Nose or Mouth: How Should I Breathe To Sing?

This is an exchange I had with the inimitable Shawna Caspi; a “guitar-picking, classically-trained folkie with a sweet-tooth for a good story, a sly lyrical wit, and a rich, powerful voice”.  You can check out her fabulous singer-songwriter music at http://www.shawnacaspi.com.  She asked me a great question about breathing when singing, and I wanted to share it because it’s a super smart question with a great discussion!  (Note: this was a Facebook messenger exchange, hence the quick-and-dirty response with emoticons.  Just sayin’.)

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Shawna Caspi:  Dear voicegeek, I have a quick question for you.. I was at a conference recently and had one of those quick mentoring session things that music conferences have. Me and my mentor were talking about singing, technique, etc. and she suggested that I should breathe through my nose when singing, since it “moisturizes the vocal chords”. I couldn’t think of any singing teacher who’d even told me that and I realized I always took breaths with my mouth when singing. Tried the nose thing and it DOES feel different…is this legit? 

Me: Super great question!!  Ok, here’s the deets.  Yes, breathing through your nose is much less drying; the little hairs in your nose (cilia) help to capture allergens and dust and stuff so it doesn’t wind up on your vocal folds (vocal cords) or in your lungs, so that’s a good thing.  It also moisturizes and warms the air, also good things!  But here’s the catch: you can take a much much bigger and faster breath through a much much bigger opening, like your mouth… so while breathing through your nose is optimal, sometimes you just gotta get that air in!

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I wouldn’t want to worry so much about only nose-breathing to the point where you develop weird breath issues from tension or compensating, but if you’re mouth breathing when you sleep, for sure we want to get that under control. 

Shawna:  Yah…that’s what it seems. If I don’t have a long lead up to breathe, I can’t do the nose thing.

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Me:  Exactly.   So nose-breathe when possible, but don’t stress about it when it doesn’t happen. You’re killing it.    Would you mind if I shared this in a blog post?  It’s a super great question!

Shawna:  Cool, thanks!  I was so surprised that nobody have ever told me to do that before – seemed so simple and made sense! Ya, feel free to share! Use my name or not, whatever you’d like.

(Obviously I’m sharing with permission because I also want to give Shawna the props she deserves; I’ve had the pleasure of being on the same bill as this talented lady and I wouldn’t hesitate to give her the floor!)

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