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.

From the choir to the praise team; 4 adjustments most singers fail to make

From the choir to the praise team; 4 adjustments most singers fail to make

It’s common, at least in smaller churches, to find members of the choir also on the praise team and vice-versa. Many don’t realize though, that the two are completely different when it comes to your vocal approach.

What flies in the choir stand doesn’t work in front of a microphone singing on the praise team. It’s a whole different ballgame. Here then, are the common mistakes singers make as they move from the choir stand to the praise team.

1. Adjusting the volume

As I mentioned above, the first big difference in singing in the choir stand and singing on the praise team is that most of the time every singer on a praise team is singing directly into a microphone.

Which is not at all the case in the choir stand where you’re standing there with a large group of other people, nobody on a microphone.

So choir members who join the praise team often bring that habit of singing really loud to make the sound carry and hit the notes along with them to the the praise team. Only now it’s way too much, because every singer has a microphone.

2. Not understanding/knowing your parts
The choir is a very forgiving place to sing. Numbers hide a multitude of faults, lol. Often people who are not as skilled at harmony can be comfortable singing in the choir because there are so many people around to help out and “lean on”. When you come to the praise team you really can’t do that anymore. You have to stand on your own and know that part. On the praise team that tends to go away. Praise teams are much smaller, so it’s much more important for every singer to really know and understand harmony and their parts. Often people who are used to relying on fellow choir members for their parts fail to fully understand that, so they struggle with that aspect of being on the praise team.

3. Not understanding/learning proper microphone technique .
Aside from those who lead songs regularly for the choir, most choir members don’t have much experience with the microphone.
It’s important to learn how to sing into it properly. How to hold up to your mouth, or stand in front of it in the microphone stand. How to adjust the stand quickly when you walk up to it.More importantly though, every singer should be taught how to pull the microphone away a little when you know you’re going for a really high, powerful note. This is a very important thing to practice on especially when you’re used to singing in the choir stand.

4. Not investing in vocal training

This is probably the most important thing a praise team can do as a group to dramatically improve their overall sound. Choirs can slide without vocal instruction for years because of the nature and make-up of a Gospel choir. But praise teams really don’t have the luxury of large numbers to camouflage things. The sad reality, in fact, is that the average Praise team in the average-sized Gospel church doesn’t do a very good job, I’m afraid.

Some simple training as a group would make an amazing difference in the ministry of most praise teams. I recently started a workshop series with the praise team at my own church where I’ve been training them on pretty-much every aspect of praise team ministry that Iv’e discussed here, plus a few I haven’t mentioned. Taken together, just about any praise team can realize a dramatic improvement in the power and effectiveness of their ministry by investing in this type of training as a group. Take your praise team from simply another musical spot on the program to a powerful tool God uses every week to change the atmosphere at your church and prime it for a move of God.

Did you find this article helpful? You can get it and 12 others like it for your praise team in my new e-book Praise Team 101.