How Do I Know Where to Breathe?
As a teacher, I often observe students struggling with where to breathe within the phrasing of a song. This can be further complicated when a student is unable to identify where the artist they are listening to is breathing. Not being able to hear the breath in recordings is not uncommon, as a lot of trickery goes into vocal production, to make the voice sound smooth or to iron out any bumpy breathing sounds. Often phrases run into each other or overlap, making it even more difficult to distinguish where the singer has inhaled. Likewise, each artist has their own unique phrasing style. It is based on their own interpretation of the lyrics and their individual vocal ability and fitness, which can sometimes be very difficult to emulate.
If you are struggling to find the right moments to inhale in a song and sustaining breath control to the end of a phrase, here are a few tips that might help.
- Write down the lyrics of the song. Look at the way the song lyric is structured and place a tick where you think it would make sense to take a breath, in the context of the lyric and the story. If you think a sentence needs a comma or full stop, then that is most likely where you should take a breath.
- Slow the song down. If each phrase is flowing into the other with no opportunity for you to take a breath, try singing the song at a slower pace or singing it acapella.
- Replace the lyric with gibberish (speech sounds that are not actual words). Start slow then start to increase the speed of the song until the speed matches the singer’s. When you feel comfortable singing gibberish at the original tempo, re-introduce the lyrics.
- Work on breathing exercises. Practicing diaphragmatic breathing exercises with and without vocalizing, will assist you to manage airflow more efficiently, so that you sing longer phrases.
- Consider adding articulation exercises to your repertoire of practice scales. Often it’s our lips, tongue and jaw that can trip us up, when trying to sing songs at a faster tempo.
- Consider changing the key. If the key of the song is not coming easily to you, you could be drawing on some articulatory muscles to assist with the pitch. Lowering the key could free up those muscles, so they can work more efficiently.
- Change the phrasing. For most contemporary genres, be comfortable changing the phrasing to suit you and make the song your own.
*There are some genres and styles of music where the singer must stay true to the original phrasing. Genres like Opera, Classical and Golden Age of Music Theatre to name a few. Be sure to research the genre’s overall expectations.
It’s important to note that many recording artists use moments of inhalation and exhalation and their associated sounds or pauses to their advantage. These moments can be used to convey parts of the lyric. Interesting phrasing and intentional separation of words using breath can also define an artist’s unique sonic footprint.
Happy singing Throgastars!