Improve Your Singing with these 3 Exercises
Improve Your Singing with Breath Support
Not only do singers need enough breath to sing long notes and phrases without interruptive inhales, but good breath support also allows you to sing with ease and gives you the ability to control the nuances of your voice. Every loud or soft note you sing depends upon how you are managing the breath. My beginner singing students are usually very surprised to discover that singing is much LESS about what is going on in the throat and is much MORE about what is going on with the breath.
Practice Exercise #1:
This is a wonderful exercise to increase your breath capacity and also to help you practice breath management. (Breath management, very simply stated, means that you neither expel the breath too quickly nor too slowly) For this exercise I recommend using a clock that counts seconds. Also please note that breathing exercises should only be repeated three times in one practice session. More than that can cause light-headedness.
- Inhale for 3 seconds. Your inhale should be steady and smooth. The goal is to have your lungs completely filled by the 3rd second, and not before.
- Hold your Breath for 3 seconds. The hold helps you to gently stretch your lungs. Think of a balloon that you blow up and then release the air again. Each time you blow up the balloon it gets easier and more air goes in faster because it has been stretched. That is the purpose of the hold.
- Now Exhale for 3 seconds. Your exhale should be steady and smooth. The goal is to have your lungs completely emptied by the 3rd second.
Repeat twice more for a total of 3 times. After a few days of practice, if you notice that this exercise is feeling easier and more natural, you can increase it to 4 seconds. (You still only repeat 3 times) Slowly, in the coming weeks and maybe months, you can gradually increase as high as 10 seconds. There is no need to go longer than 10 seconds. You will definitely have learned the skill well enough by then.
Pro Tip - While doing the above exercise, place one hand just below your naval. When you inhale, allow your abdominal muscles to relax into your hand. When exhaling you should feel your abdominal muscles pulling in and up at the same rate as your exhale.
Improve Your Singing with More Space
Look in the mirror and yawn widely. Notice how both the jaw and the tongue lowers and the soft palate lifts. (The soft palate is located behind the roof of your mouth at the back of your throat.) This is the kind of open space you want to recreate while singing. No, you don’t need to open THAT WIDE - although lowering the jaw definitely helps - but focus more on the space at the back of your throat. Imagine your mouth to be larger in size than it actually is. Picture the roof of your mouth to be like a high cathedral ceiling.
Practice Exercise #2:
Shape your mouth like a yawn, as mentioned above, and then say; “HA!” as if you were laughing boisterously. Now place your hand just below your naval again. Do you remember the slow pulling in and up of the abdominal muscles that you practiced in the last exercise? This time you will have that same feeling but very short and fast for each “HA!”. Now sing the “HA!” instead of speaking it. Choose a note that feels good to you somewhere in your middle register. Sing “HA!” on that note 5 times in a row. Each “HA!” should be accented and slightly detached, also known as staccato. Placing extra emphasis on the “H” will help you feel your breath expelling with each note and achieve the desired accent too. If you are familiar with Solfeggio, you can sing your “HA!” on the notes of a triad chord up and back; DO-MI-SOL-MI-DO
Pro Tip - You should be able to sing all 5 notes on one breath with no sneaky inhales in between! You can repeat the exercise on the same notes, or if you are able, each repeat of the exercise can be one half step higher than the last. Only go up as high in your range as feels easy and comfortable. NEVER FORCE HIGH NOTES!
Improve Your Singing with Proper Projection
Learning proper projection and enunciating well ensures that your audience can hear AND understand your words. (Yes, a microphone can help to project your voice but let’s assume that you want to be a great singer in all situations and NOT dependent on electronic amplification) Think about how close your own ear is to your mouth. So, of course YOU hear every word you sing and it probably seems loud enough to you too. BUT where is your audience? Just the first row could be 10 to 20 feet in front of you. What about the back row? They can’t hear much at all because not only is your voice too quiet but your pronunciation of consonants is also too soft so they can’t even understand the words that actually make it to the back row. You need proper projection of the voice with high forward resonance. (without getting too technical, let’s just say that you need your sound to be out in front of you) Yes, this will require breath support but not only that. You must “send” your voice forward. Instead of feeling that the focal point of your voice is in your throat or in your mouth, I want you to imagine that the focal point of your voice is out in front of you.
Practice Exercise #3:
Make a circle with your thumb and index finger on one hand and then extend that arm straight out, parallel to the floor. The circle is now arm’s length in front of you. Now sing and imagine that you are sending your sound - including your consonants! - through that circle. When that feels comfortable (or when your arm gets tired!) try visualizing a lit candle in the corner of the room opposite from where you are. Sing as if you are trying to flicker that candle flame with your sound that is riding atop your breath.
Pro Tip - Volume comes from the breath and NOT from the throat and DEFINITELY not from FORCING your tone. This concept can be VERY difficult for students to comprehend because up to this point they might feel that they are getting pretty good volume from singing from the throat and when I ask them to relax their throat and instead sing from the breath they feel that now they have less control and power. Yes, that is a NATURAL part of training. The best way I can explain it is like this; Imagine that you are a beginner weight lifter but you haven’t trained so you are mainly using just your back muscles to lift. Now a trainer comes along and explains that you need to use your abdominal muscles to lift, otherwise you are heading towards an injury. Your core muscles are not developed much at all so at first you can’t even lift the amount you were accustomed to lifting before. But after you learn how you use your abdominal muscles well, you are able to lift MUCH MORE weight than you could with just your back muscles. So accept the fact now that there will be a transition time as you learn to let go from the throat and build up your breathing support muscles. To avoid injury and to uncover the full potential of your voice it is essential that you learn how to project your sound by using proper breath support.
Improve Your Singing with 10 Bonus Tips
- Maintain good posture while singing.
- Wear loose clothing that allows breathing room.
- Stay well hydrated!
- Protect your voice by avoiding talking loudly, over-talking, screaming, yelling and smoking.
- Before singing, avoid consuming dairy products and anything cold as they increase phlegm in the throat.
- Lemon juice will reduce phlegm in the throat but the citric acid can be an irritant so be sure to always mix lemon with honey. Honey coats the throat and many singers rely on honey lemon tea before singing.
- Slippery Elm tea is my personal favorite when it comes to soothing an irritated throat. Add some honey for extra throat coating power.
- Be smart about your warm ups. Choose ones that give you the best results in the shortest amount of time. The exercises that you choose should warm up and NOT wear out your voice.
- Have good role models. Just because someone got rich and famous from singing doesn’t ACTUALLY mean that they are a good singer or that their technique is on point and worthy of emulating. It may be their connections, their lyrics, their music and their marketing that got them famous and NOT their actual vocal skills. So listen carefully and choose your role models wisely.
- Relax and Enjoy! If you aren’t having a good time then your audience won’t be either. When you sing, your breathing muscles will be working hard but the rest of your body should be relaxed. Release tension from your jaw and your shoulders especially. Any tension near to your throat will become tension in your voice. If you have difficulty relaxing your shoulders while singing, practice singing (not performing!) while reclined on the floor, flat on your back. Tense shoulders can creep up higher and higher while you are standing (and many people don’t even recognize it because their shoulder tension has become a habit) but while reclined it is very unlikely that your shoulders will be up by your ears. In fact, it would feel very strange and awkward to you while reclined. Practicing singing in this reclined way will teach your body how it feels to sing with relaxed shoulders and then hopefully you will be able to recreate that feeling while standing.
Knowledge is enriched through sharing and discussing. Start a conversation about better singing with your friends. Share with them what you have learned and see what they may add to the discussion. Feel free to share my blog with them too!
Ready to take the next step to Improve your Singing?
Check out my online course, Singing Fundamentals, that covers all of the foundational information a student would learn in their first full year of private lessons at a fraction of the cost of private lessons. https://beautiful-souls-academy.teachable.com/p/singing-fundamentals/
If you would like a PDF version of all the information contained in this blog, you can download it here; https://beautiful-souls-academy.teachable.com/p/my-downloadable-53788