One of the first things that students often say to me during their first lesson is that they want to work on their breathing. They tell me that they run out of air before the ends of phrases.
Usually this has much more to do with the air that’s escaping in their sound – the breathiness rather than any problem with their breathing.
However, whether the sound is focused or not, it’s never a bad thing to have access to more air.
Here’s an easy exercise to help build up breath control – and process more air – which makes us feel more alive and more energetic whether or not we’re singing.
1. Breathe in four sips of air, to a count of four beats.
2. Ssssssss the air out (either loosely – or with back pressure) for 8 beats. Be sure to use up all the air by the end of the 8 beats.
3. Hold the breath out for seven beats.
Repeat – gradually (over a couple of weeks) building up the number of beats of the out breath on Ssssssss from 8 to 12 to 16. Keep the number of breathing in beats/sips of air, and the number of neutral, breath held out beats the same. The increase of the number of beats happens only in the Ssssss part of the exercise.
When you’ve repeated the process a few times, finish with the 4 breaths in, then a sigh.
If you need to do this in a public place, or somewhere where you need to be quiet, you can substitute a focused, blowing out a candle style breath for the Ssssss.
This is also a great exercise to help calm you down before a performance – or any time. I find that during the 7 beats when the breath is held out the mind stops and is still. Relax the shoulders as you hold the air out.
I know that 7 seems like a weird number of beats for this part of the exercise – but I suspect that the calming effect comes in part from having to stay present, and in the moment in order to keep track of the counting.