Vocalists are often advised to sing from their diaphragm, but this instruction can be confusing if you’re unaware of the proper technique. Diaphragmatic singing requires practice, but eventually, it will become second nature.
One of the common misconceptions about singing is that it is mostly down to natural talent. Indeed, some people are blessed with a naturally-pleasing tone, but it still takes consistent practice to develop proper vocal techniques.
In this detailed guide, I’ll provide you with instructions on how to sing from your diaphragm. Not only will this improve your vocal ability, but it will help you to preserve your voice and protect your vocal cords.
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Why You Should Sing from Your Diaphragm
If you ask the average person where their diaphragm is located, you’re likely to get a variety of answers. This sheet of muscle is essential for singing, but is perhaps most notorious for the role it plays in hiccups!
The diaphragm separates the area where your heart and lungs are located, which is known as the thoracic cavity, from the rest of your internal organs. When you sing, the diaphragm proves breath support by engaging the muscle and pushing air from your lungs.
It’s possible to sing from your chest or throat area rather than with your diaphragm, but this is likely to cause you problems further down the line.
Admittedly, there is a time and place for all vocal techniques, but generally speaking, singing from the diaphragm should be the most frequently used.
If you’ve never had any vocal coaching before, it’s likely that you’ll have developed some “incorrect” habits when learning to sing. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – unique methods often produce individual results.
However, when you learn to sing from your diaphragm, you unlock a whole new level of singing potential. With practice, you’ll be able to sing more powerfully, and perhaps even extend your vocal range just by learning to use your diaphragm.
If this all sounds a little confusing, don’t worry! You don’t need any prior experience to develop these techniques. All that you need is a voice, and the perseverance to form new habits that will improve your singing exponentially.
In this guide we’ll cover:
- Locating the diaphragm
- Diaphragmatic breathing
- Warm-up & posture
- Putting it into practice
Step 1 – Locating the Diaphragm
The first step to learning how to sing from your diaphragm is to simply locate it. If I was to ask you to locate your thigh muscle, the chances are you’d find it straight away.
Unfortunately, the diaphragm is much harder to feel than the other muscles in your body. To develop the ability to feel when you are singing from the diaphragm, you need to physically feel the sensation of it contracting and relaxing.
So how do you locate your diaphragm? Firstly, you need to stand up straight with your spine erect. Then, take both of your hands, and place your palms at the bottom of your ribcage.
The diaphragm muscles cover the area underneath your ribcage, stretching all around your torso. If you’re struggling to locate your diaphragm using this method, you can try the following:
Start by laying down flat on the floor, and place a slightly heavy object on the area of your mid-section. You can use a cushion, a large book, or another similarly heavy object. Now, try to push the object upwards using only your stomach muscles.
As you do this, take a deep breath in your lungs until they are full of air. Now, sing a line from your favorite song, maintaining the sensation of pushing outwards. Congratulations, you are now using your diaphragm!
Once you’ve successfully located the diaphragm, unfortunately, you still have some work to do. It’s easy to slip back into old habits when we sing, and therefore, we need to establish a practice that consistently reminds us to sing from our diaphragm.
Similarly to when you first pick up an instrument, the initial period is frustrating. You feel like no matter how many times you repeat a chord shape or a scale, your brain will never absorb the information.
Then suddenly, after consistently practicing, you realize you’ve played the chord sequence or scale without having to think about it.
Learning to sing from your diaphragm is the same. At first, it may be a frustrating endeavor, as you are likely to keep returning to your old habits.
However, if you follow the instructions in the remainder of this guide, you’ll find that singing in this way starts to come naturally.
Step 2 – Diaphragmatic Breathing
Breathing from your diaphragm is the foundation of your diaphragmatic singing technique. If you can master correct breathing, this will make singing in this style much easier.
To breathe into your diaphragm, you first need to take a long inhale until your lungs are full. Focus on pushing your stomach outwards as far as possible as you take the inhale. The rest of your body should be kept as still as possible.
Then, while you exhale, try to pull your stomach back inwards. It’s important to focus on keeping your shoulders stationary when you exhale, as this will engage the diaphragm more intensely.
Another thing to bear in mind when doing this diaphragmatic breathing exercise is that the aim is not to tense the muscles in your mid-section. Many singers try to clench their diaphragm when singing, which has a counterproductive effect.
Indeed, singing naturally causes your diaphragm and your stomach muscles to tense slightly, but clenching them with too much force will cause you to strain. The power of your voice will suffer as a result.
Likewise, the muscles in your face, shoulders, chest, and neck should all be fairly loose. Overly tensing the muscles is a sign that you’re not relaxed, and this will ultimately show in your singing.
Step 3 – Warming up & Correct Posture
The breathing exercise that I just described will help you to develop a feel for when you are engaging your diaphragm. You must incorporate it into your practice routine so that it becomes your habitual way of breathing when singing.
Before you attempt diaphragmatic singing, you need to warm up your voice and ensure that your posture is correct. Warming up may not be the most exciting vocal activity, but its importance cannot be overstated.
The great thing about establishing a practice routine is that you can tailor it to suit your voice, and make it more enjoyable for you. Warm-ups can consist of several exercises, provided you start with little effort, and gradually increase the intensity.
If you’ve got access to a piano, guitar, or another way of producing musical notes, here’s a quick and easy warm-up routine to prepare you for singing from your diaphragm.
Firstly, start by placing your palms under your ribcage, so that you can feel your diaphragm muscles.
Then, find a scale that is comfortably within your vocal range. It doesn’t need to be complex – major or minor pentatonic will do.
Sing through the scale using only lip rolls. This is where you keep your lips pressed together, and blow the air through them so that they vibrate consistently. Lip rolls are the best way to start a warm-up because they reduce tension on your vocal cords.
Then, repeat the exercise several times, using different sounds. “Ah”, “oh”, “mm” and “ee” are some examples you could use. You can also gradually transpose to a higher scale as your voice warms up.
Throughout your vocal warm-up, focus on engaging the diaphragm muscles. Also, ensure that your spine remains erect, and your shoulders, face, and chest are relaxed, with no unnecessary tension.
Step 4 – Practice, Practice, Practice!
The most essential aspect of learning to sing from your diaphragm is locating the muscles and focusing your attention on using them consistently. At first, you’ll probably find that you forget and slip back into your old singing habits.
That’s why it’s so important to consistently practice the techniques I’ve outlined in this guide. Performing them once in a while is simply not enough to develop the new habits, and this will stifle your progress.
All that you need is around 20-30 minutes each day, to go through your warm-up technique, perform the diaphragmatic breathing exercises, and then attempt to sing a sing while engaging the correct muscles.
If you do this consistently, you’ll be amazed at the transformation that your voice undergoes in a matter of weeks or even days.
When you learn how to sing from your diaphragm, you unlock the full potential of your vocal ability. As long as you are willing to practice with focus over a consistent period, you’ll see tremendous improvements in your singing.
As the saying goes, “old habits die hard”. If you find that you’re struggling to train yourself to sing from the diaphragm, don’t get disheartened. There’s no rush, and once you’ve mastered it, you can enjoy the many benefits it provides, permanently.