Do You Know How To Sing From Your Diaphragm?
It's happened again. Another, poor, singing student has received the confusing instruction to "breathe from your diaphragm".
And that person...
... Is you!
I'm sorry. I don't mean to seem like a tease. In fact, the reason I wrote this page is because...
... I Know How You Feel!
You see I too, have been instructed to "sing from my diaphragm. I too, have not really understood what it means. I too, have spent hours trying to master this so called "diaphragmatic breathing". With little or no success.
But you know what I discovered? Brace yourself... This may sound a little strange.
Diaphragmatic breathing is the biggest myth in singing! There... I said it.
I know this because I tried SO many so-called "breathing exercises". I've invested time and money in learning how to sing from your diaphragm. But it never worked. And later I discovered why it didn't work...
Let me first say, the teachers that are giving you these instructions aren't completely wrong. Yes, breathing does have to occur in a certain way for you to sound great. But the thing is, you can already breathe properly. Your diaphragm ALREADY works automatically.
Let's clarify this some more. I know it may sound a little confusing.
When you fall asleep at night, why do you stay alive until morning? Because your diaphragm works by itself! It doesn't need exercises specifically designed to train it to work. It can already work well enough for your singing. You don't need to learn how to sing from your diaphragm.
When your teacher goes on and on about how to sing from your diaphragm, and how to support your tone, it gives you the impression that you need a lot of support to sing.
It gives you the idea that you have to consciously control how much air you send to your vocal chords. And this pattern of thinking is...
... very damaging to your singing.
You see, you don't need a lot of support (or air pressure). You just need the right amount. And it's impossible to send exactly the right amount of air by 'thinking about it', which is what these breathing exercises make you do.
When it comes down to it, attempting to learn proper breathing for singing in the beginning is going to do more bad then good.
The reason? For one, the proper breathing technique for singing is exactly the same is proper breathing in general.
If you sit there for a few moments and just pay attention to the way you breathe, you’ve just learned how to breathe when you sing!
The best way to make sure you are breathing correctly for singing is this.
Let's look at these points one by one.
First, let's get a basic understanding of what diaphragmatic breathing feels like.
The first thing I want you to do is something really silly.
Just throw your hands around, move around, do something so you get moving, so you're breathing. That's all you're doing.
Then you're going to stop and let yourself calm down.
Now just put your hands on your stomach so you can feel where you're breathing. As you breathe in and out, you'll feel your diaphragm gently rise and fall.
When I'm talking about the diaphragm, it's not just your stomach. It's actually all the cavity from your ribs to your abdomen.
So when I take a breath, I can feel my diaphragm coming out.
If you're breathing in and out very easily, you'll find in this relaxed state you'll be able to feel very vividly where you're taking in air and how your diaphragm gently moves in and out.
(If you would like a more technical explanation of diaphragmatic breathing, check out the Wikipedia definition here.)
Now that you've experienced what it feels like to breath using your diaphragm, let's look at some exercises for diaphragmatic breathing.
Watch the video below to see the first one. (it will being in the correct place at 3:11)
And here's an audio file so you can practice along with the exercise!
Now at this point you realize that I do not focus on singing from your diaphragm a whole lot in my coaching. (You can read why in the beginning of the article)
There is an exception to this though. And that is if you want to hit your notes with great power. Really belt them out!
In this case, diaphragmatic breathing benefits become more obvious.
To see what this means, here's a demonstration (the diaphragmatic breathing video will begin at the correct place at 2:33)
Now that you have experienced what it feels like to breathe from your diaphragm. And you've done a few exercises to help you to experience singing with correct breathing...
... You're 99% the way there!
Before finishing this tutorial, let's quickly discuss a few things that can trip you up when it comes to singing and breathing.
There is one thing that can happen sometimes, which is taking “shallow” chest breaths.
If you’re singing and you breathe into your chest and you feel your stomach collapse, this is a problem.
The way to fix it is to just focus on making sure your chest and stomach expands when you take a breath… not collapses.
The real issue is rarely the breathing itself.
If you feel like you’re not getting enough air to sing, your problem is most likely this: You’re doing something to cut off your air supply.
And this means that your air supply is usually fine.
The most likely cause of not having enough air is that you're using your swallowing muscles in your singing process. And this has little to do with your breathing when singing.
To fix this problem you will need completely different exercises as opposed to singing breathing exercises.
There is one little singing breathing technique you can use if you find yourself running out of air in a long passage.
And that is to “push out” gently when you feel like you’re running out. This means you’ll feel your stomach and diaphragm move outwards nice and easily, and you’ll find that extra air to finish the vocal line.
Diaphragmatic breathing causes a lot of worry and confusion in a lot of singers.
Sometimes singers even get so bound up by trying to breathe correctly for singing, that their voice ends up getting riddled with bad habits.
It's my hope that the tips and techniques I've given you on this page will help you understand how to sing from your diaphragm. And give you simple steps to ensure you are breathing correctly for singing.