a pitched note. Enjoy the feeling. It’s like learning to ride a bike or drive a car; once you trust that the road ahead is clear, which of course it is, the journey is smooth and enjoyable!
*posture - this will be a subject of a future blog
On my journey as a singer and as a singing teacher I have learned from many people far more knowledgeable than me. I thank them. We are all shaped from our experiences yet those pearls of wisdom can take years to germinate…....Apologies to any source that I have inadvertently taken on board here without specifically acknowledging. The teaching of singing has changed – it’s no longer kept in a precious bubble of the individual teacher, but like our singing, like our breathing, it is something that we are allowed to share for the common good.