How to sing using your diaphragm

How to sing using your diaphragm

The diaphragm is extremely important to proper singing technique, and in this article we’ll show you exactly how you can start to sing from your diaphragm like a pro.

This may be one of the best things you can do to become a better singer. It’s closely related to being able to sing louder with a strong voice.

Why is learning how to sing from the diaphragm is essential? Because to really sing powerfully we need a steady, consistent flow of air.

That’s where the diaphragm truly shines. Read on to understand how, why and what you can do today to improve your technique.

What is Your Diaphragm

You diaphragm is a muscle located right in the center of your chest, spanning the lower rib cage. When you inhale or exhale breath, it expands and contracts to allow air into and out of the lungs.

Starting to see why it’s so important to singing?

When you use your diaphragm to sing properly, you have much more control of the air supply moving through your vocal cords, and therefore you have much more strength to project your voice.

Once you learn how to sing from your diaphragm, it’s important to do vocal and breathing exercises that help to strengthen your use of this important muscle.

How Your Diaphragm Works

When you inhale air the diaphragm contracts and flattens. That motion actually creates a vacuum-like effect that pulls the air into your lungs.

How to sing using your diaphragm

When you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes itself and that pushes the air out of your lungs through your mouth or nose.

There’s a nerve called the “phrenic nerve” that runs from your neck to your diaphragm which controls the contracting/relaxing movements.

It’s not all about breathing, but we won’t get into it’s other functions since that’s all we really care about for our purposes.

Since your diaphragm regulates the air in your lungs (and thus how much air you can use and how much you can project your singing voice), it’s super important to strengthen it and utilize it properly.

How to Find Your Diaphragm

It’s a bit difficult to feel your diaphragm and therefore not easy to locate. Why do you need to find it? Because you want to be able to “feel it working,” while doing breathing and singing exercises.

  1. stand up straight
  2. use your hands and find the bottom of your rib cage

Your diaphragm is basically right there, wrapped all the way around your torso, separating your chest from your abdomen.

Or try this if you still can’t feel it:

  1. lie flat on the floor
  2. put a large book right above your stomach area
  3. now inhale and see the book move down
  4. now exhale to push it upwards

That muscle that’s moving the book is your diaphragm.

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Singing With Your Diaphragm

To effectively sing using your diaphragm, you need to get good at breathing through your diaphragm.

That means strengthening that muscle and practicing how you breath.

That’s not the sexiest answer to the question of “how do you sing with your diaphragm” but it’s the best answer.

Basics to Remember

The first thing you want to remember is that whether or not you’re singing from your diaphragm, your throat is being used all the time.

How to sing using your diaphragm

Your throat (and vocal cords) creates the resonance that produces the sound of your voice.

What you need to watch out for is tension. When you’re NOT singing with your diaphragm, you often feel tension and strain in your throat.

And don’t underestimate the importance of your posture when singing.

Standing up straight makes it so much easier for your body to cooperate with you when you’re singing.

Here’s a few things to keep in mind before we start:

  • make sure to relax your entire body – arms, shoulders, head, neck, throat, stomach
  • stand up completely straight – posture is key for optimal air flow
  • don’t tuck your chin or push it up/out – keep a neutral head position

And remember to always warm up your voice before you start doing any singing.

Steps to Diaphragm Singing

  1. Stand up straight and tall with your shoulders down and head relaxed
  2. exhale the breath in your lungs
  3. inhale through your mouth deeply until your lungs are full of air (your stomach should expand and protrude out)
  4. now sing a note using a vowel or consonant sound (i.e. “oh,” “ahh,” etc)
  5. as you’re singing (using the air in your lungs) “push” the air out and “suck” your stomach inwards (internally)

That’s how you sing using your diaphragm.

If you’re having trouble with posture, stand up with your back against the wall. Your head, shoulders, back, butt and feet should be touching the wall – but remember not to strain yourself.

You have to be relaxed.

Pay attention to your shoulders, as well. They should stay down – don’t let them move up as you breathe in.

If you’re having trouble felling the “push” on your stomach as you exhale/sing, put your above your stomach (on your diaphragm) as you sing. You don’t have to push with your hands, but that should make it easier to feel yourself “pushing” that air out.

Another important tip is to make sure you’re “opening” your throat fully when you start to sing. To practice this, stand in front of a mirror and pretend there’s a ping-pong ball in your mouth. That’s how wide your throat should be – again NOT straining, though – when you’re singing.

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I've been taking lessons for a year now and I ALWAYS hear sing from your diaphragm and I just don't get it. My teacher says tighten your stomach muscles when doing this but this feels really weird for me, and makes not uncontrollable for me. I really want to be able to sing past C4 but whenever I get close to D4 I just flip into falsetto. My throat feels so tight when i sing high and I think it's because I don't know how to sing from my diaphragm

How normal when you're first starting off, to feel as if you need to poop? I gave up on trying to learn to sing because doing breathing exercises made me feel as if I were to have a massive bowel movement.

How old are you? What you describe sounds like a common issue with puberty, so if you're in your teens or early twenties I would point to that as a big culprit.

That said, "sing from the diaphragm" is kind of misleading. Actually, the diaphragm is a skeletal muscle that can't be controlled directly, so it's pretty hard to do anything with the diaphragm other than letting it do its thing. And, many people misunderstand where the diaphragm is located – it connects to your sternum and the bottom few ribs, so it really sits pretty high in your abdomen, close to where the "bra strap" would be (if you wore a bra, of course) above the stomach and other internal organs. For these reasons it might not be helpful to think about the diaphragm when you sing.

Anyway, I think what your teacher is asking you to do is to engage the lower breathing muscles, which are the abs, lower back, intercostals, and other muscles. These all help you expel air out of your lungs while simultaneously controlling the air so that you don't let it all out at once. This is a difficult concept and will take some time to learn, but that idea of balance between helping air get released and not allowing too much air to escape may be helpful for you.

How To Sing From Your Diaphragm

How to sing using your diaphragm

How To Sing From Your Diaphragm

“Sing from your diaphragm!” This phrase is almost mythical in the world of voice lessons. Somehow this concept has passed on to students who haven’t taken a single voice lesson, yet even students who have taken years of voice lessons may not know what it means. It doesn’t help either that some teachers say you should sing from your diaphragm while others say you shouldn’t . Who is right? And if you should, how do you do it?

What it Means to “Sing From Your Diaphragm”

The short answer to the question of “who is right,” when it comes to whether or not you should sing from your diaphragm is – both teachers are right! Obviously that requires a longer answer though.

How to sing using your diaphragm

Here is your diaphragm. As you can see, it sits right below your lungs. Think of it as an upside-down bowl-shaped muscle. Because of where it sits, when your lungs expand (when you breathe in), the diaphragm flattens out to make room for the now larger lungs. When your lungs contract (when you breathe out), the diaphragm curves up again. You can see this motion here .

Students often get lost right around now because what isn’t agreed upon is whether the diaphragm is a voluntary or involuntary muscle. In other words, do we move it consciously like our arms and legs, or does it move on its own like our hearts? For singers, this is largely irrelevant. Why? Because the point of a “diaphragmatic breath” is not whether or not we can move our diaphragm. It’s whether we can take an ideal breath to create a steady release of sound for singing. Therefore, focusing on the diaphragm itself misses the point.

Instead, students of singing should focus on how to feel their breath lower in their body, as opposed to breathing high into the chest. This is why the phrase “sing from your diaphragm” may be helpful for some students and teachers; it creates the imagery of a low breath and a steady release for some people. For others, it creates too much focus on something other than the task at hand.

So in short, you should think about singing from your diaphragm if it’s helpful to you. Any one of the following exercises can also help you “sing from your diaphragm” without the terminology.

Exercises to Sing From Your Diaphragm

The Milkshake Breath – When we drink a big, delicious milkshake from a straw, that milkshake goes right to our bellies. We can think of breathing in the same way. Imagine your favorite flavor of milkshake. Then, pretend to hold it in front of you and drink it all in. In this scenario, the milkshake will be your breath, and your goal is to fill your breath all the way to your belly. You can even put your hand on your belly if that helps you place it. If you don’t drink milkshakes, you can imagine whatever drink you’d like – as long as you’d normally drink it through a straw!

The Balloon Breath – When a balloon expands, it expands all the way around, not just to one part of the balloon. It does, however, start at the bottom of the balloon. Our lungs, ultimately, are like this as well. We want to use all of our abdominal muscles to create a steady release of the breath while singing, so we want to inhale with that in mind. Take a breath while imagining your torso is a balloon, and your goal is to fill up the whole balloon, starting from the bottom up.

Dog on a Hot Day – Have you ever seen a dog on a hot day, its tongue sticking out and its whole body working to breathe? We can use this for singing, too, although our breaths should concentrate on our belly. Stick your tongue out for an added tongue stretch, then release short breaths from your abdomen like a dog would on a hot day. This is a great exercise to introduce the release of breath along with the inhalation of breath.

The Snake Sound – To start working on the release of breath along with the intake, breathe in on four counts. Then immediately release the breath on a steady “ss” sound for eight counts. The “ss” sound should be strong but not forced, smooth and not jagged. This will encourage your body to release air as a stream rather than all at once, which is vital for singing.

There are numerous other exercises you can use to learn how to sing from your diaphragm (if you choose to think of it that way). These are my favorites because they all come with an organic understanding of how breath works without trying to manipulate our breath in other ways. Feel free to find your own creative ways to take lower breaths, too! Just make sure that no matter which exercises you use, you don’t do too many at once. These exercises can over oxygenate you and make you dizzy if done too many times, especially without practice. Try two or three a day at first for maybe a minute, tops. A little effort will go a long way to getting you towards diaphragmatic breaths in no time.

In simple terms, the diaphragm is a singer’s best friend. In scientific terms, the diaphragm is a sheet of muscle that hugs onto the bottom of your lungs. Singing requires breath support from the diaphragm, using the muscle to force air from the lungs and through to the voice. It is imperative to strengthen and understand this muscle to be a better singer!

How to sing using your diaphragm

GPS your diaphragm:
Feel around the bottom of your ribcage and find your diaphragm muscles (they connect around your torso). To get a real feel for its location and movement, lie on your back and place a pillow or book on your tummy. Push the object’s weight up using the muscles in your stomach and simultaneously draw air into your lungs and sing.

How to sing using your diaphragm

Strengthening your diaphragm:
Once you’ve learned to activate the diaphragm correctly, you need to get as much power into it as possible. Try a “milkshake balloon breath” – pretend you’re sucking in through a straw and filling a balloon in your stomach. Remember to keep your shoulders and chest still and hold your hand on your stomach to notice the movement.

Here at MANHATTAN MUSIC, we endorse hissing and counting breathing exercises in our vocal lessons to give the breath a stamina workout.

Hissing: Take a huge “milkshake balloon breath”, then slowly let out your air on a hiss sounding like a snake, mimicking a tyre deflating. Time how many seconds it takes to empty your breath.

Counting: Take a huge “milkshake balloon breath”, then count to ten as many times as you can as fast as you can on the breath. Calculate your score in hundreds until all air is used.

Diaphragm in performance:
Simplistic breathing exercises are of upmost importance before performance as they wake up and relax the diaphragm and stimulate the correct muscles for use. It also calms the body from jittery nerves and cultivates control for the voice.

Try this technique called the 4-5-8: Inhale on a count of four, hold that breath for a count of five and exhale for a count of eight.

You are now on your way to singing from your diaphragm! To maximise your singing journey, enquire about our vocal lessons, we’d love to have a chat. If you’re located in Greensborough, Eltham, Montmorency, Research, Diamond Creek, Bundoora, Briar Hill, Doncaster, Doreen, South Morang, Templestowe or anywhere else, we can help you get the best out of your voice. It is indeed life changing!

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MANHATTAN MUSIC is a unique music school in Melbourne’s North, Eltham. We offer the opportunity for students to both properly learn and enjoy the art of music.

How to sing using your diaphragm

The mechanics of singing is the source of much debate and controversy. Many singers will tell you that it is a skill you’re born with, others something you can learn. Vocal technique is often a matter for intense discussion amongst singers with aspects of sound production outlawed and frowned upon with others heralded as the best method to sing by. To an extent the sound you will produce when you sing is governed by the way you are made; your physical characteristics, such as head shape, mouth shape, and larynx. The fact remains that all humans are essentially built with the same vocal equipment and can sing.

For us as humans to sing, we must use our lungs as the source of air, our larynx to produce a vibration (a little like a series of reeds), and our chest and head cavities to act as amplification of that vibration. The lips, tongue, and teeth all are used in articulating the sound and when all these mechanisms are engaged together we sing.

Singing From Diaphragm Vs Throat

Returning to the title question, in a sense, you cannot sing without either the throat (larynx) or the diaphragm. What is important to realize is how these physical attributes are used together to produce a sound. The distinction that is highlighted by vocal coaches is that if you are not making the proper use of and control of your diaphragm then this places a greater degree of tension and strain on your throat, especially if you are trying to sing at a louder volume. What this can result in is nodules on the vocal cords that manifest as a white mass due to the trauma caused to the vocal cords. The condition is both avoidable and treatable, the first being the preferred route to adopt. If left untreated the voice can sound raspy, harsh, and with a significant loss of range. This points to the need to ensure that when you sing, you do so in a way that does not cause injury to a very crucial part of your body.

Methods of vocal production have varied during the course of Western musical history. In the 17 th and 18 th centuries, there was a popular style known as ‘Bel Canto’. Literally translated, the term means ‘beautiful singing’, but there are a wide number of alternative interpretations. In essence, the Bel Canto style recognized the human voice as having three registers; the chest (lowest), the ‘passaggio’; and the head register. This style of singing aimed to seamlessly combine all three registers of the voice through a stringent array of vocal exercises that would form an unshakable technique.

Some exercises were based on ‘vocalise’ or wordless song, and full command of the singer’s respiratory muscles to create purity of timbre. Maintaining a constant pressure through the flow of air from the lungs and diaphragmatic control of the higher abdominal muscles ensures excellent tonal production. Bel canto singing could not be further removed from the idea of vocal production based solely on the throat. A good phrase that summarises the Bel canto approach is that ‘if you know how to breathe, you know how to sing’.

The approach to vocal production altered quite dramatically as the next century gathered momentum. Orchestras grew significantly in size, and operas expanded to a scale like never before. What this meant is that singers no longer found the older methods of singing able to meet their needs or the demands of the 19 th -century composers. The result was a new technique that focused on the natural resonance of the voice to produce greater volume to cope with the larger forces over which the singer needed to project. These natural resonators are not only the chest cavity but the areas of the head that include the nose, mouth, teeth, and hard palate. Through a carefully practiced combination of the earlier Bel canto method and the new resonant technique, singers were able to maintain the beauty and individuality of tone whilst being able to sing at impressively loud dynamics.

In the 20 th Century, singing practices vary considerably, adapting again to the new expectations of the composers. Many operas and song cycles from this era require extended vocal techniques that go way beyond anything that was heard in the previous centuries. Singers are sometimes expected to be able to not only sing with clarity and projection but to create almost any sound that the human voice can create. Berio’s ‘Sequenza for Voice’, is now a classic example of the extreme lengths that a composer can ask a singer to go to realize their musical ambitions.

In this composition, the female soloist is pushed to perform all manner of sounds including clicks, laughing, whistles, stuttering, and many additional unusual sounds.

Stepping away from Western classical music, it is important to mention ‘throat singing’. This is one of the most ancient types of singing that is associated with areas of the world like Mongolia, Tibet, Serbia, and Russia. If you have never heard throat singing you are in for a surprise and a treat. There is no sound quite like it created by a human being and it is both haunting, primal, and oddly comforting. Depending on the region from where the throat singing originates, it is used for a broad variety of purposes from the depiction of landscapes to soothing a baby to sleep. The sound is made by exploiting the natural overtones that can be produced by the human voice. Techniques vary, but the timbres are similar. What happens is that the voice produces a ‘fundamental tone’ then the overtones resonate over the top. Sometimes there is only a single additional note, other times it may be possible to produce more.

Even with this extraordinary style of singing, the throat is used in a way that means it is fully supported by the breathing mechanisms of our bodies. Singing is one of our most instinctive and free methods of making music and expressing ourselves. If approached through proper technique, it will bring years of enjoyment and significant benefits to health.