Abdominal Respiration

You've heard the expression "sing your heart out." Putting aside the accepted interpretation of giving your all when you sing, this expression can also be interpreted as the importance of using the body when singing.

The quality of singing depends largely on breathing and does not solely require the upper part of your body. Mastering breathing is the first step to mastering your voice. It is therefore important to identify the mechanism and understand why abdominal breathing is important for singing.

Before seeing how the ventral part will intervene in the breathing circuit, let's first distinguish the two main types of breathing: thoracic breathing and abdominal breathing.

Thoracic breathing is the one that seems most natural to us, the one we all adopt automatically when the doctor asks us to take a deep breath, for example. You inflate only the upper part of your body, your shoulders rise, forcing tension at the level of the scapular belt. This is not ideal for singing! Instead try adopting, what’s referred to as "abdominal breathing."

Abdominal breathing is the breathing that you are forced to control.You've perhaps heard of another expression, "breathe from the belly," which, in passing, is as prominent in visual imagery as "to have knots in one’s stomach," both of which fall under an exceptional ability to contort the body. The visual imagery is therefore misleading as it is more about controlling the breath by soliciting the abdominal part than contorting the body. This type of breathing is the most natural to human, at least in the early stages of development; it is how babies breathe. Observe a baby sleeping and you will notice that their belly rises and not the thorax. You too know how to do it unconsciously too, since it is how we breath whem we sleep, without even realizing it! The major advantage of abdominal breathing is that it offers a bigger capacity of air and solicits the abdominal part first.

Let's test a few exercises to try to identify abdominal breathing and help it to become instinctive:

Awareness

Stand in front of a mirror, put your hands on your waist, your fingers towards your belly button and inhale. Without thinking, most people take in air by lifting the chest. This is not correct and results in chest breathing. It's your belly that has to move.

Lie down now. Put your hand on your stomach to feel it move. You can also grab a book - but for once, you won’t find the answer in it! Place the book on your belly and watch. The book should rise with each inspiration and go back down at the end.

Once you understand the movement, try doing it on command. Stand facing a wall, forearms against the wall, at the same level as your shoulders, your body inclined at about 30°. In this position, abdominal breathing is done naturally. Do it for a few minutes and after a while, put stand up straight and try to prolong that breathing.

Master it

Breathing takes place in two phases:

  • Inspiratory, to store a maximum of air
  • Expiratory, to use the air during singing

During the second phase of breathing, which can be long when you sing, the goal is to control the flow of the expelled air, thanks to the diaphragm.

Imagine an inflated balloon. If you release the opening at once, the air is expelled very quickly. Now, if you control the opening by allowing just a bit of air to pass, the expulsion will be slower and continuous. Try inhaling deeply, feeling your belly swell, then exhale as gently as possible, to solicit the pelvic belt for the ending moments, all while timing yourself. Do it every day with a goal of adding one second per day.

A more rhythmic exercise

Exhale completely. Then stay in suspension on four beats. Next, inhale for four beats, through the nose or open mouth. Then, exhale slowly on eight beats. Keep going.


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11 comments
  • 4 months ago
      As a long time practitioner of Tai Chi & Yoga abdominal breathing is a staple requirement for a calm outlook. It works before a gig & of course helps with those looong notes. As a further excercise try adding thorasic breathing using the top part of your chest cavity once you've filled the lower abdominal part. Not too much though as you may get a little light headed! but it helps breath control This should be practised off stage other wise you're gonna sound really breathy & errr a bit weird.
    • 4 months ago
        What's the point in asking for comments if you're going to limit what people have to say? I recommend finding a good, qualified voice coach or teacher so you can learn to do this properly and not 'damage' the voice for the sake of learning over the Internet. Doesn't work. Too complex a field. I've been a vocal coach for 45 years. I am 70 and still sing. I didn't learn how over the Internet. Find a better way......if you want to save it for the rest of your life. This is NOT it. Sorry.
      • 4 months ago
          Great article on breathing from the stomach, well worth reading.
        • 4 months ago
            Never having had formal singing lessons and at age 73 and still performing, I have found your articles very helpful, especially this latest one on abdominal breathing. Thanks for all your tips and the great quality tracks.
          • 4 months ago
              Tout cela a l'air intéressant mais je crois que ça le serait beaucoup plus si vous preniez la peine de m'envoyer de telles belles choses en français ça me rendrait service car je crois votre affaire s'applique surtout à moi. Merci de me comprendre YD
            • 4 months ago
                love it , I Agree with another comment we need more of the old Classic Country Songs
              • 4 months ago
                  GET MORE GOOD CLASSIC COUNTRY MUSIC. THANKS JOHN GAZALSKI
                • 4 months ago
                    Very informative. This so true, when you sing from the thorax you appear to be frightened. This actually affects your throat thus you lose control of your voice.
                  • 4 months ago
                      Good article well worth reading
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