Breathing Exercise – The ‘Candle’ Warm-Up

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Over the years that I’ve been teaching singing in schools and theatre schools (and singing in choirs and other vocal groups myself), I have witnessed, led or taken part in hundreds of vocal warm-ups. Often these can be formulaic: the same pattern of exercises run through week in and week out, rehearsal after rehearsal, often taught as a matter of routine and with entirely good intentions… but with no real thought or explanation for the purpose of the exercise. I hope to break this cycle in my own teaching; using some standards to prepare students at the beginning of lessons, but then selecting and fine tuning methods in each lesson and for each student depending on their individual needs.

Here’s a simple one to get any student started… I’ve often seen singing teachers getting classes to take a big breath in over, say, 2 beats, then having them expel the air in the lungs while giving out a hissing sounds (a “tsss”) over a much longer period: usually beginning with 8 beats and moving up to 16 or 24. The idea is to breathe in quickly and quietly, then to control the pace at which the air is breathed out, supporting the expiration with the diaphragm.

A simple but effective variation on this is to breathe out with pursed lips (as if to whistle) while standing a foot or so away from a burning candle. The object is to be able to breathe out at a consistent rate throughout the breath, blowing with sufficient pressure to bend the flame of the candle away from you without blowing it out altogether!

Try it standing up with a good, relaxed posture and make a concerted effort to control the flow of air from your tummy area. Check yourself in a mirror to avoid raising the shoulders as you breathe in!!


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