Have you ever done anything without even thinking about it? Is it something you do all the time? Then you would call that a “habit”….Is it something that you would rather not do? Then you would call that a “bad habit” and guess what? We all have them… Now, as singers, we probably have bad habits that we likely never notice, that is unless we have someone point them out to us. Let’s take some time to look at some of the bad habits that are most common with singers and address some ways we can fix time before go from small bad habits to major vocal issues.
Now, the thought of breathing “incorrectly” may seem strange to some. It is something that we do without thinking from our first moments of life. In fact, without doing so, we would die. With that, we would like to believe that we are all pretty good at that “simple” activity. Yet, without even knowing it, many of us put liitations on our ability to breathe in ways that are fairly easy to correct.
“Please Breathe in…”
When we are asked to take in a deep breath, our natural response is to ‘suck in’ and make ourselves draw in around our middles and be as skinny as possible. This may be what you are looking for when you want to impress someone with you “narrow” girth, but for vocalist/singers it defiantly is not what we want to happen. A result of pull everything in is all the muscles in your torso being restricted and keeping your lungs from doing what they are designed to do – breathing. Breathing in, we need to allow the lungs to expand as fully as possible, which ultimately makes us get fatter on the air, not thinner!
Singers Super Solution - Lay down flat on your back with your arms at your sides. Place a book (a light one) at the bottom of your rib cage. When you are breathing in you want the book to be rising up slightly with the inhale, and dropping back down with each exhale.
No Shoulders up…
Often times we will see this erroneous side effect of us ‘trying’ to “breathe in.” We often think about getting as much air in as possible one thing our bodies do naturally is to raise our shoulders up towards our ears. This causes tension through the shoulders and upper back, and ultimately is not good for the breathing process. We want all these muscles to be as relaxed as possible so that what is happening underneath them can happen without any restriction.
Singers Super Solution - Have someone to sit or stand behind you with his or her hands placed gently on your shoulders as you breathe. As you breathe in, if raise your shoulders get them to counter your movement by putting a bit of pressure on them. You probably don’t even know you’re doing it. After doing this a few times you become aware of your movement, you’ll be able to put a stop to it.
Now Hold it…
When we breathe, our lungs are restricted by the torso and ribcage. For our lungs to be as free as possible, we need to make sure that they are able to move in all directions. When we tense a specific muscle group we can restrict that movement of our lungs. What if a balloon was being blown up inside a small box. If the box is made of metal, the balloon doesn’t have much of chance of reaching its full capacity as it is limited by the box. However, if the box is made of flexible material, the balloon can continue to grow and expand, not limited by the restrictions of its surroundings. By tensing up muscles as we breathe (common culprits are the abdominals and the pectorals) we aren’t allowing our breathing apparatus to work to their fullest potential. Even holding your breath is easier when you’re not tensing all your muscles (try holding your breath as you normally would. Red faces and watering eyes will quickly follow with all the pressure you’re putting your body under. Then try just taking a properly deep breath and hold it feeling completely relaxed, not pushing or tensing anything. More air, less stress.)
Singers Super Solution – Try breathing in as normal, and then once you have finished your inhale, try and take in some extra air. Feel the areas of tension and try to relax them and try again. Our lungs are usually working well under their capacity, and you will find that by allowing your muscles to relax and your diaphragm to work properly you can increase your air intake by surprisingly large amounts.
It may take a while to correct the things that we do without thinking about them. Eventually you want to get to where what comes naturally to you are deep, supported breaths.
If you want to study your breathing, watch yourself breathing in front of a mirror. Notice all movements, big or small of each part of your body. The only area you want to be seeing an obvious movement is in your abdomen. Any other areas that move show points of tension, which you will want to work on. Take note of where your problem areas are and make a point of paying attention to these. You can do this anywhere you find yourself- just be aware of your breathing and soon all these new habits will become second nature.