The Importance of Breath Support:
How Does the Body Produce the Sounds that We Refer to as Singing?
By Annie Bzdawka
The first thing you need to learn when learning how to sing is how to get maximum control of your breathing. Getting enough air into your lungs and using that air properly is THE first starting point to great singing. Here are the basics:
Your diaphragm controls the flow of air going into and out of your lungs. Breathing occurs when your diaphragm contracts and relaxes and this causes air to be drawn into your lungs, and then the air is pushed out. When you breathe in, or inhale, your diaphragm contracts (tightens) and moves downward. This increases the space in your chest cavity, into which your lungs expand, and the expanding of your lungs draws the air in. When you exhale, you relax your diaphragm, which pushes air out of the lungs.
What happens to the air that gets pushed out as you exhale? The vocal folds (or vocal cords) vibrate, throwing the stream of air into a series of complex vibrations. These vibrations are created by a set of muscles, called the intrinsic laryngeal muscles. These muscles control the shape of the rima glottides, which is the opening where the air passes through. These muscles also control the length and tension of the vocal folds, therefore creating these complex vibrations, which we hear as singing.
Those are the basics of how the body works when you're singing. This sounds kind of bio-technical, but this explains why the control you have over your diaphragm is SO IMPORTANT. The vibrations of the air coming out of your lungs is what causes the sounds in the first place. With no air, there's is no sound! With a weak airflow, you get a weak sound. With a strong airflow, you get a strong sound. Also, controlled use of the muscles in your throat that we referred to above, the intrinsic laryngeal muscles, will help you create the exact sound you want to create while singing.
Of course there is A LOT more that goes into great singing, but the air being pushed out of your lungs by your diaphragm is where it all starts!
That's why good vocal teachers (including myself) often start the beginning vocal student with breathing exercises. Even singers who have been singing for a long time can benefit from learning new breathing exercises!
Breathing exercises train you how to use and control the air as it is pushed out of your lungs. Proper use and control of the air as it’s pushed out of your lungs is generally referred to as “breath support”. We refer to this use and control of your air as “breath support” because it’s your ability to breathe out the desired amount of air which serves to control/support the exact sounds, or notes, that you sing. If you don’t have enough air coming out, or you can’t properly push out the amount that you need, you do not have good “breath support.”
And for those who want to learn how to really "belt it out" or to sing those high notes that you've had a hard time reaching, controlling the air required to hit those notes is even more important for YOU! This is because one of the main factors involved in hitting high notes properly is good breath support!
So be sure you continually work on improving your breath support, especially if you are a beginner singer. The right vocal coach for YOU will have excellent breathing exercises for you, which will train your body to provide strong breath support for your singing.
A good exercise regimen will also help you develop good breath support. A strong body overall will help you pinpoint further development of the muscles in your diaphragm. A weak body overall may leave you struggling to gain control over the muscles of your diaphragm.
Never forget that as a singer, YOUR BODY is your instrument. It’s not just the voice box, it’s the entire body working together to create the beautiful sound that we all love to hear and refer to as “great singing.” YOU can sing great with the right “work-outs!”
In voice lessons, we will explore breathing exercises that will allow you to strengthen your diaphragm, and gain control over it so that you develop very strong breath support & control of the air you need in all aspects of singing!