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Breathing from the Diaphragm: The Mystery Unveiled

As a singer, somewhere along the way I’m sure you have heard the phrase, “breathe from your diaphragm.” However, my guess is that unless you have taken an in-depth course in vocal pedagogy or anatomy and physiology, this concept may have eluded you. In this short article I hope to shed some light on the idea of diaphragmatic breathing, in a way that’s easy to understand and apply.

According to Webster, the diaphragm is, “a large flat muscle that separates the lungs from the stomach area and that is used in breathing.” If you were to look at the diaphragm within the human body it is positioned right under the lungs and looks like an upside-down cereal bowl. When we breathe in the diaphragm contracts, descending and becoming flat, while simultaneously the rib cage expands and the muscles of the abdomen expel outward. To see what I mean, place one hand on your stomach and take a deep breath in. As a result, you should feel your stomach expand. Go ahead, try it! It is the sensation of a full, deep breath, that maximizes the amount of air to be exhaled or to be used in speech or singing.

The reason breathing from the diaphragm is important is because it enables us to maximize our oxygen intake and harness more power in supporting our sound. The alternative to diaphragmatic breathing is shallow breathing. Shallow breathing entails an inhalation that doesn’t quite affect the diaphragm, and remains only in the lungs before it is expelled. Evidence of a shallow breath is if only your chest cavity and/or shoulders are raising when you inhale. This affects the singer because we want to utilize our maximum amount of breath support, and don’t want to be running out of air when sustaining long phrases in songs.

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Now, all that being said, I’m going to give you some advice… Don’t worry about the diaphragm! Some vocal training methods over train the function of the diaphragm, to the point where it becomes the main focus, when really it is just one-fourth of the overall singing process, concerning respiration. The four parts are respiration, phonation, resonation and articulation. Here’s a little tip: Your diaphragm knows what to do and it does its job twenty-four-seven, whether you are paying attention to it or not. It is good to be knowledgeable about the breathing process, but unless you are singing and constantly running out of air, then don’t over stress about it… Just sing!

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