These online breathing exercises for singers are aimed at the complete beginner and as “jargon” free as possible. For more extensive Free Lessons, Ear Training, Scales, Freeware Downloads and other Resources for all standards, check the links below and our music-related links pages.
One of the cornerstones of learning to sing is knowing how to breathe correctly and learn to control your breathing so that it is used to optimum effect when you sing.
When we are born our breathing is naturally correct, babies can breathe, yell and scream with optimum effect because they use their lungs without conscious thought. As we grow older, some people become lazy in their habits only using the upper part of the lungs, taking a shallow breath instead of a normal one.
To understand how correct breathing and breath control works, first you need to understand the process that it uses to operate.
Surrounding your lungs is a muscle system called the diaphragm which is attached to the lower ribs on the sides, bottom and to the back acting as an inhalation device. When you breathe in the muscle lowers displacing the stomach and intestines. When you breathe out the diaphragm helps to manage the muscles around the lungs (abdominal muscles) control how quickly the breath is exhaled.
If you breathe out quickly, the diaphram does nothing but when you breathe out very slowly the diaphragm resists the action of the abdominal muscles. A singer learns to use this muscle system to control the breath as it is being exhaled.
Hold a finger close to your lips and breathe out slowly, the breath should be warm and moist and you should notice the action of the diaphram as you exhale. This is the correct amount of breath used when singing normally. A singer does not need to ‘force’ or ‘push’ air through the vocal chords to produce a good strong sound, doing so creates too much pressure against the chords, preventing them from operating correctly which can cause damage to the voice.
The stomach area should move naturally inward toward the end of the breath, the stomach should not be ‘sucked in’ as it prevents the diaphram from working effectively. Instead the abdominal area should remain expanded to the level it was when you inhaled and allowed to gradually decrease naturally at the end of the breath.
This is where the ‘control’ comes into play – the singer expands the lungs by inhaling and ‘controls’ the amount of air expelled when singing a note by allowing the muscle support system to remain expanded – this doesn’t mean the stomach is pushed out, rather that it is blown up like a balloon when the air goes in and the singer slows down the natural rate at which it goes down. In most people the breathing is shallow and only the top half of the lungs are used – breathing correctly uses the whole of the lungs so that more air is available, the singer then uses the natural action of the muscles (diaphragm and abdominals) surrounding the lungs to control the amount of air that is exhaled when singing a note.
Good breath support during singing and speech requires, good posture, abdominal breathing and breathing during natural pauses. Breathing and correct support does not require great physical strength – although having toned abdominal muscles helps, even a child can learn how to breath and support their voice correctly. Remember….the diaphragm doesn’t exhale for you – just helps to control the amount of air exhaled.
Picture of the respiratory system showing the ribs, sternam and diaphragm. Picture of the diaphragm and lungs with a section of bronchial tubes. Pictures courtesy of Merk Medicus who have rather excellent online tool that you can use to view various parts of the anatomy. Visit the site and click on ‘Respiratory’. Once the page has loaded use the mouse to strip the picture down into layers or move it around to view images from different angles. Visible Productions who designed the software also have some great 3d movie type images on their site.
Although we have tried to the best of our ability to describe the breathing process above, there is no better demonstration than seeing how it works. Take a look at Optimal Breathing’s Animated Diagram which demonstrates the correct method of breathing with a view through the ribcage of the diaphragm – practice breathing along to it.
The following exercise may make you feel tired at first, do keep at it as you will begin to notice that it takes less effort to breath, less energy is used when breathing plus it helps you learn to co-ordinate the diaphragm and abdominal muscles when breathing.
To find out if you are breathing correctly, place a hand on your belly button. This area should expand first when you breathe in and then spread upwards until your chest is expanded (don’t lift the shoulders or push the stomach out). If you feel you are not breathing properly, practice the following exercise.
Lay flat on your back.
Place your hands on your waist, fingers pointing towards your belly button.
Focus on filling up your stomach from the bottom to the top taking a slow deep breath. (The aim is not to fill yourself to bursting but to inhale enough air so that you can feel the difference between a shallow breath taken when breathing from the chest).
You should feel your stomach rise and your hands being raised gently up and outward until you feel your chest expanding. The expansion is not only at the front of the body but also to the sides and back as well.
Breath out slowly to a count of 5
Repeat the exercise 10 times
Practice daily before you rise in the morning and prior to sleeping at night for 5 – 10 minutes gradually increasing this to 3 or 4 times a day.
Once you get it right, practice as often as possible, sitting, standing and whilst at work until you are breathing naturally from your abdomen.
Try the following exercise to help increase breath control – Count on one breath singing each number out loud. using one breath at any comfortable pitch. Start with a small number like 5 or 10 and increase this gradually until you can manage 25 or more without straining, tensing or running out of breath.
Breathing 101 for Singers & Vocalists
Tutorial by Yvonne DeBandi with advice and exercises for correct breathing.
Article by Dennis Anderson provides information and exercises to improve your breathing.
Article by Lis Lewis on learning correct breathing.
Aimed at improving and correctly focusing your breathing posted to the Vocalist.org discussion group by Feldenkrais Method teacher, John Link.
Born To Sing
by Ron Murdock is an interesting essay which explores and explains the mechanics of singing with diagrams of the throat, larynx and bodies musculature.
Don’t despair if you cannot achieve this straight away – it can take months of practice, especially if you have developed bad breathing habits! The good news is that one day you will discover that you are automatically breathing correctly!
We get a lot of queries on breathing ranging from ‘Breathiness’ to ‘Screaming and Belting,’
the solutions to these are often (but not always) related to using
proper breath support which can increase loudness, reduce rate of speech
and increase phrase length.
I have a problem with ‘breathiness – can you help?
I have a problem with breathing and breath control – help!
For Q & A on singing read the Frequently Asked Questions or browse the discussion links below.
We highly recommend you seek supervised tuition from a reliable source.
Breathing Exercise Links
These are just a small example of the extensive links to online exercises and lessons we have available in the Vocal Health and Singers Articles sections, which contain complete listings of lessons, exercises or articles available on each site with direct links to the page (when not a framed site) plus answers to pretty much everything a beginner, intermediate, advanced singer or teacher needs to know! (All links below open in a new window).
Everything you need to know about breathing all in one place. Includes Building Healthy Lungs, Naturally. Also includes difficult breathing problems and accelerating breathing development progress, an online test to evaluate if you are breathing correctly plus audio and text breathing lessons via the Breath Gym with a free exercise on belly breathing.
Air & Phonation
provides images, diagrams, video’s and descriptions of the vocal tract and larynx with descriptions of the breathing process, voicelessness, breathy voice or murmer, creaky voice or creak and the position of the vocal chords in each case.
Anthony Winter’s Voice Studio
is based in Sydney, Australia and has several online lessons including Breath Support, Opening the Throat, Articulation of clear vowels, Phrasing, Training the Ear, Comparison of music styles, Broadway Belt, Jazz Training, Microphone Technique, Developing Ring in the voice, Building a career etc,.
Basic Breathing Exercises
One of several voice-related articles with exercises by Francis Keeping and Roberta Prada available at VocalImages.
Can you put your hand on your diaphragm? by Mark Baxter.
by Dennis Lewis who writes well on this topic, includes a book called ‘The Tao of Breathing’ and you can subscribe to his free newsletter.
Breath for Life
article including breathing exercises from Cari Cole Voice Studio.
Breath is Life
article aimed at opening up a debate about breathing with the aim of leading to a deeper understanding, and a more fruitful application of breathing techniques. Includes an exercise for the reader to test if their breathing correctly, information and advice on the effects of hyperventilating and various theories on breathing practices.
Breath & Support
Two seperate and co-ordinated functions in singing by David L. Jones (also available in French).
Breath Management in Singing
by David L. Jones, (article also available in french).
Articles on breathing plus images of the diaphragm in various states.
Three free exercises supplied by singing teacher to the stars ‘Tona de Brett’.
Breathing warm-up and exercises
Exercises with descriptions and audio / video examples from Juliet Russell of Vocaltech available at the BBC Radio One website.
Information, products and services based on breathing co-ordination for singers and athletes.
EGG & Voice Quality
is a study aimed at validating the thesis that the electroglottography conveys essential information about glottal activity. Click on Initiation for an article on Initiation of speech containing an animated picture of heavy breathing and diagram showing lung volume relative to mid-respiration.
Gas Exchange in Humans
excellent article on the process of breathing complete with colour diagrams.
Journey of the Voice
(Site in process of moving.. some sections may not be available). Provides information on the process of speech and singing complete with diagrams which include respiration, Support system for the voice (framework) with diagrams of spine, ribs, strenum, and pelvis, phonation, resonation, articlation and care of the voice by Eric Armstrong.
Health & Fitness Center – Sportsbreather
Breathing trainer for asthmatics, athletes, or anyone needing to increase lung endurance. The Sports Breather is a device for breathing training and to help increase breathing and lung endurance.
How the diaphragm affects your singing voice
Article posted by Bob Pardue (this article is actually a rip off copy of a previous post of Lloyd Hanson’s to Vocalist.org mailing list)
International Breath Institute
Transform Breathing, evaluate your breathing and find more breathing exercises. (site currently being redesigned so exercises unavailable).
L’Atelier du Chanteur
French/English site, aided by animated & audio exercises with articles and lessons for singers & teachers including the following articles in English. Breathing and appoggio by Lloyd W. Hanson, Breathing and the diaphragm by Lloyd W. Hanson, Breathiness in young debutants by John Nix
Mini relaxation exercises
Relaxation exercises based on focused breathing techniques to help reduce anxiety and tension from the Mind/Body Medical Institute.
Singing Section (access to articles is by free signup only) lessons include breath control technique exercises.
explains what happens during quiet breathing and examines the breathing cycle. Part of the Interactive Respiratory Physiology by Wilmot C. Ball Jr., MD at John Hopkins School of Medicine
Saskatchewan Lung Association
information on the lungs and the process of breathing with advice for those who wish to quit smoking.
Static Elastic Properties of the Lung and Chest Wall
explains the relationship between the static pressure volume curves of the lung and relaxed chest wall and their recoil pressures Part of the Interactive Respiratory Physiology by Wilmot C. Ball Jr., MD at John Hopkins School of Medicine
The Art of Bluegrass Vocals
An introduction to reflexive breathing by Dede Wyland at iBluegrass.com
The Sing Thing
site includes the exercises available on the CD including breathing exercises and examples in realaudio from the creator of the BRIT Schools BTEC vocal course.
online singing articles includes tips for improvement, description of the diaphragm, singing terminology, fach, character study, jazz singing and more!!
What Is “Support?”
Article on breathing and support for singers by Kristina Seleshanko.