In prior articles in this series, we have learned what good diaphragmatic breathing is all about and have many new exercises for strengthening abdominal muscles for good breath support. If you haven’t yet read the prior articles in our series on proper vocal technique, we recommend starting at the beginning and then coming back to this article:
Now it’s time to connect our singing voice with our diaphragm. If we’ve followed the directions and routinely practiced the exercises provided in the articles above, then we’re positioned to successfully sing with good breath support.
Good posture produces good breath support
For the first time, we’re considering just how our posture while seated influences our breathing and, subsequently, our singing. It’s easy to consider good singing posture, but it takes work to utilize it. For good posture, begin by sitting towards the edge of your seat without letting your spine touch the back rest. Now imagine there is a string connected to your sternum. Take the string and lift it, so that your shoulders are back and your spine is not slumped. Now let go of the string but stay in the lifted position. This body position opens space for your diaphragm to move freely and offers better singing support.
A quick look back
While using good posture, let’s now revisit one of the exercises presented earlier. After inhaling a good breath, sing the word “Ahhh” starting on a very high pitch and quickly sliding down to a very low one. All air should be expelled within three or four seconds. When repeating, be sure to fill the diaphragm quickly without moving your shoulders or chest. Keep your hands on your tummy to feel the lower abdomen collapse as you sing.
This exercise is the first that includes vocalization. It’s important that we take the time to internalize the feeling within our bodies as we experience this exercise. Try it a few times with your eyes closed while being extremely mindful of the movement of air in and out of your body. Remember, we’re learning as we go, so increasing our internal awareness is very helpful for moving forward.
Singing exercises to reinforce good breath support
It’s time to further connect our singing to breathing from our diaphragm. Here are five additional exercises that can reinforce good breath support.
After inhaling from the diaphragm, gently and slowly sing “mee-meh-mah-mo-moo” on the same pitch, starting on middle C. While sustaining the “moo,” ascend a half step higher to C#. Stop singing, inhale again, and repeat the five sounds on the D, then D#, and so on. After reaching A, descend a half step until reaching the C again. Be aware of the source of your breath each time you inhale and be mindful of producing tall and round vowels. Freely replace the beginning consonant to any other hard or soft one.
Beginning on the A below middle C, sing solfege “do-re-mi-fa-sol-fa-mi-re-do” or “1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1” up and down the major scale. Modulate upward a half step until reaching the octave higher A, and then modulate down again to A below middle C. Again, be mindful of inhaling from the diaphragm without expanding your chest or lifting your shoulders. Be sure to sing pure vowel sounds when vocalizing.
Beginning on middle C, sing solfege “do-sol-fa-mi-re-do” or “1-5-4-3-2-1” following the tones of the major scale. Modulate a half step until reaching the octave higher C and then modulate down to our starting C. We’re now singing the interval of a fifth in the exercise. Be cautious that proper breathing is occurring during the exercise.
This exercise requires lots of energy. Using the word “bop,” sing the following tones of the major scale: 1-1-1-1-1-3-5-3-1 starting on the A below middle C. Sing the first four tones as quarter notes, the next four tones as eighth notes, and the last tone as a half note. The “bop” should be sung very short and percussively, using crisp diction each time. Modulate a half step until the C above middle C and then modulate down to the starting pitch. You should feel your lower abdomen pushing short bursts of air to sing this energetically.
While this last exercise doesn’t use any pitch, it’s extremely helpful in building great muscle control. After inhaling and using an “sssss” sound, blow out air for 8 slow counts. Repeat the exercise a few times, all the while focusing on exhaling from the diaphragm. Then, use the same sound and expel air for 16 slow counts. You will need to conserve your air to make it through all 16 beats. This will likely be challenging at first. After trying this a few times, expel air for 24 counts. This may be impossible to do at first, but over time, you can learn how to better conserve and control your airflow. Can you feel the air expelling from your diaphragm?
In the learning of any instrument, students must develop tremendous muscle memory – memory through repetition – to be successful. For singers, breathing properly from the diaphragm requires muscle memory developed through repetition. In the same way athletes must vigorously workout regularly to maintain their muscle development, singers must sing exercises designed to develop muscle control. You have all the tools required to develop good breath control – and a few short minutes every day will produce tremendous results in your vocal production.
Written by Steve Petrunak. Copyright © 2023, Catholic Liturgical Ensemble Formation.