Life is so stressful right now, isn’t it? I’m sure we’re all tired of scary pandemic statistics, rules, worry about the virus, and missing our loved ones. But what if I told you there is a simple thing we can do that will instantly lift our mood, balance our breath, and relax us? Something that can give you more confidence and (when we’re back to normal again) will help you to bond with others.
That thing is singing. It’s a proven stress and depression reliever, as well as a lung function and immune system improver. It turns on the parasympathetic nervous system, allowing your body to relax and digest, rather than feeling constantly on the alert for danger. All things we need right now in these Covid times.
Correct breathing for singing is especially important for a healthy voice, and also to get all the above benefits. Many students when they first come to see me have very rapid, shallow breathing high in their chests and shoulders, which both makes them stressed (as if singing in front of a stranger wasn’t bad enough!) and makes their voices worse due to tension in the vocal folds. Here are some key exercises I teach my students to get their breathing into the right place in their bodies.
First, we’re going to try using your diaphragm to put your breath lower down into your body, something we do naturally as babies but somehow forget as we get older. Lie on your back on a comfortable surface. If that surface is particularly hard or you have low back issues, put your feet flat on the floor. Put one hand over your bellybutton and the other on your chest. Gently and slowly breathe out, then back in again. As you breathe in, notice where your body is expanding – does your breath feel more like it’s going into the hand on your chest or the hand on your belly? As you continue breathing, try to send the breath down low into your body, expanding your belly upward and outward as you breathe in, then feeling it relax back down again toward the floor as you breathe out. The hand on your chest shouldn’t move at all.
If you criticise yourself as looking ‘fat’ when your belly is full of air, I’ll set Lizzo and Meghan Trainor on you!!
Once you’ve got the hang of this, try some ‘1:2’ breathing. You’re going to breathe in slowly through a relaxed mouth on a count of four, then breathe out twice as slowly through your mouth on a count of eight. You shouldn’t be totally full of air by the time you reach four, just comfortably ready to breathe out. When you get to eight, you shouldn’t be desperate to breathe back in again, you should just be comfortably ready to breathe back in. Keep your jaw relaxed open the whole time.
Make your breaths smooth, slow and even, don’t rush all the air in or out. Imagine there’s a lit candle in front of you, and the flame is barely moving. If your breath is easily going in and out of your belly, take the hand off your chest and place it about a hand’s length from your mouth, palm facing towards you. You should barely feel your breath moving against it.
When you feel confident with this, try singing a note on every out breath. Pick any note you like, just keep it really steady and smooth without any tension or wobbliness. Try notes in different parts of your range, or slide your voice up and down in smooth sirens.
Now try all of the above standing up, see if you can get your breath really low down into your body without your chest or shoulders rising. If you want to get advanced, you can try expanding your 1:2 breaths to 5:10, 6:12 and even further. Take this breathing technique into your everyday activities (and of course your singing!) See if it helps you to feel calmer and more able to take on the world.
Happy singing, and if you’d like to know more about unleashing your inner RockStar, get in touch with me here:
Bio: Alixandrea Corvyn is a professional musician who has been singing in bands and solo for twenty-five years, refining her understanding of the process of singing and her abilities as a performer. She has been teaching other singers for six and a half years, helping them to find their voices and the confidence they need to share their gift with the world. Alix specialises in teaching the foundations of singing and performance to contemporary singers, helping them to develop great stagecraft and vocal technique with their own unique style.