How Breathing Can Improve Your Voice

How Breathing Can Improve Your Voice

There is a difference between breathing for life and breathing for speech. Breathing properly is an important skill for producing a stronger voice with better projection. Without proper breathing, it may be difficult to fully achieve your speech and voice goals. Some voicing issues that can occur from communicating on limited breath support are:

  • not having enough air available to finish your thoughts
  • decreased volume by the end of your statement
  • low volume
  • vocal fatigue
  • tension in your vocal mechanism, speech articulators and torso,
  • wavering pitch
  • creating a low, breathy voice.

Many individuals breathe in a way that prevents them from producing a voice that is strong and rich in tone. Speaking with a fuller breath will allow you to feel confident and physically more comfortable, give your message more energy and speak with vibrant vocal tone quality.

Chest Breathing
This is the most common breathing pattern, where the upper part of the rib cage and chest expands on inhalation. Many people breathe this way when sitting and standing.  However, this is not the best breathing for speech because if you are not speaking from your fullest breath, your voice mechanism will not have the full power to operate the vocal folds to their fullest extent.

Midsection or Diaphragm Breathing
For optimal voice usage and projection, proper breathing must come from the midsection or diaphragm.   This type of breathing will come from the region of your stomach and lower rib cage, providing the most volume of air for voicing. It will allow you to control your exhalation while speaking, creating natural projection and a pleasing tone quality for your best voice image.  Diaphragm breathing will help reduce muscular tension and give you better posture. The chest and shoulders should not have much movement while breathing.

Learning How To Diaphragm Breathe to Improve Your Voice

Diaphragm breathing is achievable, but may feel awkward at first.  Most people are chest breathers.  The good news is, you can learn how to diaphragm breathe and turn it “on” whenever you want to have better projection and a richer voice. Practice these skills in the different positions and the coordination will become easier over time.

Lying Down

  • People automatically breathe from their diaphragm while lying down.  If you are unsure of what a true diaphragm breath is, lie with your back against the floor. Place your hands on your stomach and breathe.  Congratulations, you are diaphragm breathing!
  • Focus on your breathing.  Your midsection should be moving outward and inward while your chest remains fairly still. Spend time feeling this motion.  Place your hands in that area for a visual. This is the goal when speaking in the sitting and standing position, and you want to speak with a stronger and more vibrant voice.

Sitting Position

Try diaphragm breathing while sitting in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Follow the same procedure with your hand placement on your stomach and chest. Breathe through your nose and feel your diaphragm move outward and inward.

  • Think of a balloon inflating and deflating. If diaphragm breathing is completely new to you, this might seem tricky.  If it feels difficult, go back to lying-down so you can feel what mid-section breathing is like.

Helpful Tip: As a way to prompt yourself, think of sending the breath to your
lower spine.

Standing Tall

  • Practice breathing in the standing position. Nothing has changed with your breathing patterns, only your position!
  • Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Breathe in and out through your nose. Your midsection should be moving inward and outward, while your chest and shoulders remain fairly still.  Use the prompt of sending your breath to your lower spine.
  • Think of that balloon inflating and deflating. If your upper chest and shoulders are moving up and down, you are not breathing from your diaphragm.

Helpful Tip: Another comparison is to make your belt buckle move.

This may feel awkward at first since this is a new skill.  If you are having difficulty doing this without moving your chest, return to the lying down position to see and feel correct diaphragm breathing. This is a matter of rewiring your brain for something different.

Quick Practice Opportunities To Rehearse over the Next Few Weeks:

  • Stand in front of a mirror and breathe for one minute before and after you brush your teeth.
  • Diaphragm breathe when you are stopped at a red light in your car.
  • Diaphragm breathe when you are standing in line to make a purchase.
  • Diaphragm breathe while you are waiting to start up your computer and check phone messages.

Note: To reinforce diaphragm breathing, breathe incorrectly!  Breathe from your chest and feel the difference.  Compare the experience.



Speech and Voice - Elizabeth Peterson


Elizabeth Peterson, Denver’s leading speech therapist and executive speech coach for over 22 years and is the author of Accent Reduction 101, Third Edition 2017 and Speak Like a Broadcaster & Lead Like a CEO, Third Edition 2017 . Learn More

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Elizabeth Peterson M.A., CCC-SLP Speech Therapist

Speech Therapist & Executive Speech Coach for over 20 years
Licensed speech therapist in the State of Colorado
Certified with the American Speech Language Hearing Association
CSHA and American Speech-Language Hearing Association

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