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Episode 9 – A slightly less boring podcast about breathing and breath management


We opened the show with the amazing “I Want You Back” cover from Lake Street Dive:

You can find them at www.lakestreetdive.com. Keep your eye on them because they are awesome.


First up, we are planning to interview some incredible talent at the VocalizeU Winter Retreat who are mainly in the arena of artist development and songwriting. Here’s a run down of who we will be tapping up:

Cari Kimmel – songwriter for film, and her credits include writing for World War Z, Dreamgirls and Pitch Perfect.

Billy Mann – Grammy award winner who has written for the likes of Pink, John Legend, Joss Stone and Take That

James Ingram – amazing 80’s soul icon who had a bunch of successful albums and singles (Ya Mo Be There is his most familiar one) and also wrote P.Y.T for Michael Jackson.

Matt Scanell – country style writer with 7 Billboard number 1’s to his name.

Dan Wilson – front man of band Semisonic and Grammy winner for his work on Adele’s 21 album, and her single Someone Like You.


So if you have any questions for these guys around songwriting or the industry then please send ‘em over through the contact page (https://www.thenakedvocalist.com/get-in-touch/) and we’ll ask for you! MASSIVE OPPORTUNITY!!


Into the questions this week:

1. Charlotte Moore asked: “I’ve been working on ‘With You’ from Ghost The Musical. There are a lot of sustained notes in there but I keep running out of air. Can you give me some breathing exercises to help with this please?


This subject ties in to Question 2, as often the issue with losing breath isn’t necessarily to do with breath control but really vocal cord closure and how that manages breath.

Good singing results good breath management, so we’ll often start with work on the vocal cords, in 90% of cases, to get better breath control.


If breathing happens to be the actual cause of the problem then we can look at the following areas:

  • Are you blowing too much air when you sing? – It could be as simple as choosing not to pump as much at your voice and relaxing back on the voice and volume. If that isn’t something that feels within your control you can try what some refer to as ‘supporting’. This sensation is when bear down on those muscle in the abdomen creating that feeling of trying to go to the bathroom and/or break wind. Sorry!! But it’s almost the same type of pressed down feeling that needs to be maintained to reduce air speed through the vocal cords and keep a reasonable sub-glottal pressure and allow the vocal cords to close over the air. It does this by not allowing abdominal muscles to over-engage and pull in the abdomen, which can create too much pressure in the lungs.


  • Take a breath into the right place – some people call it the Buddha breath, breathing into the stomach or diaphragmatic breathing. It’s being aware of how the abdomen moves when a full breath has been taken and how the breathing muscles then deal with it. It has been noted that there are many secondary muscles that can assist in singing, such as the rectus abdominus (abs), obliques and even the lats. But of course these muscles can over-engage and create a tense singer. Another issue with breathing that doesn’t fill to the right spot is the problem of clavicular breathing. This is where singers tend to hold their stomach in (especially those with a dance history) which leaves most of the breath sat in the top of the chest cavity. This means that when some power is needed for a note, the rib cage has to do it’s best to collapse and try to create some pressure. The muscles of the neck also engage to try and help but this leaves a singer in a very tense state with no payback in volume or breath distance. To ensure the breath is going to the right spot, place your hand on your stomach (just above the belly), pull your stomach in and breath out to entirely. Breath back in and notice the belly expand. This is to help you be aware of how the abdomen expands so you can focus your breaths into the right place. You can also keep a proud chest/ribcage to isolate the diaphragm further.


  • Breath Management – secondary resistance is a good start, and hissing quietly creates resistance of air at the mouth. Beginners may feel they can only make around 15/20 seconds of hissing, but someone with good breathing should be getting to at least 30/40 seconds and even 1 minutes. The recoil breath is another exercises to promote good breath management. It works by breathing in and out quickly, much like the sound of a locomotive train. The breaths in and out need to be equally proportioned and initiated by the diaphragm and stomach. If they aren’t equal then you may not be able to do it for more than 30 seconds because you will over-inhale or over-exhale, but with good management you can do it for a minute or longer. WARNING: You may get light headed if this is done incorrectly.


Now to the next question:

3. Kara Lewington asked: “I have always had a really breathy tone and can’t seem to solve it. It means I’m really quiet and can only sing certain genres. I’d really love to rock out but when I do it hurts my voice”.


It’s important to address this problem with the vocal cords. If you’re someone who is trying to go professional and get paid for singing solving this will give you the ability to sing other more intense styles better and fulfil more roles and jobs.


The breathy tone tends to accompany certain timid or quiet personality traits and is vastly common in females. It is also present when singers may lack in confidence or are emulating an exaggerated girly sound for style.


In any case, dealing with breathiness is best approached outside of the songs. Until some control and maintenance of cord closure can be attained it’s best to remain working on scales and exercises regularly, starting in chest voice initially.


Exercises that can help vocal cord adduction could be:

  • Consonants – voiced plosives like G, D and B can be combined with a vowel to create a sound that be used effectively on a scale to combat cord closure.
  • Staccato – using sounds like A-A-A or MMM-MMM-MMM to strengthen.
  • Vowels – open vowels like A (cat), EH (met), AH (father) used on scales, again in the low range, will tend to assist on more adduction.
  • Cry – crying on the voice can help to create more compression at the vocal cord level and is also a good stylistic elements.
  • Raising the larynx – using a twangy sound often adds more energy to the vocal harmonics giving a more powerful sound
  • Occluded exercises – back pressure created by occluded exercises improves cord closure greatly. Voiced fricative sounds such as ZZ, VV, TH can help a lot, as can a lip trill and also the wonderful straw exercise.


To be able to get these principles into a song it will take time on the scales and a lot of repetition. When you’re ready to move forward into some more sustained sounds it’s time to then add some legato and vibrato into your approach.


With all of these exercise there is a warning to go with them because they activate certain muscles in the apparatus. Those muscle could easily become over-active and then you’ll be stuck with too much cord closure or high tension in singing. Work with a teacher to monitor this.


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