By Khalila Sherrod
Any vocal coach will tell you that breath control in singing comes first and foremost, simply because the body of your voice relies on your breath. Without the proper posture, from spinal alignment to tongue placement, your voice would sound any combination of unflattering noises. For example, if your chin is tilted up, it will add an unnecessary pressure to your vocal cords and strain the notes that come out. Or, if you choose to exhale from your upper lungs rather than your diaphragm, the tune would sound airy and weak. It sounds like a lot to focus on at once, but as you practice, these exercises become second nature, and from there you can work on different styles, techniques, and registers.
There are many exercises to choose from when warming up your vocal cords. Typically, a warm-up is intended to loosen the cords to allow more space for the breath to push through, and prepare the vocal folds for longer, stronger notes. One exercise my vocal coach always had me do- as crude as it sounds- was to pretend there was a pipe in my throat. He would say, “Simon, don’t forget the pipe!” And this is effective in not only maintaining an open passage, but aligning the neck area as well. Now, with relaxed cords, I could focus on breathing from the diaphragm.
Most of us don’t realize it, but we actually breathe from our upper lung area rather than the bottom to do daily tasks such as talking or walking. This is why our shoulders rise and fall instead of our stomachs pushing in and out. However, anyone whose career has a focus on breath control knows that it’s important to start their breath from the diaphragm. Think of the diaphragm as a big bouncy ball that is located just at the base of your chest. When you inhale, it inflates with air, and when you exhale, it deflates much harder than your lungs alone could. The bouncy ball- your diaphragm- actually expands your ribcage to allow more room for air. Being aware of this and how to utilize your diaphragm correctly is one of the first steps in learning how to carry a tune.
Once you have the basics of properly inhaling and exhaling, you can start working on your style, which you do through a number of techniques. This will force you to use your diaphragm differently, but no matter the vocal type you aim for, you’ll most likely be depending on it roughly the same amount for breathy, high register singing as you would for gutsy scream singing. Even if your singing is soft and quiet, you’ll still want enough breath to lengthen and fortify the notes. Practice this each day, drink plenty of water, and avoid any food or drink that might negatively affect your vocal cords. This includes coffee, which can dry out the vocal folds, or dairy, which can add a layer of mucus to them, etc.
Above all, though, prioritize safety. There’s a lot of misinformation that could lead to permanently damaged vocal cords, so make sure to find a reliable source when looking for outside help. Remember to practice safe singing, proper posture, and have fun with your singing experience!