Stage Stamina


Improve your vocal performance & calm yourself at the same time –says Donna McElroy

One way to view singing is as an expert use of a big gust of wind, or organized and appointed breathing.

Watching Voicecouncil’s Peer Review Videos the past couple of weeks has shown me, yet again, that many aspiring singers really need to work on this area.

In fact, getting in touch with your breathing pattern and learning to control it is a skill that will not only improve your performance, it will also benefit you in calming yourself before going on stage!

An Excercise

In the very first lesson I have with my students, I give them the “TWELVE-STEP BREATHING” Exercise:

a. Inhale for four steps [these are literal steps – I have them walk around the room!]
b. hold for four steps,
c. exhale for four steps,
d. repeating this cycle as you walk:

4 steps………………4 steps…………….4 steps
INHALE………………HOLD……………….EXHALE

Repeat this as many times as you can.

A Break with Your Past

You are breaking your normal breathing pattern and your body may take a while to get used to this exercise, but keep it up…keep experimenting with durations of time, staying aware that the middle, or holding, phase is what you want to build.

One thing, though: if you get light headed, stop and breathe normally until you can resume exercising!

Next, start using some physical-muscular force to control your dynamics.

Do you know where your abdominal area is and how knowledge of its potential will enhance your singing?

More support from the abdominal area means more control of every note at every volume – but don’t think that we’re talking about pushing hard on the muscles in this area, or having a distended belly whenever you sing!

Getting in touch with the use of this essential musculature is one of my first and longest-lasting drills I use in teaching performance.

Control of one’s breathing through the entire experience on stage is essentially mastery of these muscles and breathing techniques.

I’ve become a disciple of this pre-gig preparation, and it really works!

Now, testing this new breathing out is virtually impossible with an Adam Thicke dance tune, so go get “So In Love” from Kiss Me Kate, or “Something Good” from The Sound of Music, phrasing that makes more sustained demands on your lungs.

My Reactions to this Past Week’s Peer Reviews

Cheyenne Lavene -Blame It On Me (Cover)

Cheyenne, you naturally have the gift of relation to your lyric, and instinctively use your full body to express that relationship. Bend those knees, Girl! Bravissima! I hardly ever say I’d like to hear more embellishment, but in this case, I feel, Cheyenne, you were “laying back” a bit for the sake of concentration and not losing control of your voice in the presentation. With your natural gift of interpretation, I’d really like to hear you enter in more personally to this song, reflecting the actual experiences that lie behind the lyrics.

Kayleigh Philips – Forget You (Cover)

Hey Kayleigh! You have so much fun with this piece that I think sometimes you forget to breathe! Remember that breath management is crucial and will help you avoid going flat. In this regard, I noticed you kept your left arm closely pinned to your rib cage. Assuming pitch precision usually depends on breath management, try to release that upper left arm more to give your lungs some room to expand! Then your pitch as well as your stamina will be groov-a-licious because you’ll be getting more oxygen!

-Donna McElroy

Read Donna’s Exclusive Interview for VoiceCouncil

Donna McElroy is a Grammy nominated vocalist, celebrated arranger and well-loved Voice Professor at Berklee College of Music. Her contributions include arranger/background vocalist on gold and platinum releases “Why Haven’t I Heard From You?” by Reba McEntire; “We Shall Be Free” by Garth Brooks, “Addictive Love” by BeBe and CeCe Winans, and “House of Love” by Amy Grant. She’s been the recipient of a Grammy nomination for Bigger World (WB) and a Dove Award for Songs from the Loft (Reunion). Television appearances include Arsenio Hall, The Tonight Show, and The Grammy Awards.

Useful Links

Donna McElroy’s Website

Watch Donna Perform


  • “… getting in touch with your breathing pattern and learning to control it is a skill that will not only improve your performance, it will also benefit you in calming yourself before going on stage!”

    Yes, I’ve only just realized that one time when I was trying to record vocals after being upset about something – turns out the breathing warm up made me calm down also!

    Cheers,