If you’ve ever taken a voice lesson or sung in a choir, you’ve heard the term “from your diaphragm!” or “use your diaphragm!” But what exactly does that mean? If you’re anything like me, you nodded your head, smiled, and guessed until it was finally (mercifully) explained!
Here’s the thing though: you use your diaphragm, every single day. However, does it seem like your diaphragm is this mystical tool that will magically improve your singing? That this all-powerful thing could open so many vocal doors if only you knew how the diaphragm works and how to harness its aforementioned power? Read on, ye singer…
First, let’s answer: how does the diaphragm work and what is it?
The diaphragm is defined as “a thin skeletal muscle that sits at the base of the chest and separates the abdomen from the chest. It contracts and flattens when you inhale. This creates a vacuum effect that pulls air into the lungs. When you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and the air is pushed out of lungs” (healthline.com). This link also provides a more in-depth explanation to how the diaphragm works from an anatomical perspective as well as an interactive 3D model. Go ahead and mess around with it – I did!
Now that we know the science behind it, let’s look at it from a singer’s perspective. You’ve heard it before – breath support is EVERYTHING in singing. If notes are not properly supported, they don’t sound their best. The way to get them properly supported is by utilizing your diaphragm. How do you do that? By inhaling deeply and exhaling with purpose and control.
Rather than simply read about it, let’s do a quick exercise:
Take a moment and sit or stand up straight wherever you may be reading this. Put your hand at the base of your ribs, right above your stomach and take in a deep breath in for four (4) beats.
If you felt your stomach expanding, that means you are getting a deep enough breath that the diaphragm is properly flattening and pulling air into your lungs. Now, exhale like you’re blowing out birthday candles. You should have felt your stomach go back in, or retract. That is your diaphragm pushing the air out of your lungs. (Important note: If you took a deep breath and your chest rose before your stomach, you’re doing it wrong. Those breaths are called “shallow” and ultimately useless in the world of singing.)
Now, repeat this same exercise but instead of blowing out birthday candles, sing a simple “ah” or “oh” vowel for as long as you can.
As you start to run out of air, you’ll feel that same sensation of your stomach going in but also a slight resistance against the bottom of your ribs. That is your diaphragm pushing out the last bit of air in your lungs to keep the note going! Cool, right?
One of the easiest ways to practice vocalizing using your diaphragm is by singing a basic five (5) note scale, holding out the 5, and slowly increasing the volume, or projecting, by way of your diaphragm. (Example: singing C to G and holding out the G) If you’re not sure how to do that, repeat the earlier breathing exercise & keep your hand at the base of your ribs just to be sure.
Like with anything involving your body, keeping your diaphragm healthy is key to healthy singing!
It’s a muscle so, be sure to stretch and properly warm up before you sing. Another way of keeping the diaphragm healthy is regular physical exercise. Anything involving using your breath to help your muscles, like yoga or cardio, are great for the voice and for the diaphragm!
So, ye reader, how dost thou feel about thine diaphragm? Do you feel as though you’ve just discovered Excalibur and now you’re ready to be King (or Queen) Arthur? With great power comes great responsibility! Ok, I’ll stop…but in all seriousness, the diaphragm is an incredible tool to improve your overall vocal quality!
Learning about how the diaphragm works and understanding where your voice is coming from will help you become a better vocalist in the long run. As you begin to practice, you’ll find that there’s a delicate balance of how much air to use no matter what you’re singing. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as too much air! However, with practice and time, you’ll find your vocal support will improve, as will the overall quality of your voice! HUZZAH!