10 Tips: How To Hold A Note Longer While Singing

how to hold a note

One of the main differences between singing and talking is how you hold notes longer and lengthen the pitch. 

But for a lot of folks, it’s unnatural. This is especially true with extremely long notes (we’ve all seen the hilarious opera cartoons of someone holding a note for minutes). 

I’m here to help leverage my vocal training with these 10 tips for how to hold a note longer while singing. 

The key to holding a note longer while singing is in getting more air and managing your airflow. Here are my favorite tips: 

  • Train Your Breathing
  • Set Up Good Posture
  • Practice Lengthening Your Notes Gradually
  • Relax Your Abdomen
  • Train Your Core
  • Control Your Exhale
  • Lip Trills
  • Engage Your Diaphragm
  • Start Softer
  • Get Louder At The End

Let’s look ahead at some of these tips in more detail to make your singing better on the long tones right away. 

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Train Your Breathing

Your breathing is done by muscles in your chest and abdomen (specifically, the diaphragm). 

Muscles need to be trained to have optimal use. 

Your lung capacity is limited by your muscles, and you need a lot of air to hold longer and longer notes, especially if you want them to sound good. 

One quick breathing exercise meant to specifically strengthen the diaphragm and intercostal muscles is this breath exercise: 

  1. Sit with good posture (more on this in the next section). 
  2. Breath in quickly through your mouth over the course of 4 slow beats. Make sure to fill your lungs completely. You may feel a stretch in your chest (that’s good!). 
  3. Exhale with an “oo” shape with your lips for 4 more beats. 
  4. Do this four times. 
  5. Now, inhale in 3 beats and exhale in 4 beats. Repeat. 
  6. Go to 2 beats in and 4 beats out. 
  7. Finally, do 1 beat in and 4 beats out. 

Remember, you want to get a full and complete inhale as much when you do 1 beat versus the 4 beats. 

Set Up Good Posture

Your lung capacity directly impacts how long you can hold singing notes. 

If you have poor posture, you’ll be limited in how long your notes can be held. 

Collapsing your chest and spine gives you less room to breathe. 

Standing is better than sitting, but sitting is OK if that’s what you need. 

The key is alignment. 

Make sure your spine is centered over your hips, your shoulders hang evenly perpendicular with your spine, your neck down the center of your core, and the head balanced. 

Give your chest room to breathe and keep your lungs, throat, and mouth in a single, smooth line. 

Spend at least 3 minutes every time you practice singing making sure your posture is solid. 

This video has some great exercises that work well for singing posture too: 

Practice Lengthening Your Notes Gradually

Long notes don’t come from the ether. You need to practice it. 

Just like a runner trains by running a little farther every time, you need to practice holding notes a little longer every time. 

Pick a phrase from a slow song you know well with a longer note toward the end of the phrase. 

The example I use with my students is the first line from My Country Tis Of Thee. 

On the ending words, “…of thee, I sing,” hold the note “sing” for 4 beats. 

Sing it again, but this time, hold it for 5 beats. 

Keep repeating and lengthening each time. 

Make sure you stop before you run out of air and your good singing tone starts to waver. 

There are plenty of other songs and phrases that work, but I like this one because it’s in the low-middle range for most people. 

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Relax Your Abdomen On The Inhale

When people start to focus on their breathing, they tend to increase tension in their bodies. 

This is exactly the opposite of what you want when inhaling. 

Tension actually activates the muscles between your chest wall and lungs. 

They’ll activate early and restrict your lung capacity. 

But too often, singers and instrumentalists completely ignore one half of the inhaling puzzle: your abdomen. 

When we imagine breathing, we picture everything happening from the mouth, throat, and chest. 

This is where our lungs are, after all. 

But our lungs don’t just expand outward. In fact, that’s not even where they expand the most. 

They expand downward too! 

By relaxing your ab muscles and letting your stomach come out as you breathe, you offer a lot more room for your lungs to expand. 

Thus, you get more air and can hold notes while singing for longer. 

Train Your Core

Good core support in your muscles and whole body allow your lungs the chance to expand more too. 

With more support, comes more release. 

I’ll admit freely that I’m not a personal trainer.

But I do know that some simple core-building exercises helped me to get more air and hold notes for longer too! 

Here’s a video I use to help me out with some easy…well, not easy, but simple exercises. 

Control Your Exhale

I was a tuba player first before I received any training on singing. 

When I play my horn, I want to get as much air into a column as possible. 

This provides a bigger sound. 

When I was in my undergrad program and received more vocal training, I had to unlearn that bad habit for singing. 

Yes, more air equals more sound, but singers need to control their exhales to help them reach higher and lower notes as well as keep their notes held longer. 

Control on the exhale is a critical skill. Here’s a quick exercise that may help: 

  1. Take a deep breath in (keep our other tips from above in mind). 
  2. On the exhale, hiss or make a “shh” sound for 4 beats. 
  3. At the end of 4 beats if there is any air left, let it out. 
  4. Repeat four times. 
  5. Do the same thing, but this time, let the air out for 6 beats. Repeat four times. 
  6. Lengthen to 8 beats. Repeat four times. 
  7. See how far you can go! 

The hissing or shh-ing sound helps you control your exhale. 

Pay attention to how that feels and which muscles engage to keep the air coming out in a controlled manner. 

Hint: It’s probably your diaphragm. 

Lip Trills

Lip trills work similar to hissing, but I find it gets people out of their heads more easily. 

Lip trills also activate your vocal cords, so it’s basically just singing too. 

Look at the phrase you’re struggling with or find a phrase where there’s a long note you need to hold. 

Sing the phrase while doing a lip trill (where you sing and buzz your lips). 

The lip trill will throttle back your exhale while the singing still lets your cords practice the pitches. 

Do this five times with lip trills. 

Then, alternate between singing as is and lip trills. 

Eventually, just do it singing five times in a row. 

It should feel easier to you at this point. 

Engage Your Diaphragm

Your air doesn’t just leave you of its own power. 

It needs something to push it out. 

Whether you realize it or not, there is a muscle that does this called the diaphragm. 

Fun Fact: Diaphragm spasms are what cause hiccups! 

The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle that sits between your abdomen and lungs. 

Imagine the spot where the bottom of your ribs meets your stomach. 

As you inhale, the diaphragm relaxes and allows more air in. 

As you exhale, it flexes and pushes the air out. 

If you don’t engage your diaphragm, you’re leaving some residual air in your lungs. 

This is how we control our exhales in singing.

Hissing, shh-ing, and lip trilling all engage the diaphragm without realizing it. 

When singing a long note, it helps to visualize the diaphragm activating to help control and support more air out of your lungs. 

For some, just visualizing this works fine. 

For others, they do better with a motion to help them imagine it better.

Some people place their hands flat on their stomachs and press in slightly. 

You don’t want to actually press in, just do enough to imagine this is what your diaphragm is doing. 

I prefer to use one hand flat toward the ground and press it down from my side. 

This motion is enough for me, but you should experiment and find what works for you. 

Start Softer

I think every singer has found themselves in this position at some point. 

You get to a long, climactic note and just let it go! 

Only to realize, you have many beats left and you’re already running out of air. 

We tend to get excited as we perform (and should, it’s an emotive job), but we still need to be controlled.

If you start your long notes a little softer, you’ll end up with a lot more fuel in the tank. 

Get Louder At The End

The other half of the previous tip is to get louder at the end of a long note. 

This seems counter-intuitive. Aren’t you just using more air?

Yes, and no. 

By intentionally getting louder, you activate the diaphragm and access more air than you had before. 

On top of this, you actually help offset the tendency to “wimp” out on long notes and get weaker sounding. 

Finally, and perhaps best of all, long notes should change anyway! 

Long notes are boring. You need to do something with them, and 95% of the time, the right answer is to get louder. 

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Zach VanderGraaff

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher in Michigan with 12 years of experience. He's the President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators and founder of the Dynamic Music Room.

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