How to Stop Stacking Your Breath

On Breathing Comfortably

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Image courtesy of Alexandre Dulaunoy via flickr cc license

Arguably one of the most important aspects of breathing for singing is inhaling. If you do not inhale correctly, then all other aspects of breathing will not work. It is the first step to great breath support and for that reason should occupy a great deal of any singer’s attention. Not only should you breathe low and quietly, but the breath needs to be relaxed. Stacking the breath is a common error causing strained inhalations and discomfort in beginning singers.

A Review on What Stacked Breathing Is: You can find out what stacked breathing is, who is prone to it, why it happens, and why so many people associate it with low breathing in my article, “What is Stacked Breathing.” But for now, I will assume you only need a quick reminder. Stacked breathing is when you inhale and old air is already in the lungs. You stack your old breaths one right on top of the other. With each new breath you become more and more uncomfortable as the lungs overfill. Not only does it make relaxed breathing impossible, it also leads to a strained tonal quality.

Plan When You Will Breathe: The best way to avoid stacked breathing is to release all the air in between each phrase as you sing. There are several things you need to do in order to achieve that goal. First, you need to plan when you will take breaths. I like to have students mark breaths using a comma. Once your body is tense, it is much harder to relax.

Be sure to plan as many breaths as you need. That may mean taking several breaths within one phrase. Just be sure to try and take breaths in a way that the meaning of the text still makes sense. Be patient, and with time and practice, you will be able to sing entire phrases without taking a breath.

Create Space for Breaths: Sometimes you need to create space for breaths, and composers and editors assume you will do so. It is just easier and looks better on sheet music when rests do not appear between each phrase. The simplest way to make room for breaths is to add an eighth rest at the ends of phrases. During the rest you will release old air and take in fresh air. Always start phrases right on time. The same is true if you need to take a breath in the middle of a song.

Breath Management: In addition to planning when you will breathe, you need to plan how big your breaths should be. A smaller breath is needed for shorter phrases and obviously a bigger one for longer ones. Some people find it easier to sing high notes when they take as much air in as possible. Stacked breathing often happens when several short phrases occur one right after the other. You may even want to write in, ‘small breath,’ to avoid overfilling the lungs. However, if that makes you think of a high breath, then it might be better to remind yourself to take a ‘quick breath.’ It is not the same thing, but some people are better able to take a shallow deep breath when thinking quick rather than small.

Release the Breath: Probably the most important aspect to avoiding stacked breathing is learning to release the breath at the end of each phrase.

Exhalation takes just as much planning for the beginning singer. Sometimes you can release the air on the final consonant. Plosive consonants, such as t, or d, are great for releasing air. When the final word ends in a vowel, you may need to consciously think ‘skinny’ or lift the diaphragm before taking another breath.