One of the most common questions I get is “how do you sing from the diaphragm?” If there’s one thing I do feel I can speak about with considerable confidence, it’s about breathing. It’s possibly one of the things that I just ‘get’ as a singer. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had other issues over the years, but breathing has not been one of them!
As outlined in How do I breathe correctly for singing? What is support?, I believe in a very simplified view on breath. I will simplify it even more in this article.
- There is a release
- There is a supported exhalation on a tone
Step 1: The release
When you release, the diaphragm contracts to pull downwards, which shifts your abdominal organs outwards, which is why you get ‘tummmy breathing’.
Here’s the thing, this breath is NEVER a BIG BREATH. If someone ever tells you to “Take a big breath before this note/phrase”, they are leading you down the garden path. Your lungs take in just about as much breath as you need. The ability to last through a phrase is dependent on step 2. – which we will get to in a moment.
When you breath in, have your mouth shaped as if you were saying “oh!” with with a little bit of “ah!” thrown in there – as in “ah oh! That mashed potato in front of my mouth is quite hot!” your jaw will barely move downwards. Make this breath quiet, but relatively fast and smooth. Aim to breath into a loose corset around your abdomen and rib cage.
Another way to do this is to do a backwards ‘ssssss’. Suck air through your teeth while they are closed. Obviously ensure that your tummy is moving out gradually. When you feel about 3/4 full, gently open the jaw and let the rest of the air rush in.
At no point should you be gasping or filling beyond what is comfortable.
Step 2: The supported exhalation
This is where you will feel as if you are ‘singing from your diaphragm’. All you are really doing is stopping the air pressure from being so high that your diaphragm will feel suspended during a tone. The best way to train this feeling may seem a little bit odd. It is an exercize that Pavarotti suggests. Please watch the video for the demonstration. I have already mentioned this exercize in a past article about ‘opening the throat.’
At the end of the inhalation (which you will notice is not overly loud or long), the mouth opens as if to sing or speak. At this point, you should feel the diaphragm ‘hold’ itself as it remains contracted to prevent the air from escaping. Furthermore, you will feel your vocal cords close to stop air from escaping.
This is the sensation of singing from the diaphragm. It does not change at all from this except for the fact that you are phonating as you sing. I trained using the above exercize on a daily basis during lectures, while watching television or while on the bus. As a result, breathing really is not an issue for me at all. The same goes for you. Breathing and support is so, so simple. Beyond this, breathing out on a ‘hiss’ (not too strong) for as long as possible gives the exact same sensation as when you are singing. To emulate the hiss while singing, you can imagine your actual cords as being the two muscles that partially block the air – however, do not think of this as a strong, glottal block, but a steady release, like letting air out of a balloon slowly.
Sure, there are extra elements to singing – vowel modification, increasing the ‘body connection’ under the voice as you increase in pitch (which should be very gradual, like a yoga movement, and not like lifting a weight) and for some people, a sensation laryngeal rocking or tilt. The foundation, however, is what I have described above.
Try to keep breathing and support as simple as possible, and remember, you are not really ‘singing from the diaphragm’, you are just preventing it from relaxing overly fast, which gives the sensation of the diaphragm ‘supporting’ the note.
Please do not hesitate to email me any questions, or have a look around the website to see if I have already come up with an answer!