Improving Your Singing: Sustaining Tone

Sustaining tone is a singing must. Have you ever run out of air before the end of the phrase in your song and then had to sneak in a breath? Sneaking in a breath is legal when you sing, but you should sneak a breath because you choose to, not because you have to.

Among the times you ran out of air, you may even have had to take a breath in the middle of a word. Yikes! It’s not a federal crime, but you came to the right place for some tips on applying your breathing skills to sustain tones.

Connecting the dots with legato

Those gorgeous tones that professionals sing so effortlessly happen because they know how to connect the pitches of a song. Singers sometimes sing a melody one pitch at a time, not thinking of a continuous line or phrase.

To make the phrases legato (smooth and connected), think of the pitches as having no empty space in between. The sound needs to flow from one pitch to the other, and the feeling in the throat must be a continuous sound even while you change pitches. Singing a long line of tone is possible because of breath control.

While singing the pattern in the following illustration, focus on making the sound legato and concentrate on the connection between pitches. Find your alignment, practice the breath a few times, open the back space, and begin. Allow your body to open as you inhale and steadily move back in as you sing.

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Trilling the lips or tongue

Really let those lips trill on a long, slow musical pattern. The purpose of the lip trill is to monitor the flow of air — you can’t continue the lip trill without the air flowing. By making the pattern longer, you get an opportunity to sustain the tone longer. If that lip trill is just too much for you, feel free to use a tongue trill.

The principle is the same: trilling the tongue but maintaining a consistent flow of air. For this pattern, you want to monitor how your body moves as you trill — gradually moving.

Focus on creating a legato line as you sing the pattern in the following illustration. Find your alignment, prepare your breath, and begin.

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Working your breath control

The pattern in the following illustration gives you the chance to sing and put all your eggs in the basket. Instead of playing the exercise faster, slow it down to make it harder, so you really have to work the breath.

Think through all the skills that you can apply (using great posture, opening the space in your throat and mouth, and getting breath in your body) so you’re ready to put it all together when you sing this pattern.

The pattern in the following illustration is played slowly to allow you to lengthen your breath and sing long legato lines. You have time between each repetition to get your breath. Remember to find your alignment, open the back space, allow the breath to drop in your body each time, and keep your chest steady throughout the pattern.

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