What Is Breath Support In Singing?

Many singing teachers state that the breath support is a key to solve several singing related problems. What is breath support and how is it done? What is the correct way to breath in singing?

”Support With The Breath”

There is no voice without airflow. It is the energy that makes the true vocal folds vibrate and create the sound. When singing the airflow must constantly adapt to the changes (volume, lyrics, voice quality ecc.) in the larynx and in the vocal tract. In order to do so the muscles related to breathing co-operate. So when we talk about breath support we’re actually talking about muscle work and the changes in the airflow are its consequences.

Support Is Muscle Work

The goal of breath support is to stabilize the singing voice and make singing with the chosen quality easier. The breath support occurs when the airflow meets the vocal folds in a good balance; not too much or not too little air pressure. In order to make this happen many muscles in the body (like muscles needed in inhalation and abdominal muscles) are active during exhalation.

A singer usually experiences breath support as easiness of singing, a more intensive and/or louder voice and as a stable voice. The consequences of breath support can be heard in the voice as a richer sound and in the equality of the voice.

Activating The Support

Quadratus Lumborum Muscle

So how do we support the breath, regulate the airflow by controlling our breathing muscles and stabilize the voice? There are several instructions with which all singers are not unanimous. Some schools describe breath support as an inward movement of the lower abdominals. Other schools teach breath support as an outward movement of the ribs during exhalation.

One way to put breath support into practice is through activating the quadratus lumborum muscle in the middle of the lower back. The quadratus lumborum has an impact on breathing. It can help to make the inhalation and exhalation muscles work simultaneously thus activating the breath support.

The goal of breath support is to stabilise the singing voice and make singing with the chosen quality easier.

Too Little Support?

When the breath support is not used the air flows out without the ”retarding” effect of the inhalation muscles. At the same time the stabilizing effect to the larynx and to the vocal tract is decreased. Depending on the singing style this might have a bigger or lesser impact on singing. Singing lightly with a breathy voice doesn’t need breath support unlike singing opera which can’t be done without it.

Breathing has an influence on the voice even before the voice is heard. During the inhalation the vocal tract and the larynx prepare themselves to singing. If this preparation is inadequate because of unnecessary tensions the breath support can’t compensate the lack of elasticity alone. Still this function can be experienced as a lack of breath support.  

Too Much Support?

The biggest misunderstanding related to breath support is about using too much air pressure when singing. Pushing the air strongly from the lungs usually generates constriction in the larynx (vocal strain) that causes many problems and at worst can damage the vocal folds. Reasonably one can ask if it is too much support we’re dealing with, or in fact something else.

Together with breath support singing teachers often talk about deep breathing and/or singing/breathing from the belly. Deep breathing is inhalation so that the diaphragm can lower properly when contracting. It is considered as a preparation part of the breath support. If the elasticity and the need of adapting to the changes are forgotten deep breathing can be overdone.

When practicing breath support it is good to keep in mind that there is not just one correct way to breath when singing.