Words by Lori Paul, BC Culture Days Ambassador, Chilliwack BC.
These fine summer days, I spend most mornings sitting on our deck, tea in hand and notebook at the ready, preparing for the day ahead, but today I’m outlining a vocal workshop I plan to offer for BC Culture Days as part of a concert we’ll be presenting at a lovely local park. Like all Culture Days events, ours will be free to the public, with all ages welcome, so I hope to make it easy and fun for anyone who’s interested in singing to join in. With this goal in mind, I’ll begin by leading an exercise that requires participants to breath deeply to prepare to sing but also to become more aware of what breathing correctly feels like. This will be a new skill for some, though others, especially those who are familiar with meditation, will recognize it for what it truly is: a casual introduction to the living, healing art of breathing.
You’ve likely heard of the importance of controlled breathing for singers, as learning to breathe from the diaphragm is what makes a dynamic vocal performance possible. What’s less well known is the overall value of breath work as a way to calm our central nervous system and reduce the tension and anxiety that many of us carry. The ability to use our breathing to improve the quality of our lives, both physically and emotionally, is profound and undeniable, as you’ll soon discover for yourself should you decide to participate in the ritual of this peaceful yet rigorous practice.
My understanding of the invaluable nature of what’s commonly referred to as the ‘4-7-8 breathing pattern’ developed early on in my career as a lead singer in a rock band, thanks to a mentor’s recommendation that I try pranayama yoga as a way to cope with the debilitating anxiety that life on the road fostered in me. When I gave up touring and became a vocal coach, I discovered that even students as young as eight years of age could improve their focus and retain lessons much more readily with breathing exercises bookending their session. Even when a new student arrives at my studio, excited but also nervous, their first attempt to sing is often tense and uneven but once we’ve gone through this simple breathing method together, a more relaxed and full vocal quality emerges, as the mindful use of airflow improves the volume and reliability of the voice. This adjustment alone makes singing so much more enjoyable, but I make a point of explaining that this technique, for some, is no less than life changing. Ready to give it a go?
1. Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, right behind your front teeth.
2. Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4.
3. Hold your breath for a count of 7.
4. Release your breath from your mouth with a whooshing sound for a count of 8.
5. Without a break, breathe in again for a count of 4, repeating the entire technique 3-4 times in a row, then breathe normally.
Throughout my career as a musician, I’ve relied on this breath work to prepare myself for performance but also to relax afterward, when I’m amped up but I need to wind down. Producing the most dramatic results by daily use over time, this breathing method also enables us to reduce our anxiety within minutes, anytime, anywhere, and for this reason, it’s become an essential tool in my self-care kit.
Demonstrating and explaining this technique, and the science behind it, I give you Dr. Andrew Weil, physician, author and respected educator: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-C_VNM1Vd0&t=172s
Once you’ve got the hang of breathing from the belly, you’ll be better equipped to maintain your equilibrium through challenging times and you’ll have the added benefit of proper breath support should you decide to pursue your secret dream of becoming a singing sensation! Why wait? https://www.wikihow.com/Sing-Using-Your-Diaphragm
Lori Paul is a Canadian singer/songwriter and recording artist whose 40-year career highlights include opening for B.B.King and Tower of Power at Expo 86 and being nominated Female Vocalist of the Year by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) that same year. Her seventh album is in the works and songs from her previous albums are available on iTunes and at CDBaby. Lori Paul and her husband Rick Genge provide inspiring vocal coaching and guitar instruction, as well as recording opportunities for the next generation of musicians, out of their home studio in beautiful Chilliwack, BC.
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