How to sing from your diaphragm

“Sing from your diaphragm” is one of the most over used vocal directions out there. The fact of the matter is that we just can not under any circumstances “sing from the Diaphragm“. 

We sing from the Vocal Folds housed within the Larynx. Because we are unable to feel this involuntary sheet of muscle we are therefore unable to train it. However the person giving you this direction does mean well, they probably mean something like “close your vocal folds” or “sing with less air” or “you need more energy in the sound“. So Let’s take a dive into why they use this direction & next time you hear it being used, how you can translate the direction. 

Diaphragm in the thorax cavity
When the diaphragm descends it pulls the air into the lungs. When it relaxes & ascends, the air is consequently pushed out of the lungs

What is the Diaphragm?

Diaphragm, dome-shaped, muscular and membranous structure that separates the thoracic (chest) and abdominal cavities in mammals; it is the principal muscle of respiration.

Thank you

Now that we know what the Diaphragm is, what does it do? 

What happens when we breathe?

The diaphragm 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.

Why am I told to sing from my diaphragm?

There are a whole number of reasons why you could have been told to sing from your diaphragm but a lot of the time it is referring to the closure of the vocal folds which regulate how much air is being released in your sound. If the vocal folds are open whilst singing, you will produce a breathy voice. Likewise if you keep them closed whilst singing you will have more of a clear tone / non breathy sound.

If you have a lot of breath in your sound you will need to breathe more often (captain obvious here sorry). This is where the whole Diaphragm connection comes in. The person asking may want to you to sing through the entire phrase or to perhaps just be louder (which you can do by closing those teeny folds.)

What happens when we sing?

When we sing the air moves the vocal folds / vocal cords (as you can see in this video). The vocal folds almost swing, closing first from the bottom & then the top. The pitch is decided by the length & thickness of the vocal folds. 

Can you see when I breathe? The focal folds open revealing my tracheas (or wind pipe). 

You can only sing from your vocal folds.
Full Stop.

How do I know if I am singing with a lot of breath?

Firstly, you need to ask yourself if you can get through the phrase without passing out. Can you sing from the start of the sentence to the comma without pressing on your belly or squeezing the last drop out of the note? 

If you can – then you are on track. 
If you can’t – then think about reducing the amount of air in your tone. 

Secondly, you can check by putting your hand in from of your mouth (about 3cm away from your lips). If you feel a lot of hot air you have a lot of air in your tone. If you have just a slight whisper you have less. 

Am I singing correctly?

You are doing really well. Sometimes over the years the techniques can get a little misunderstood.

Woman giving you the thumbs up

So now what should I do instead of sing from my diaphragm?

Singing from your diaphragm is referring more to an overall body connection with your singing. Are you standing with good posture? Are you releasing the abs (I mean don’t hold on tight to your six pack)? You can practice the siren exercise over  on my YouTube channel or you can look at the soft palate exercise (that always helps close the vocal folds). I want you to focus on connecting the sound with your body & thinking about singing with intention. Forget about your diaphragm & start working with muscles that you CAN control instead of those you can’t.

Want to know more?

Check out my 5 reasons to warm up or the next post in my #lostintranslation series about “Take a deep breath

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