How to Breathe When Singing

How to Breathe When Singing

So how to breathe when singing is often a real confusion for beginner singers. There are three different names that you may have heard; Belly Breathing,  Intercostal (lateral breathing) and diaphragmatic breathing.

These three terms like so many areas in singing are confusing simply because vocal coaches use them often interchangeably to mean the same thing when they don’t.

For example a singing teacher may say to you to breath into the belly when you breath in, you then go to another singing teacher (vocal coach) and they say no you should focus in the lower back and the sides. You hear yet another vocal coach say they are wrong and the only correct breathing for singing is diaphragmatic!

how to breathe when singing - girl singing

Belly, Intercostal or diaphragmatic breathing which one is correct?

So which is right? In the old school of classical voice training ( often bel canto) some schools taught lateral (intercostal) breathing and other schools taught belly breathing. So both techniques work. Now you see where the confusion comes.

So the correct breathing for singing is…belly…and intercostal. Combined they become diaphragmatic breathing. In other words belly and intercostal are parts of diaphragmatic breathing.

Let me explain belly breathing is a result of the diaphragm moving down and pushing out the belly and intercostal breathing is a result of the diaphragm moving down and pushing out the waist at the sides and lower back.

Finally you have you answer it’s diaphragmatic breathing. So for a complete picture of what your breathing is doing you need to be able to monitor the breathing all the way around the waist. This includes the lower back, sides of the waist (Intercostal breathing) and at the belly (lower and upper belly). This is then complete breathing which is diaphragmatic breathing.

In order for the breathing to be free to respond to the demands of singing reflexively there must be total flexibility and tonus in the breathing. Any rigidity in the belly (Belly Breathing), intercostal (sides of the waist and lower back) will translate as tension that will be heard in the voice. This freedom gives responsive breath support which is the correct air flow and pressure supplied to the vocal folds so that they can pulse (Phonation)and create sound. So at some point focusing on the belly is correct to free it and condition it. The same is then done around the sides and back. This is then bought together and you have breathing for singing. This is balance in the breathing muscles.

Here is a cool video on how breathing works.



How to Train Breathing for Singing


I start where ever I see the most tension in the breathing muscles. I work from there until all the areas of breathing are moving in a free non jerky way. This freedom often translates into a whole body relaxing state which is very nice!

So if you trained with me you may find I start with intercostal breathing area then move onto the belly breathing area or the other way round. It is not important where I start just that I start with the area that has the most tension to start with and that the end result is kept in mind which is well balanced, free moving diaphragmatic breathing.

So there you have it, no longer will you be confused about these terms. If you’re training yourself you now have a much better understanding of what you need to do. Learning to monitor the breathing process is the next thing you need to be aware of.

If you haven’t already read Breathing For Singing then it might be worth reading that first just so that you have a full understand of the breathing process.

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Where to Next?

Now that you understand about the types of breathing and the process that is involved in training the breathing muscles for breath support it’s time to learn some breathing techniques so that you can start to balance your breathing for singing. If you would like to go to Breathing exercises for Singing then we can start to look at that together.

Remember that the best way to learn this is one on one with a vocal coach how understands the process.

If you’re interested in singing lessons with me then you can find out more information on my singing lessons page. I look forward to hearing from you 🙂