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Breathing Exercises

I have noticed over the past several weeks that some of my students really struggle with breathing. Some are not taking deep enough breaths, some are breathing clavicularly. Does anyone have some breathing exercises that they have found encourages singers to take deeper breaths and have better support/control while singing?
on January 8, 2016 5:54am
Individual students or a choir?  Either way, have them lay flat on the floor with a pillow or books under their head.  Hands on tummy.  Just live.  Don't think about singing at first.  Notice the mechanics of living.  Next step is to sing whatever the person knows.  A hymn, patriotic tune, happy birthday, whatever.  It's all about gravity, and everyone who lives breaths beautifully on their back.  Transfer that experience to standing position.  If I see a person moving their shoulders while standing, I compliment their desire to improve but remind them bones don't hold air and they just breathed properly while laying down.  Breath support is a constant challenge for wind musicians at all levels. 
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on January 9, 2016 12:56pm
Good for you, James, for wanting to work on this. Michael's idea is a very good one. In addition to that, it's sometimes challenging to carry the lower breathing into a standing position where old habits are likely to take over. My singers (choirs and students) put their hands on their lower ribs, fingers on their back, thumbs in front. Then they lean over at the waist and breathe, trying to feel the rib spread in the back and around their middle. They can lean at different angles to work their way up to standing. Standing, they can put one hand on their shoulder to check that it doesn't go up and one on the ribs. Of course, standing in the "noble position" (as though they were royal) is important for that to work. For support during singing, lip trills work for me (or a trilled R or an extended vvvv). We also do some of Richard Miller's onset exercises. Have fun!
on January 10, 2016 7:49am
Karen is essentially describing the appoggio position, which is thoroughly discussed in Prescriptions for Choral Excellence by Shirlee Emmons and Constance Chase (Oxford University Press). The authors have found that teaching the appoggio as the key to breath support is the foundation for dealing with many of the common problems choral singers may have. I enthusiastically recommend this book.
on January 11, 2016 7:40pm
Absolutely agree with the previous comments.  The continued problem with breathing is the notion that when breathing deep the abdominal wall is retracted into the body.  It comes down to a muscle memory problem learned from years of incorrectly practicing the idea of breathing deep.  To counter that/ I first have my singers exaggerate the incorrect way by demonstrating their "beach body" apart from the concept of breathing.  I have them hold that position till it starts to "burn" and then have them release those muscles.  With that released and relaxed abdominal muscle, they begin to feel the lack of tension needed for proper breathing.  I repeat this but the next time I have them hold that position and while holding it, blow as much extra air out of their lungs as possible (they must keep the "beach body" while exhaling).  Then on the count of three ask them to release the muscles and breath in at the same time.  It takes alot of practice but eventually they get the idea of what it means to breath with relaxed abdominal muscles.
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