Producing a reliable sound every time is just a matter of planning. It is the same as planning your pack list to load the truck for a tour. Now we want to explore what to load into your vocal chords. Naturally, this is air but let’s develop a system or muscle memory that determines both efficiency and reliability. Introducing the breathing plan, a fail-safe method for increasing your respiration coordination on stage. The basic idea involves memorizing the simple matter of inhaling and exhaling at the appropriate times while vocalizing. This tiny bit of breath preparation could determine whether you sink or swim on any high note or lengthy phrase. However, if executed correctly, engaging in these few steps will quickly redirect mistakes and improve overall vocal quality.
Step 1: Where to breathe?!? Ruling out the other obvious technical hurdles i.e. placement, posture, pitch, diction, and assuming those goals are already achieved, let’s focusing solely on breathing. Where in a song do you breathe you ask? My basic answer is where there is punctuation and also at the beginning of phrases. Let’s think of this in terms of speech. When most people recite a long sentence, they pause for respiration at commas and usually inhale. The Pledge of Allegiance is a great example. “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America (breathe) and to the Republic..).” Or in song, “When I find myself in times of trouble, (breathe) Mother Mary comes to me (breathe). Speaking words of wisdom let it be.”It is important to take time to notice in your speech patterns where and when you naturally breathe. Focus on this when you are talking in a relaxed place, i.e. not arguing or shouting. Here comes the planning part. After determining where all the breaths occur, mark them down in your lyrics or sheet music. Just use a simple (‘) mark. Practice breathing just the way you marked it down every time. Get this coordination into your muscle memory so you can enjoy performing stress free!!
Step 2: How much air to breathe in?!? The amount of air you spin under your tone will differ depending on the range of the note and the length of the note or phrase. Again for consistency, you will take notes and plan the breathing. Figure out where you will need more air, such as during a long phrase or a high note. To use “Let it Be” as an example, take in a larger breath when you are singing the phrase “Speaking words of wisdom let it Be”. In contrast, when you are singing the phrase “When I find myself in times of trouble”, take in a short breath. Whileyou are singing, remember to release (exhale) and spin the air to support your tone. After determining the different air amounts, grab your music and mark these techniques with the following symbols. LB=long breath SB=Short breath CB= catch breath. (A catch breath is a quick inhalation before a high note). As a rule and as you improve, you should not need many catch breaths. However, if you need the catch breaths now take them. It is better to sound your best and take the breath than to suffer through it. If you are a songwriter, plan to give yourself a rest before a significant high note or lengthy phrase. It will break up the rhythm and create more varied phrases as well as prepare the voice for some athletic singing.
Step 3: Memorize, memorize, memorize! Now that your lyrics or sheet music are bleeding with notes, it’s time to memorize them. Try to mark the breath notation in your head as well as in your body. That means when you memorize the words, you will breathe in that same way it is notated. Be sure to stand tall with proper posture and allow all of you (whole torso) to inhale and exhale fluidly as you sing. The air should flow smoothly as if you are singing. The shoulders are released, sternum is slightly elevated (careful not to hold in one place), knees and hips are made flexible etc. The whole body moves, bends and stretches like a flexible piece of taffy or clay.
Develop this muscle memory and you shall sing with freedom. You will soon be well on your way to singing a show without anxiety. As air production improves, the tone will be consistent throughout the phrase and fatigue will no longer be an issue. The high notes will become clearer and more powerful and a new range of dynamics will now become present. Remember to have fun while working and always to take a short break and come back to a particular phrase if frustration arrives. Now go plan!