How to Sing From Your Diaphragm

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Whether it’s Barbra Streisand’s goosebump-raising 19-second note in “A Piece of the Sky,” or Bill Withers’ iconic 18-second one in “Lovely Day,” the ability to hold a note requires a singer to vocalize from their diaphragm. While learning how to sing from your diaphragm may not make you the next Ariana Grande, it will help you achieve better breath control and hit longer notes.

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What is the diaphragm?

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The diaphragm is a sheet of skeletal muscle that separates your heart and lungs (the thoracic cavity) from the rest of your internal organs and controls airflow in and out of the lungs.

What is diaphragmatic singing?

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Singing from the diaphragm involves taking deep, long breaths that move air from the diaphragm gently over the vocal cords.

From the highest falsetto to the lowest bass, the sounds made by singing are produced when air from an exhaled breath moves over the vocal cords, making them vibrate. Singing from your diaphragm versus your throat is a difference of breath support and vocal control. Singing from your throat means taking shallow, fast breaths, while singing from your diaphragm means taking deep breaths from your chest. This reduced strain on the throat supports vocal chords and grants greater breath control and projection. 

Vocal coach Eric Arceneaux goes more into depth about diaphragmatic singing here:

How to strengthen the diaphragm

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Just like any other muscle, the diaphragm needs to be strong to function optimally. And just like any other muscle, the diaphragm can be strengthened with proper training and exercise. Practicing deep breathing for 10–15 minutes a day will help activate and strengthen your diaphragm muscle.

Know what muscles to activate: Stand up straight with proper posture and feel the bottom of your ribcage: This is where the diaphragm muscles connect. Even if you’re not sporting a six-pack, your abdominal muscles give you the power to move air through the diaphragm. 

You should also familiarize yourself with the pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder and bowel (as well as the uterus and vagina for female people). Imagine that you’re stopping urination in midstream—that group of muscles is your pelvic floor. Exercises that engage the pelvic floor, such as Kegels, can strengthen these muscles and help better support your diaphragm. 

Go horizontal: Lie down on a flat surface with your knees bent and put one hand at the bottom of your rib cage. Inhale slowly and feel your stomach push against your hand. Ensure that you’re breathing from your diaphragm and not your throat by keeping your other hand on your chest; this hand should remain as still as possible. At the end of your inhale, tighten your abs so that your stomach contracts, and exhale slowly through pursed lips.

Sit up: Once you’re familiar with the way your diaphragm moves when you breathe deeply lying down, do the same activity while sitting up in a chair. This exercise will train you to activate your diaphragm when breathing and singing while sitting and standing.

How to sing with the diaphragm

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To sing from your diaphragm, you must warm up, stand up straight, bear down on your pelvic floor, take deep breaths, and sing long notes.

Warm up: Before singing, spend 15–20 minutes preparing with vocal warmups.

  • Stretch each arm up and over the other side of your core to open up your diaphragm.
  • Do vocal slides using increasing intervals and volume. 
  • Blow raspberries with your lips to reduce the resistance on your vocal cords.
  • Fake a yawn while keeping your mouth closed.

Posture is everything: Stand up as straight as possible to optimize your diaphragmatic breathing. Your diaphragm needs the kind of space to expand and retract that only comes from standing tall with a straight spine. It can help to imagine you’re pushed up against an imaginary wall (or if slouching is a struggle, you can even practice singing while standing against a real wall).

Bear down on your pelvic floor: “A slight bearing down on the pelvic floor helps keep the abdominal muscles of support consistently engaged without pushing inwards,” says vocal coach Arden Kaywin. This allows for “the optimum amount of air movement and subglottal pressure to create a beautiful, resonant sound without getting out of breath.” To use your pelvis to hit notes like Elvis, Kaywin advises that you put your hands on your obliques, breathe in, and then breathe out with a hiss. Engage your pelvis and push gently downward with your pelvic floor. Then repeat the exercise while holding a lip trill note at a pitch comfortable for you. Lower your pelvic hold incrementally, the higher the pitch.

Breathe deep: Now’s the time to summon your diaphragm-strengthening exercises: Gradually push the air out of your lungs and feel your stomach contract. Inhale deeply and feel your stomach expand. Keep your throat open and relaxed to ensure that you’re not accidentally taking shallow breaths from the throat.

Sing long, sing strong: Finally, sing and hold a note—soft “ahh,” “ohh,” and “ooh” vowel sounds are best—and focus on the feeling of your stomach slowly expanding. You should find that your breath and voice are supported and that you have better musical stamina.

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