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The Top 5 Breathing Myths for Singers…Debunked!

anatomy breathing May 04, 2015

By Peter Jacobson

MYTH #1: Belly breathing is the most effective way to breath for singing

Reality: It is anatomically impossible to breathe into your belly! While many teachers offer this instruction as a metaphor to avoid shallow breathing or shoulder raising, students often take it literally which creates a downward pull in the torso and puts unnecessary pressure on the spine and entire vocal mechanism.

Solution: Learn an anatomically accurate body map based on your natural design. (Start Here with “9 Things Every Singer Needs to Know About their Body”)


MYTH #2: In order to sing, you must deliberately “take” a breath

Reality: Deliberately “taking” a breath creates excess tension and rigidity by interfering with the natural elasticity of your torso. You function most efficiently when you “allow” for a breath by letting the ribs move. Have you ever noticed how, at the end of a phrase, the air rushes back into your lungs naturally without effort? That’s because the breathing process starts with an exhale. The inhale will happen effortlessly if you let it happen on its own.

Solution: Use a controlled exhale (hiss or whispered ‘ah’) and when you get to the end of the exhale wait and allow for an inhale by letting the ribs and whole torso release and expand. Sing a phrase of music and instead of ‘taking’ a breath, start with a controlled exhale and then allow for a reflexive, natural inhale.


MYTH #3: The diaphragm and abdominal muscles help “support” the sound

Reality: We sing on the exhalation and since the diaphragm is a primarily a muscle of inspiration, it is physically impossible for the diaphragm to be involved in “supporting” sound. When we sing, the goal is to release the air at a slow, steady pace. The abs can only force the air out faster which works directly against that goal. It is the coordinated action of the entire torso and body that gives the feeling of  “support.” 

Solution: Include your entire body in your idea of “breath support.” Avoid collapsing by maintaining your natural upright coordination. This is where a study of the Alexander Technique can be very useful.  


MYTH #4: Practicing breathing exercises is the best way to improve breathing

Reality: Breathing happens naturally and if we interfere with nature we will cause postural inefficiencies and vocal strain. Breathing exercises, especially when done out of context can accentuate harmful habits. Unless habitual patterns of tension and holding are discovered and released, breathing exercises only perpetuate the habits. Improving breathing is almost always a subtractive process, not an additive one.  

Solution: Instead of breathing exercises, do some detective work and find out where you are interfering with the natural working of your breathing design. Common habits are to shorten, pull down, constrict and tighten to breathe.   


MYTH #5: Breathing must be done mechanically to achieve consistency in sound

Reality: Breath is emotion. Breath is life. As artists, we must have the flexibility and spontaneity to breathe in whatever way the music or character requires in that moment. Mechanical breathing leads to mechanical singing and music-making. 

Solution: Instead of thinking about the air or the breath, think about the desired sound of the music and allow for the whole body to be free to produce that sound. Do not force anything to happen directly; it happens indirectly. As Joyce DiDinato said in a recent masterclass, “We can never make the voice full-sounding, we can only let it be full sounding.” 

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