Good breath support is the very foundation for ensemble singing. In the previous two articles in this series, we have discussed the importance of proper breathing support and gone through exercises for sustained diaphragmatic breathing. We now know without question when we’re breathing from our diaphragm and have exercises in our vocal toolbox that help reinforce this newfound awareness. Even while sitting upright, breathing from our diaphragm is likely beginning to feel somewhat natural.
Let’s now consider two more exercises that can help strengthen our core abdomen muscles and help master the art of proper diaphragmatic breathing.
Controlling the rate of airflow when exhaling
This exercise focuses on controlling the amount of air we release. Inhale a full breath that fills your diaphragm, and then slowly exhale the air as if you were blowing a lit candle. The goal, however, is not to blow out the candle, but to just cause the flame to flicker without extinguishing. Continue blowing the flame until you have completely expelled your air. Repeat the exercise several times. Be mindful that the diaphragm is completely engaged when inhaling and exhaling, without any movement from the chest or shoulders. Controlling the speed of airflow while exhaling will help condition the muscles used to move air in and out of the diaphragm.
Exhaling short bursts of air
This exercise is the most aggressive of those we’ve explored. Imagine that you have a birthday cake with 30 lit candles, and your task is to blow them all out one at a time. Take a good breath filling the diaphragm, then with a very short release of air, blow each candle out. Blow as many times as you can until you no longer have any air remaining. Repeat the exercise several times. Again, be mindful of the muscles surrounding the diaphragm. Feel your stomach tighten and collapse with each spurt of air you release. This is a great exercise for building muscle that will help us control the flow of air as we sing.
Next steps for better diaphragmatic breathing
Notice that with all these exercises, we have not begun actually singing with this new way of breathing. In the next and final CLEF Life article on proper breath support, we will connect our diaphragmatic breathing with our singing. Until then, practice these new exercises daily, along with those already presented. When these exercises become a regular habit, we’ll be able to make effective changes in the way we sing.
Written by Steve Petrunak. Copyright © 2023, Catholic Liturgical Ensemble Formation.