The 4 Stages Of Breathing Explained, Pt. 2

Welcome back! In my last blog I gave you a detailed explaination of Inhalation and Suspension, the first 2 stages of proper breathing. Now I would like to break down the last two, Phonation and the Resting Period.

We discussed how important inhalation is to a singer. On the opposite hand we have exhalation, which is the usage of the air you inhaled. In normal breathing this process is called exhalation but in the singing world it should be referred to as Phonation. Phonation is simply the process by which the vocal folds vibrate and produce sound. To the average gospel singer we naturally have the gift to sing so we really do not focus on what is actually going on in our body when we sing. I believe that it is important for a singer to know how the body affects the sound we produce.
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The 4 Stages Of Proper Breathing Explained

In my previous blog I started talking about the breathing process that a singer should go through. In that article I mentioned that there are four stages of proper breathing: Inhalation, Suspension, Phonation(exhalation) and the resting period. I thought it would be helpful to go into more detail about each one. Today I’ll cover the first two, Inhalation and Suspension.

First let’s talk about Inhalation.
During the inhalation stage of breathing it is critical for the singer to have a relaxed body so that the air can fill in where necessary. Referring back to a balloon analogy I used in the first blog , when air is blown into it the balloon expands all the way around. When inhaling air, as a singer the mid section of your body should expand just as that balloon does, freely allowing the air to fill the lungs from bottom to top. The average singer is prone to taking a shallow inhalation right before they sing. But I cannot tell you how imperative that intentional deep breath is every time you open your mouth to sing. The body should be erect in a natural stance. The shoulders are not in any way involved in the inhalation process. The only movement there should be is in the mid section of the body, from the air filling in.
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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.

2 letters of the alphabet every choir, praise team and group should pay special attention to

Scrappy alphabet patchwork quilt.So your choir went forth Sunday morning and God came in and blessed in a mighty way. People were on their feet, shouting, crying, clapping and dancing.

But then after church something rather peculiar happened. People were coming up to you showering you with kudos about the awesome job you guys did and how they were blessed by the selection. Which is great…until almost in the same breath the person asks “what were you guys saying? I couldn’t understand most of it.”

WHAT??

The first time this happened to me I found it very disturbing, honestly. I mean the whole point of all this is to minister God’s word through song. It’s all about the message. If the people don’t understand what we’re saying, we’re just wasting our time, aren’t we?
Now, it’s obvious that if people are being blessed spiritually then they are clearly understanding at least some parts of the lyrics-certainly enough to resonate with them deeply…….right? I mean, they ARE shouting because they understand what we’re saying…RIGHT?? God I hope so. I suppose that’s a subject for another blog.

But either way, if we’re being honest about it, quite often a good deal of what the choir sings often gets by much of the audience. Directors and music ministers all over the world understand this. So week after week at rehearsal after rehearsal they encourage their choir members to enunciate words more clearly.

And we do try, don’t we? But quite often the changes just don’t stick. That’s largely because it just feels so different. It’s a challenge to sing words and phrases with exaggerated diction when you’ve done the opposite for so many years.

It goes without saying though, that this is an issue that simple MUST be addressed. It is absolutely mandatory that the audience understand what we’re saying if ministry is to be effective. Otherwise we’re singing in vain. So today I want to share an easy way to make dramatic improvement in your choir’s clarity and diction. In fact this is so easy to do that the members will be much more receptive to it, so it’s something they’re more likely to keep doing.

Change 2 Letters, Change Your Sound

In the English alphabet there are consonants that we call “explosive consonants”. They are called this because when you pronounce them your tongue sticks to the roof of your mouth briefly,creating a small build-up of air. When pronounced correctly, that build-up is released kind of like a small “explosion” out of your mouth (hence the name). There are several consonants that can qualify for the title “explosive”, but there are two in particular that are most important because they are so much more commonly used than any of the others. They are the letters D and T.

These letters most often come at the end of words, but in Gospel choirs they are seldom actually pronounced. We usually just kinda slide right over them or leave them off the word altogether. The “D” in words like “and”, for example, are almost always left off entirely. The letter “T” at the end of words like “wait” are pronounced improperly when they are pronounced at all. Simply emphasizing that your choir or group fully pronounce the D’s and T’s makes an amazing difference in clarity and diction that you can hear instantly.

I’m not talking about taking words like “and” and “wait” and making 2 syllables out of them (not and-DUH, or way-TUH). We’re just talking about making sure the letters are actually pronounced and that little explosion is actually allowed to happen.

This can be a bit more challenging on faster songs, but faster songs tend to be the most misunderstood because we tend to slur over words most on those. So it’s well worth the small effort and much easier than some other methods to do and stick to.

So mind your Ds and Ts! You’ll not only get a much cleaner, more easily understood sound from your words, but your sound will project further into the room without any additional effort.

Need more help training your group to enunciate clearly? Check out How To Enunciate Clearly In Just 2 Steps.

2 simple tricks to automatically sing with less strain

Kay on blackYou know by now if you’ve been a regular reader that there is simply no substitute for vocal training when it comes to reaching your goals as a singer. However there are many small changes you can make that make a big difference, and I try to talk about those often in my blogs.

Almost all Gospel singers struggle with straining in the upper parts of their range. That’s because almost everybody sings much harder than they really need to most of the time. This “over-singing” causes a lot of the vocal strain we feel in the higher parts. One very simple thing you can do to almost instantly feel more comfortable and eliminate some of that excess pushing is to simply make sure you can hear yourself really well.
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