Singer's Corner – Square Breathing

A few years ago, I had a photo shoot scheduled and immediately afterwards was going to sub for a classical singing instructor; Both things I'm not too too comfortable with. To this day, sight reading classical music in public makes me very nervous. Not to mention, I've always preferred taking pictures to actually being in them.

A panicky mind is not the best for sight reading, nor for natural looking promo pics...that's for sure. Enter stage left... Square breathing.

My wise and talented photographer Krista Fogle ( introduced me to a patterned breathing technique that calmed me almost instantly. Turns out, I had a great day. Sight reading was decent, and pics turned out nice (See below).

This miracle exercise goes something like this…

Breath in for 4, hold for 4, out for 4, hold for 4

I now integrate it often, when waiting in lines or riding a crowded subway. I can work on strengthening my breath for more supported singing, whilst calming and centering myself in tough situations. If can work for a sensitive soul in NYC, I think it will work for anyone. Try it for yourself.

In my first Breath work post, I walked you thru the basics of supported, healthy breathing for singers. Bringing in all that awareness of diaphragmatic breathing, Patterned Breathing Exercises is a great next step towards integration of those healthy habits.

By working on breathing technique outside the realm of your singing, you put a spotlight on it which can help you assess your breathing habits, make adjustments and instill any changes necessary for fully supported singing.

You can vary the exercises by both the number of counts for inhales and exhales, as well as the number of repetitions which are best increased by 4’s so that it emulates the most used song cycle of measures.

Here’s a breakdown all the important points in doing this patterned breathing ….

#1 – Your inhale should be silent, but gulping air with both mouth and nose open.

#2 – Your awareness should be on pulling in the air down deep, to the bottom of your lungs; expanding your diaphragm. See that previous post on Breath Work for more details about that.

#3 – Your exhale should be rationed so that you run out of breath right at the end of the count for the exhale.

#4 – You can use the Hsss sound, a sigh, mmm or just breath with no sound for the exhale.

#5 – Use the metronome to keep the beats regular. You can set it to any tempo, but 120 should be your default. If a metronome is not possible in a particular situation, use your internal metronome to try to keep the beats steady.

#6 – Keeping count of the beats for your breath + # of times you've repeated the cycle will help you achieve intuitive counting. This counting with in counting skill comes in handy.

# 7 – Do variations such as

4 in 8 out

6 in 6 out

8 in 8 out

6 in 12 out

… maybe not all on the same day, but over time, try out all the different patterns. As well as how many times you repeat a certain pattern.

This is a wonderful way to start your singing practice. Stay aware of your breath thru the exercises that you'll run from 2-5 minutes. Make sure you are breathing silently, and all the way into the bottom of your lungs.
You'll find that when you start singing after this warm up, your breath work is centered and your voice supported. Overtime, you'll find that your lung capacity is growing, as well as the skill of rationing breath to hold notes and control volume.


Square Breathing

Here’s a photo from the shoot that day, after some square breathing. It all turned out A OK!