The fine art of proper breathing

Breathing is something we all do naturally. But in the singing world- more precisely the classical singing world- there is an art/technique to breathing. Singing gospel most of my life I was stuck in my ways as far as singing was concerned. I lost my voice often and I always felt like I was screaming to get certain notes out. It was not until I began studying classical music that I began to understand the technique.

The way you breathe not only produces the sound but it also controls the quality of the sound and the volume. Have you ever heard a singer and you could hardly hear what they were singing? Or maybe a singer who always sounds like they are afraid when they sing. There are even singers who do not fully understand how to preserve the air that they take in while singing. Breath control is a great way to assist the average singer with such issues.

The average singer is drawn to just taking air in right before they sing their first word. But I want you to think about not just taking air in, but letting the air fill up from the bottom to the top. This process involves the entire body and takes some extra thinking. As the air fills the lungs the stomach section and the back section should expand. During this time the singer should be thinking about what has to be sung and how it should be sang.Once the singer knows what is about to happen then the actual singing begins.

In normal everyday breathing there are three stages: inhalation, exhalation and a resting period. In singing there should be four stages: inhalation, suspension, exhalation and a resting period. It is vitally important that a singer consciously do these four stages until it is natural. The exhalation or phonation stage is typically the stage where most singers lose control of their breath. Phonation involves several areas of the mid section the abdominal, internal intercostal and the lower pelvic muscles. These muscles control the amount of air that is released while singing. They also support the sound and tone quality of the notes.

The entire process can be a lot to think about while one is trying to remember the words to a song or fight through nerves. But if you want your singing to improve and become much easier, it’s definitely worth the effort. Try thinking about breathing in a different way when it is time to sing. Practice letting the air fill from the bottom of your lungs to the top, then stop and think about what all you want to sing with that breath. Imagine you have a full balloon and you squeeze the top so the air will seep out. That balloon is your lungs. Once they are filled you want to strategically release the air, rather than just pushing or blowing as hard as you can.

We’ll be talking more about breathing in future blogs.

Shena Crane,

The Music Ministry Coach.com

Shena Crane is a Classically trained professional vocal coach. She graduated from University Of Texas At Arlington. Shena holds a Bachelors Degree in Music Education as well as an Associates Degree in Music/Performance.

5 reasons you’re not doing vocal warm-ups (even though you know you should)

We’re a peculiar people, aren’t we? We can learn information that is vital to our health and well-being, know it, understand why it’s important and still not do it. For people who sing, warming up has to be at the top of a long list of things we know we should do to maintain vocal health, yet we still don’t. Here’s 5 reasons you’re probably not warming up before you sing.

1. You don’t think you need to.

There’s no other kind of musician as passive about their craft or their instrument than the singer. I wrote in another blog once that I suspect that’s the case because we’re the only musicians that for the most part are born knowing how to play our instrument. So I think it comes with a certain amount of arrogance or complacency. I’m supposed to start listing reasons warming up is good for you right here. You know, the stuff you’ve already heard before? Like the fact that singing is a lot like physical exercise, and how not warming up your muscles before working out can cause you physical damage and hamper your performance.

And how your vocal cords are stiff when you don’t use them and that will affect the way you sound and the way you feel. And how doing vocal warm-ups can actually thin out mucus build-up….blah blah blah, you know this stuff right? That’s not why we don’t do the things we know we should. It’s not because we don’t know. We just think we’re ok not doing them because we’ve been blessed so far not to have experienced any of the adverse effects people warn us about. So we continue to play Russian Roulette with our vocal health just like we do with our physical health.

2. You don’t have time.

This is a common excuse, but not a good one. Most of us don’t have time to warm up because we’re constantly running late to engagements. Running late to choir rehearsal, running late to church, running late to our engagements. So often it’s not that we don’t have the time, it’s that we don’t take the time. I know this statement will make many readers of this article a little uncomfortable sense it’s safe to assume that not only African-Americans read this blog.

But let’s face it, we don’t seem to value time as a race of people. I’m often amazed at how habitually late we are. And how good we’ve become at justifying it. Are we not living in the same world as other people who are always on time? Who start rehearsal at 7:30? Who are out of church by noon? Who are at 4:00 evening services at 4:00, in place and ready to go? Are they dealing with a different set of universal rules that somehow govern their traffic, obligations, kids and other “life stuff” differently than ours? Because otherwise we really don’t have much of an excuse. We have the time for the things we make the time for. That’s why I got up at 4:40 am to write this blog today. I could’ve just slept til 5:30 and not sent one out at all today because I “didn’t have time” last night after getting in from rehearsal past 10:30.

3. You feel silly doing the exercises (especially in front of people).

I very seldom see anyone talking about this, but the honest truth is vocal exercises do make you feel kinda silly. And doing them in front of someone can be downright embarrassing. But when you think about it, it’s certainly no more silly than any other kind of exercise. I think it’s kinda stupid to pick up something heavy over and over again until my muscles are screaming with pain and I can’t lift it anymore. Then drop it, rest for 30 seconds and do it all over again. I also think it’s kinda stupid to leave my house running with no particular destination or with nobody chasing me, and take a route that usually leads me right back where I started. I could go on, but you get it.

These things don’t raise an eyebrow or make anyone feel silly because it’s understood that this is what you do to improve your health. You must lift things to make your muscles strong. You must do physical exercise to maintain your weight and keep your heart strong. So it’s common to see and even when you’re not into it yourself, when you see someone else doing it you instantly understand why they’re doing it.

If you’re a singer and your peers know you’re a singer the same will be true for you. It may look silly and even get you a laugh or two. But if that’s the case, it’s because you haven’t been doing it on a regular basis. So neither you nor your friends and family have seen it regularly enough to accept it as the norm. Often my students tell me their kids laugh hysterically the first time they see them doing the lip trills exercise. Then they come back the second week and tell me their kids are doing it with them.

4. You tried it before and didn’t notice any difference.

” Yeah man I went to a gym once and worked out. It didn’t do me a bit of good. I even hired a personal trainer for the session. I didn’t lose a single pound so I quit going.” Make a lot of sense, that statement? Not to me either. But I know for a fact that people who come to me, take one vocal lesson and never return go on to tell their friends and family exactly that. I did it once, it didn’t work. Often people expect to see, hear or feel something amazingly different after doing a vocal warm up. When they don’t they write it off as something that doesn’t work.

However most people simply don’t warm up long enough to see any benefit. How long you should warm up depends on a lot of factors, and it can be different from day to day. And even though there is a wealth of information and free vocal warm up exercises on the internet, chances are you’re really not getting a good warm-up if you haven’t seen a vocal coach and gotten a warm-up routine designed specifically for you. But it’s like anything else. The benefits are cumulative. You have to do it long enough for it to work, for it to work. :O)

5. You don’t know how.

If you don’t know how to warm up properly you probably just haven’t tried to find out. Do a Google search on the subject and you’ll get thousands of articles, videos and workouts. The key though, is getting in front of a professional, learning how to do it properly. I stress that because many “warm-ups” in church choir stands especially, are anything but warming up, and actually do much more harm than good. You can’t, warm up by singing a song. But that’s exactly what most choirs and groups do at the beginning of rehearsal. “Ok, let’s go ahead and sing a song to get warmed up!” Lol. So doing vocal warm-up exercises will only benefit you if you learn how to do it properly and then actually do it long enough to get warmed up.

By the way, the time is now 5:45 am. I just spent 45 minutes writing this article. That’s almost another hour I could have been sleeping. Now I still have to post it, schedule it to go out to my mailing lists and social networks and get my butt to work. We take time and effort for the things that are important to us, don’t we? Imagine that.

Learn how to warm-up, how to breathe properly, increase your range, improve stamina and many other aspects of your voice with my home study course Vocal Ministry Breakthrough.

Talent/Skill vs. Anointing; Does God Really Care If It Sounds Good Or Not?

Balanced debateI don’t expect that everyone who reads this article will be happy with it’s content. Because today I’m going to challenge one of those old sayings that people have heard recited and repeated for so many years that nobody ever questions it or even bothers to look for any biblical proof, one way or the other. But the bible is exactly where we’re going today to get some answers.

“God doesn’t care what it sounds like, as long as my heart is in the right place”. It may have been said slightly different one way or another when you heard it, but no doubt you’ve heard people make this statement many times.
But is that really true? How does God really feel about the quality of the music we offer up to Him? Does He care about skill or talent? Is it really even necessary to perfect it? Rehearse and polish our harmony and sound? Is it really worth it to train your voice and perfect your gift? Or is this all just vanity for the sake of our own egos?

Many don’t think He cares at all. In fact some believe as long as you’re singing for, to or about God pretty-much anything is ok. Often you see this argument come up when people are being pushed past what they can comfortably do with a minimal amount of effort and/or rehearsal.
For some reason people really resent any extra work, training, effort or rehearsing to perfect music done for God. Let’s set aside for a minute the curious change of attitude you find in the same people if they were, for example, rehearsing for a secular music performance. Perhaps we’ll discuss that in another blog.

Today though, let’s see if we can get some idea from the Word of God how He really feels about musicians and singers and what they offer in His service. We’re talking specifically about talent and skill, and what scripture has to say about it.

When you start to really study scripture relating to music ministry; in particular, musicians and singers; one of the first things you notice is that almost every time scripture speaks specifically about a singer or musician, it goes out of the way to point out that singer or musician’s high level of skill. Take a look at a few examples here:

Often when a musician is summoned, it is made very clear in the request that the musician be highly skilled:

I Samuel 16:17 “And Saul said unto his servants, Provide me now a man that can play well, and bring him to me.”

Psalms 33:3 “Sing unto him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise.”

Only the most highly skilled were appointed as song leaders and instructors:

I Chronicles 15:22 “And Chenaniah, chief of the Levites, was for song: he instructed about the song, because he was skillful.”

David had a choir of 288 voices, and all of them were skilled singers:

I Chronicles 25:7 “So the number of them, with their brethren that were instructed in the songs of the LORD, even all that were cunning, was two hundred fourscore and eight.”

I could go on here, but clearly when you really search the scriptures you see skill and cunning given high regard in music ministry. But you also see that skill alone is not enough. David was famous not only because of his high level of skill, but because of the anointing on his music.
In fact most of the time in scripture you see anointing mentioned in direct coloration to skill ( I Samuel 16:14-23, II Kings 3:15).

And yet even though we have scriptural proof that skilled playing and singing is clearly highly regarded in scripture, we’ve all seen that little choir singing in unison or that little mother stand up and sing a song and tear the church up- even though neither of them were necessarily “highly skilled” singers. The anointing definitely makes the difference, and breaks the yoke (I Samuel 16:18) .

That’s the quote you hear most often when people start making the argument that God doesn’t care if it sounds good. But let’s take a closer look at the real motivations behind this argument.

You see, often it’s not a passion or even a genuine concern for doing right by God that causes people to begin protesting against the work that goes into perfecting music ministry. It is the disdain for the work itself.
The truth is, to play or sing skillfully in music ministry does take a lot of work. Anointed Gospel choirs don’t just walk into the choir stand and automatically sing like that. Exceptionally gifted musicians don’t just wake up playing that way one Sunday morning. It takes work and hours of practice. It takes higher levels of training and study. It takes going over parts over and over. And quite honestly, there are many who would much rather phone it in every Sunday than to do that work.

Not everyone has the same level of natural ability, that’s true. But many people who don’t could certainly get there with some extra work. Or some training to hone their craft. But rather than do that work they would rather give themselves a pass by making the argument that “God doesn’t care about all that”, or it’s not about being perfect, it’s about what’s in your heart”. The problems often arise when these people want to be elevated to leadership positions often reserved for those with the highest levels of skill (I Chronicles 15:22) without having to put forth any extra effort to perhaps tweak or improve their offering.

Ironically that statement about how God really cares more about what’s in your heart couldn’t be more true. God doesn’t care if your gift is perfect. What He does care about though, is whether or not what you’re giving Him is your best. That explains why those singers and musicians and groups and choirs who train and practice and perfect their musical gifts and ministries are often bestowed higher levels of anointing.

It also explains why that little old lady singing off-key and that little choir singing in unison can also minister under the anointing. The anointing makes the difference but the anointing only comes when you’re giving God your best.
Sadly though, rather than give God their best, many people opt instead for Giving God their best excuse. (Gen. 4, 2-7).