Singing for Beginners 101: Exercises for Posture, Breathing, Support, and Throat and Mouth Positions

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Hello and welcome to Singing for Beginners: Body Edition, where we cover everything beginner singers need to know about how to physically use their instrument including posture, breathing, support, and throat and mouth positions!

Whether you’re here because you’re a teacher looking for some new exercises or you’re a beginner singer looking for some ways to improve, we’ve got you covered!

Just want to download the exercises?

Already know what you’re doing, and just want to grab those exercises? No problem!

So… Why is the Body important for singing?

I always like to say that the voice is the most unique instrument in the world. Guitars, pianos, ukuleles, flutes, trumpets, xylophones… you name it, it can be mass-produced. Manufactured in a factory where there are thousands that look and sound exactly the same.

But not with voices!

Each is absolutely unique from the next, and you know why?

Because our bodies are our instruments.

Everything from neck length to neck width to nasal passages to mouth size to anything else effects how our voice sounds. And since our bodies are literally our instruments, we want to make sure they are all tuned up, aligned right, and ready to go when we start singing (or learning to sing).

So let’s jump in!

woman doing yoga on pink mat

Posture

Posture is the very first thing we cover in our beginner voice lessons (and the first thing we do in lessons of every level) because it really does help everything else fall into place. Good posture makes all of the other stuff a whole lot easier

Unless your student (or you) is a dancer, yogi, or has some other hobby or profession that requires them to actually think about their posture, chances are they don’t have the correct singing posture by default – or even know what it is. And you know what? That’s OK. Most of us don’t!

woman showing proper singing posture

Look at the girl in the picture. What do you notice?

On the left, the curve in her spine is exaggerated. Her hips and chin are forward, her shoulders are slumped, and her chest is collapsed.

On the right, her spine isn’t so compressed. Her shoulders are back, her neck extends naturally from her spine; she’s even a little bit taller!

Basically, we want to align our spine in it’s most natural, healthy position, which allows it to support the rest of our body under the least amount of stress possible.

3 Steps to Correct Singing Posture

  1. Place feet shoulder-width apart and directly under shoulders – no leaning forward or backward!
  2. Imagine you have a string attached to the crown of your head, directly above where your spine meets your skull. Allow that imaginary string to pull your head straight up to the sky, lifting and lengthening your spine.
  3. Roll your shoulders backwards, and allow them to settle down and back. If it helps, imagine that you have two heavy rocks, and place one on each shoulder.

Bonus: stretch before your lesson, or before you start warmups. I take my students through a small yoga routine to warm up their bodies and help them relax into good singing posture!

Breath

Breath is so, so important. Any sound we make is caused by air (breath) passing through the vocal chords, so we want to make sure we utilize our breath to it’s fullest capacity.

When we inhale, we are drawing air into our lungs. When we exhale, we are expelling air. Duh, I know. But what does that tell us?

It tells us that our lungs are expanding and contracting – it tells us that there has to be movement somewhere in our bodies.

Singing for Beginners 101: Exercises for Posture, Breathing, Support, and Throat and Mouth Positions 1

Breathing Exercise

After assuming your best singing posture, place one hand on your chest, and the other on your belly like in the picture on the right.

Take a couple of deep breaths – as deep as you can – and pay attention to your hands.

Which one moved?

9 times out of 10, the hand on the chest will move, which is not bad in and of itself. Most of us live our lives that way, breathing into our chest.

But singing requires a lot more air than regular talking, just like any form of exercise. I recently learned that most sports (and even yoga) teach the same belly breathing that singers need!

The idea behind belly breathing is that your breath is going deeper into your body – your lungs are able to expand more, and you have more air to work with. The goal is that with each inhale, the belly expands, and with each exhale, it contracts.

This can be a difficult concept to learn or teach, especially for younger students. If you or your student has difficulty locking in to belly breathing, there are two main tricks I use in my lessons:

  • In a Mirror: Do the exercise above in front of a mirror. Sometimes it is easier to see which hand is moving than it is to feel it.
  • Lying down: make sure that the knees are in the air and the feet are flat on the floor – this presses the spine against the ground. Repeat the exercise. This position makes it hard to let anything expand but the belly.

Important note: Have patience. This likely won’t happen overnight, it takes time to get into your body enough to really understand belly breathing. Keep practicing, and it will come!

Support

While correct breath and breathing helps us get more air to work with when singing, support is what helps us control all that crazy breath. It helps us use our breath to it’s fullest capacity.

Singing for Beginners 101: Exercises for Posture, Breathing, Support, and Throat and Mouth Positions 2

The key to that control, or breath support, is a thin, almost umbrella-shaped muscle called the diaphragm.

This muscle sits under your lungs and expands and contracts to control rate at which your lungs expand and contract, or the rate of air input and output.

This is one of the biggest reasons that belly breathing is so important – it allows for full expansion of the diaphragm, which allows it to do it’s job effectively. And just like any muscle, you need to exercise it to strengthen and train it.

Exercise for Breath Support

  1. Set a metronome to 75bpm
  2. Get into your best singing posture
  3. Place both hands on your belly – focus on expanding and contracting your belly during this exercise
  4. Breathe in fully on a count of 4 (fill your lungs to capacity in that 4 count)
  5. Hold breath for a count of 4
  6. Exhale on a “ssssss” – count how many beats it takes for you to run out of breath.
  7. See if you can beat your record!

As time goes on and you get stronger, up the breathe in time to 5, 6, 7 beats (and so on), as well as the holding breath counts.

Larynx Position

Larynx. Kind of a scary looking word, right? Don’t worry, all it is is a medical term for all of the little pieces of cartilage and muscle that make up your voicebox – or the part of your neck that creates sound for speaking and singing (you can find a more detailed diagram of your larynx here).

As you may imagine, the position of all of those little muscles and pieces of cartilage is extremely important for healthy singing.

cute cat yawnLet’s find your larynx:

Place 3 fingers gently across the front of your throat, then yawn. I’m talking a real yawn!

Did you feel that piece of cartilage lower in your neck? That is the front of your larynx.

And the healthiest position for your Larynx? Down, like when you yawned!

One of the most common mistakes beginner singers make is allowing their larynx to tighten upward, especially when trying to hit higher notes. All this does is restrict airflow and resonance, and put undue stress and pressure on the vocal chords, sometimes to the point of developing nodes!

So training the mind (and the voicebox) that it needs to be down and open is essential for new singers. The last thing you want is to develop a habit that will hurt the voice in the long run!

Exercise for Larynx Position

  1. Get into Singing Position
  2. Yawn
  3. Yawn again, but add a voiced sigh at the end (breathe out on an “ahhhhh” sound)
  4. Repeat as needed!

If you are having trouble finding that yawn-sigh sound, check out the video below

This exercise is great for anytime you feel or hear tightness in your voice or your students! I always start my lessons with it, and do it throughout the lesson as needed – even in the middle of songs!

Open Mouth

“Open your mouth!” has to be the thing I say most in my voice lessons. For whatever reason (I think it has to do with the fact that we just don’t open our mouths very wide to talk), remembering to keep the mouth open is something that every single beginner vocal student struggles with.

Our mouths are the resonance cavities for our voices, much like the body of a guitar serves to amplify and color the sound. Our mouths do the same thing! And if we are keeping our mouths almost shut, we are cutting out more than half of our sound – which leads to unhealthy straining of the voice.

Fun Fact: The ideal mouth position, when fully relaxed, should be open enough to fit 3 of your fingers inside, top to bottom.

Singing for Beginners 101: Exercises for Posture, Breathing, Support, and Throat and Mouth Positions 3

The best remedy for this is to practice in front of a mirror. Because it feels unnatural at the beginning, it feels like you are opening your mouth so wide that you look ridiculous… but you really aren’t. Practice in front of a mirror until it feels normal.

A great exercise to work on getting used to a wide open mouth (and larynx position and breathing and everything else. Can you tell I like this exercise?) is a Vocal Siren. I always follow up my Yawn exercise with a few sirens.

The Vocal Siren Exercise

  1. Get into Singing position
  2. Starting at the bottom of your range, gently slide up to the top of your range and back down on a “woooooo,” mimicking a siren (thus the name)
  3. Repeat as needed

With these exercises, you and your students are well on your way to a better, healthier singing voice!

Any questions? Leave us a comment or shoot us an email!

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