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I've never done breathing exercises before and have just started after about a year of singing.

I know "breath control" is seen as very important but how specifically will such exercises improve my technique and skills? And over what kind of time-frame?

As a baseline I can currently inhale for about 5s, and exhale or sing a note for about 20s. I definitely don't feel I'm able to inhale very deeply especially through my nose - I notice this when swimming too. So as well as how exercising will affect my singing, I'm curious how my ability to perform such exercises will improve over time too.

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Breathing is a huge part of singing. Think of your body as a wind instrument, if you are not breathing properly, how can you expect proper sound production? Remember to breath deep into your diaphragm. Here are some good exercises to keep in mind: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sing/learning/breathing.shtml

as someone who started with zero knowledge of sing before joining a university concert choir, I can tell you breathing makes all the difference

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Breathing is pivotal to singing properly. Without proper breath control no-one can sing at their best. Singing, obviously, works on exhalation, so being able to control the level that works at is paramount. In order to exhale, inhalation is important, and often needs to be done quickly and efficiently. It makes sense physically that breathing in through the mouth is far quicker and more effective than through the nose,but some phrases will necessitate the latter, as a temporary intake.

Of course, learning correct breathing will help the singing - better phrasing, no dropping off at the end of a note, etc. It's surprising that it hasn't been addressed much earlier. Perhaps your breath control is naturally good.

Time frame - how long is a piece of string?

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As for how long it would take I'm sure that would be unique to you. When I did voice in university's took me about a year to really improve with my breathing. The next year after that improvements came still. So expect to constantly improve slightly but to occasionally have things "click" in your mind where you notice a big difference or something profound.

Breathing exercises help with how long you can hold a note but also helps with many other things.

Consistency It helps you hold notes with consistent volume pitch and tone. That is one of the things that clicked for me. I noticed after listening to a recording of myself that my voice was not smooth. I was cutting off the ends of longer notes and dropping in pitch and volume as well. Breathing exercises help you to hold up to the very end.

Stamina Other technical things help you to sing longer and louder as well. What I mean by stamina here is the improved efficiency with which you will learn to use your precious air. In the beginning you would most likely be using way more air than necessary for pretty much everything. Breathing exercises help you recognize how much you need to do what. This will enable longer more productive practice sessions. It will also help you make it to the end of recitals more easily.

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There's merit in filling up with air. No particular merit in taking 5 or 10 seconds to do it, other than to remind yourself that when you THINK you've filled up there's often room for more! Once you've established the principles, every phrase you sing is a 'breathing exercise'.

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