Singing for Health 2

Rebecca here, again! How is the humming going? If you can make that a habit not only will your vocal equipment stay well (‘use it or lose it!’) but you will be surprised how much your mood will be lifted by the endorphins released in the simple act of vocalising.

Here is the next tip: everyone needs to breathe and people who sing do worry (often too much) about it. Here is how you can exercise your breathing muscle and get it really toned for when we are all singing together again. The really good news is that these exercises are simple, easy to do anytime, and can also be a great help to people with breathing issues such as asthma.

What is the diaphragm? Those of you who are interested in how your body works might like to look at this:

Our lungs are enormous and most of us never come close to using their full capacity. Singers need long phrases without running out of breath and the counter-intuitive fact about singing is that bossing the breath around (trying to control it, hold on to it, pulling the stomach in etc) does not work. The best breathing is totally relaxed and released and toning-up the diaphragm helps with capacity (and other things which can wait for another ‘tip’).

First, locate the diaphragm, your ‘breathing muscle’. Stand with your hands below the waist and above the hip. Take a big, slow relaxed breath (don’t let your shoulders rise and try to avoid tension).

Breathe deeply, filling up low down and imagine air going into your lower back. Pretend to be a steam engine leaving the platform (gently with no force) and release the breath as follows:

‘Choo, Choo, Choo…’ starting slowly and speeding up. Breath again and repeat. Feel the sensation in your hands as the diaphragm moves with the breath. NB: make the ‘ch…’ sound without tension — see how minimally you can do it!

This exercise wakes the muscle up and reminds it that you need it on your side for singing. There are other things you can do, too:

Pretend you have a small feather in front of your face and keep it in the air with little puffs. (Keep those hands on either side, as above, to feel the muscular response). You can also pretend you are blowing out one of those trick birthday candles!

Have a chair nearby in case you feel light-headed. If you are not used to getting in touch with your breathing mechanism to this extent, it might take a few days for your system to adjust.

As with all vocal technique, everything should be done gently and without tension.

More exercises:

Hands on either side, release the air (no bossing, remember!) in a ‘shhhhhhhh’ and after a few seconds change that without a break to a ‘…vvvvvvvvvvvv’ until the breath runs out. Feel the extra engagement from the diaphragm!

Now, take a full breath in and, as you do, stand on tiptoes with your arms extended like an old-school zombie. Stay poised for a moment and then release the breath in a hiss while slowly lowering your arms and returning your heels return to the floor. That one’s not for the faint-hearted. Please don’t fall over!