One Chamber Choir, Singapore © Nolte Photography

4 Effective Breathing Exercises to Improve Your Choir Performance

Ways to improve your breathing and where to find clear instructional videos on YouTube

Your Voice

Singers know that when it comes to choral music, it’s all about the breath. That’s one of the reasons that choristers enjoy such great health benefits from their performances, and it’s also why breathing exercises for choral singers is extremely important.

Knowing what exercises to try out and experiment with can take your singing to the next level, giving you more power and control. If you are a choir director, you can even use these to take an entire group of singers to new heights.

Unfortunately, many choristers only know warm-up techniques. While warming up your voice is absolutely essential for both performance and longevity, breathing exercise creates long term improvement. Your lungs are a crucial part of your singing instrument — and breathing exercises get them in top shape and keep them there!

So let’s go through the four most effective breathing exercises to improve your choir performance.

Exercise 1: Breathing From the Stomach (Diaphragmatic Breathing)

This one will be familiar to most singers, but it starts our list because it remains the most important building block for the rest of the exercises. When you learn how to breathe using the stomach, instead of just the top of your lungs, you’ll be able to exert much more power.

The diaphragm is a muscle located below the lungs, in the place we might think of as the belly. When it contracts, the lungs expand with air, and when it relaxes, the lungs exhale.

By connecting your breathing to the movement of the diaphragm and not the lungs, you’ll be able to control the flow of air better, and you’ll also get much deeper breaths. To make things even better, diaphragmatic breathing has been shown as an effective way to reduce anxiety.

To do diaphragmatic breathing, follow these simple steps:

  • Place a hand on your chest and on the top of your belly (where the diaphragm is)
  • Breathe in slowly by pushing out the belly, rather than moving your chest
  • Do this with a four second inhale, a four second hold, a four second exhale, a four second hold, and repeat this cycle for a minute

By the end of this, you’ll be feeling very relaxed, but you’ll also have a much stronger connection to your diaphragm.

Watch a clear instruction for this exercise here.

Exercise 2: Breathe in Through a Straw

A great inhale is the first step to great breathing. And believe it or not, breathing through a straw is one of the simplest ways to connect us to the power of a great inhale.

You don’t need a fancy straw, anything will do. Just follow these simple steps:

  • Put straw in your mouth
  • Hold the straw with your fingers
  • Inhale through the straw for four seconds
  • Exhale for four seconds
  • Repeat the cycle for a minute

Like diaphragmatic breathing, this exercise will also help you relax. But the most important thing is that it trains you to take deep breaths. It also forces you to use the parts of your breathing anatomy that are typically undertrained, while letting the throat and lungs take it easy.

Click here for a clear explanation of this exercise.

Exercise 3: The Hiss

Controlling intake of breath is a great place to start, but the exhale is how we actually produce our singing. This makes mastery over the exhale vital to our performances as choir singers. The Hiss is a practice that does just that.

To perform the Hiss, take these steps:

  • Take a deep, controlled inhale, as if you are sucking the air in through a straw
  • Begin to hiss like a snake (making an ssssss sound)
  • Do this for as long as you can
  • Focus on making this sound as smooth and regulated as possible (no getting louder/quieter, no going faster/slower)

If you continue this practice, you’ll notice that your ability to hiss will increase.

You can find helpful instructions and animation for this exercise here.

Exercise 4: “Hi” Breathing

While hissing gives you the ability to create a stable stream, in this next one, we are going to focus on controlling bursts of exhales.

To do hi-breathing, follow these steps:

  • Inhale slowly and deeply for four seconds
  • Exhale in short bursts, saying the word “Hi”
  • Take a second between these bursts, holding in the breath

When we control our exhale this way, we open up a lot more opportunities. When you sing, there are notes that you need to hold out, but there are also notes that you need to start and stop quickly. By strengthening these muscles, you use only the air needed to make the sounds you want. You also build a better mind-muscle connection, allowing you to more confidently maneuver through difficult passages.

This and more exercises are further explained in this video on YouTube.

Strong Breath for Strong Singing

Breathing exercises for choral music goes beyond simple warm-up techniques. These are methods to increase your air control and capacity in the long term, making them an essential part of any singer’s toolkit.

Would you like to learn more about singing? INTERKULTUR has many resources for choristers and choir directors alike. We are the leading organizers of international choir competitions, and the development of everyone’s singing abilities are our top priority.

That’s why we continue to add tips and techniques (along with the latest headlines from the world of choir festivals) on our NEWSROOM.

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