Breath support for singing
If you’ve been singing for a while, or stalking those singing gurus on YouTube, no doubt you’ve heard a vague mention of “Breath Support” or “Support your voice” with little to no explanation as to WHAT it is, HOW to do it, and WHY we need it. Well, I’m here to answer these questions AND MORE about proper singing breath support! Breath Support is another one of those polarizing singing techniques that tends to encourage budding singers to do the OPPOSITE of what was intended with the instruction. Breath Support technique is more apty named “Air Pressure Control” and involves engagement of the diaphragm to create pressure rather than actual air-flow in our singing voices.
The voice works more by air pressure vibrating our vocal chords that air flow moving them in a physical way, so the concept of breath support is of itself a confusing and contradictory nature – in reality, the more you ‘support’, the more controlled your pressure is in either direction, be it lighter support for a lighter tone, or heavier support for a fuller tone and beyond.
Of course, with anything that ‘works’ with our voices, most of us have the tendency to overdo it and push with too much support, leading to unneccesary register breaks and all kinds of strain. The key to proper breath support is to learn why and when to support your voice rather than just clamping down from the start and overly pressurising our air before it’s needed.
The key to singing breath support
The key to singing breath support is to develop control over your diaphragm first by setting up a healthy vocal foundation by way of proper posture, accurate resonance and of course – release of any potential strain before we add any pressure to our sound. Diaphragmatic breathing is a basic technique, but it’s one that you need to carry and develop no matter how extensive and impressive your vocal range becomes – without the diaphragm, you can’t support your voice, and without support – you can’t sing! Using the techniques from my free foundations short course breathing 101, we’re going to set up our foundation properly, then start to add pressure and control in small increments using the “five in five out” exercise I’m about to show you:
So you’ll now see, “support” isn’t a like a “switch” that goes on and off – it’s a fluid change in the amount of pressure you’re creating and controlling by way of engaging the diaphragm and only releasing the smallest amount of air needed to transmit air PRESSURE to our vocal folds. If you over support, your register will be too wide and hard to control, and if you’re too light – you’ll have a breathy and weak tone no matter where you sing!
The concept of breath control is actually linked to “middle voice” which no doubt you’ve seen in my recent videos on the BVS YouTube Channel – the more you support, the close to chest voice you’ll be, and the less you support, the close to HEAD you’ll be. Add this together with proper register control and tuned vowels, and you have yourself the perfect storm to create a powerful, but strain free and RESONANT middle voice that extends well into your high range and lets you sing with ease and achieve that ‘PRO’ singing tone with very little effort.
How do you support the voice?
By practicing the exercises I’ve show you in the above video, you will not only be developing control over your diaphragm and building the right mechanism to support your voice – you also have the added benefit of learning register control and learning control over the soft palate, an intrinsic part of a powerful singing voice.
To support your voice, it’s important to understand that the singing voice works via air ‘pressure’ rather than air ‘flow’, so to support, you actually need to make the opposite movement of ‘pulling down’ rather than ‘pushing up’ as you ascend. A great way to do this is to figuratively imagine that you are a) holding heavy weights in your hands up near your shoulders, or b) imagine that you are holding up the table in front of you like it has no legs. In either case, you need to ‘lower’ these weights/the table (figuratively) and familiarise yourself with the supported feeling you get down in your core and lower abdominal muscles. Support starts with a healthy foundation, and continues with proper control over your core and diaphragm – leading to correct and precision control over your registers and the connection that will build slowly but surely over time.
Why should I support my voice?
Without proper control over your air pressure, known as breath support, your voice will be inconsistent, and either too LIGHT to sing effectively, or too HEAVY to transition through your register breaks. The most damaging thing to a singing voice is actually too much/inefficient airflow over the chord – so not only will singing breath support help you achieve a fantastic singing tone, it will also help keep your voice healthy in the long run and lead you to many years of powerful, but SAFE singing.
If you are currently “pushing” your chest register and leaving your voice hoarse after practicing and singing, then the problem not only lies in the width of your vowels and register release, but really starts with your breath support. On the flipside, if you voice is airy, breathy and weak, or you have a large ‘disconnect’ between your registers by way of a flip and vocal break – then again, your foundation needs to include breath support and proper diaphragmatic control before you can attend to the other adjustments needed to improve your singing voice.
I just “push up” as I go higher, right?
Incorrect – as I mentioned, breath support is one of those polarizing singing techniques, or concepts, that without proper training often leads students to act in the opposite manner to what is intended. Breath support involves LOWERING your air flow in place of an increase in air PRESSURE so that your vocal chords vibrate faster to attain the pitch and register you are intended. I find that if you ‘pull down’ as you ascend in range, this is often a very good introduction to singing breath support at a basic level – and then as you start to develop control and increase your understanding about how truly simple and easy it is to sing once you get the hang of it, you can alter your approach for added finesse, control and accuracy.
How can I develop and practice breath control?
By first starting with my free short course Breathing 101, you will get a basic feeling for the musculature and intention needed to develop control over singing breath support, and with the added bonus of the video tutorial I linked above for you (here it is again:), you will be developing control over singing breath support and practicing your support EVERY time you sing with very little effort – it’s part of your foundation!
Are you ready to POWER UP your singing voice and develop your breath support further so you can hit those highs, improve that inconsistent pitch and develop outstanding control over every aspect of your singing voice? You can book a session with me now and we can get started right away!
Feel free to leave any feedback or questions below!
Kegan DeBoheme is Bohemian Vocal Studio’s resident vocal coach and voice expert. He teaches professional singing and voice technique to students all around the world and enjoys providing tutorials like this one on how to improve your voice.