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When most singing novices hear the word “diaphragm," they might associate it either with hiccups or that painful, desperate sensation of trying to catch your breath when something knocks the wind out of you. Few are aware that their diaphragm is one of the most essential parts of a person’s singing apparatus. In fact, learning how to sing from your diaphragm could be the most important thing you can do to improve your singing voice.
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I have prepared a short guide here that outlines the function of your diaphragm, as well as steps and exercises to get you using your diaphragm to sing. If you want to develop a powerful voice that leaves listeners in awe, using and developing your diaphragm is crucial.
How Your Diaphragm Works While You Sing
Your diaphragm is a large muscle that stretches across the lower part of your ribcage, and it visually divides your body in half. It separates your heart and lungs from the rest of the organs in your body below. Your diaphragm plays a vital role in breathing, as its contractions are directly responsible for the inhaling and exhaling of air from your lungs.
There is a direct connection in singing well and breathing, so it’s only natural that your diaphragm plays an essential role in your ability to sing well. A flat diaphragm delivers better control of your air supply to your vocal cords and increases the strength of support to airstream what you are singing.
To portray this visually, I’ll use a balloon as an example. A balloon that is full of air will produce different sounds at its lip on the top of the balloon, as you let the air through. The rim produces the sound on the top, but this is only possible because of the abundant supply of air and pressure located within the balloon. Your diaphragm works in the same way.
Your diaphragm holds the air in your lungs and gives your control of the air supplied to your vocal cords. Singers who have experience and knowledge about manipulating their diaphragms can produce amazing singing feats. The key is that your diaphragm can allow you to provide a steady breath that offers resistance, so you can feel the air in your lungs and make decisions about how to use it while you’re singing.
I cannot overemphasize the importance of your diaphragm in growing your voice. It is one of the focal points of most singing courses and teaching methods – exercises that directly improve the function of your diaphragm and your singing voice and control.
Steps for Singing from Your Diaphragm
I have identified ten steps to guide you through singing from your diaphragm. These steps fall into two categories: Strengthening steps and singing steps. It is nearly impossible to become a great singer without having control of your diaphragm. Read on to learn how to master this step in your singing process, so you can start belting it out with the best of them (using the diaphragm is huge for things like scream singing).
Up first - Strengthening Steps
Here are steps you can implement which will strengthen the diaphragm incorporation.
Step 1 – Locate the Diaphragm Muscle
This one is quite straightforward, but it does require a little practice. Your diaphragm is inside of your body, so you can quickly locate it just by touching. One of the best methods for determining it is to feel the bottom of your rib cage, then your diaphragm is the muscle that envelops your entire torso.
Step 2 – Learn How to Breathe into Your Diaphragm
This second step requires a lot more practice because you have to learn to isolate your diaphragm when you breathe. The easiest way to do this is by inhaling to the point that your lungs are full. Let your stomach protrude as far as possible, then slowly start to exhale, but suck your stomach in as you are doing this. You will feel the pressure in your diaphragm.
It is crucial that during this step that you keep your shoulders, arms, legs, and face completely relaxed. And practice, practice, practice.
Step 3 – Breathing Exercises for Your Diaphragm
There are a variety of breathing exercises for developing your diaphragm, and they feel relatively easy, once you have the breathing part down. The focus of these exercises is to strengthen your diaphragm and improve your stamina, thus increasing the power of your voice. An example of one of these exercises is a paced inhale/exhale exercise, where you count out the inhaling and exhaling time when breathing, in increasing increments to extend your stamina.
Keeping track of your progress is crucial to the usefulness of this step.
Step 4 – Make the Breathing Exercises a Part of Your Daily Practice Routine
This one is a no-brainer. It is essential to apply these exercises in real singing scenarios, every single day. Try to focus on your diaphragm when you’re singing and include as many diaphragm exercises as possible into your singing practice schedule. If you want to improve steadily over time, you have to work on improving both your technique and singing apparatus.
Step 5 – Incorporate Lip Thrills into Your Daily Routine
Lip thrills are a perfect exercise to develop control of your airflow from your diaphragm to your vocal cords. Close your lips, and try to blow out air at a steady pace while you try to sing a melody on pitch. It sounds simple, but it requires quite a bit of practice. But don’t give up because you won’t succeed in singing if you don’t develop effective control of your breathing and airflow.
Read my guide to general singing exercises for more unique tips such as Lip Thrills.
Now... Singing Steps
The following are the corresponding singing steps to go with your strengthening steps.
Step 6 – Warmup
OK, now you’re ready for the singing tips. Before starting your practice routine, you must warm up your vocal cords. Avoid eating a heavy meal before you practice, too. You can warm up with breathing exercises, followed by a slow singing of notes you can hit, from the lowest notes to the highest. Take your time. Do not rush it. A glass of warm water helps loosen your vocal cords, as well.
Step 7 – Use Correct Posture When Singing
Using your diaphragm to sing requires taking longer and bigger breaths, which makes maintaining proper posture one of the most important things you can do to sing with ease and power. You need unobstructed airways, so always practice standing up, your feet shoulder-width apart, and your arms and shoulder relaxed and rolled back. Listen to your mother’s voice in your head: “Don’t slouch.”
Step 8 – Make Sure to Open Your Throat when Singing
When singing from your diaphragm, you need to allow the air to flow freely to and from your diaphragm. To achieve this, you must learn how to sing with an open throat. Practicing in front of the mirror helps. You can also imagine that you have a ping pong ball in your mouth, keeping you from closing it. It might feel unnatural in the beginning but, over time, you will get used to it.
Step 9 – Make a Distinction Between Your “Two Voices”
Your overall singing voice actually contains two voices, one you use when singing the high notes and one for the low ones. To simplify, do not sing the low notes as loud as high ones. It will make your voice singing more dynamic and avoid frequent off-pitch mishaps.
Making this distinction and keeping your voice in tune can be challenging, but practice makes perfect.
Step 10 – Work on Articulation
Singing hard consonants takes practice. Beginners often tend to make them inaudible and challenging to hear. One of the most straightforward exercises for improving this is merely repeating the following phrase: "The tip of the tongue and the teeth and the lips.” Make sure to do it slowly and emphasize the hard consonants.
Exercises such as this are included in my main guide for learning how to sing.
Try These Diaphragm Singing Exercises
Now that I’ve covered the steps for learning to sing from your diaphragm, it is time to move to more exercises. There are hundreds of activities you can research and use yourself, but here are a few tips and examples:
Breathing Into Diaphragm Exercises
One of the easiest exercises for this is the Balloon exercise I mentioned earlier:
- Imagine there is a balloon inside your stomach.
- Try to fill the imaginary balloon as you inhale, and squeeze the air out as you exhale.
Another useful exercise is the Milkshake exercise:
- Pretend that you have a straw in your mouth.
- Place a hand on your stomach and slowly inhale through that straw.
- Focus on feeling the air in your stomach, while you keep your shoulders relaxed.
- Slowly exhale through the straw.
These exercises will help you identify the location of your diaphragm easier and learn how to fill it with air.
If you are having trouble maintaining correct posture when singing, consider trying this simple exercise:
- Find a wall in your practice room.
- Stand against that wall with your back, resting your head, shoulders, bottom, and back against it.
- Try singing or performing breathing exercises and feel how your diaphragm is more relaxed and accessible when your posture is good.
- Try to replicate this without the wall.
I hope you find this guide useful and informative. There are plenty more thorough and detailed materials available that cover this topic, too. If you find self-learning difficult, hiring a vocal coach might better suit your needs.
Hopefully, you now understand the importance of your diaphragm in growing your singing voice. If you stay motivated and follow your daily routine, the results are bound to come.
James is an ex-writer for Music Grotto who focused the majority of his writing on the musical skill development content on the publication. His 20+ year career as a singing and vocal coach provided insightful content for the website, and his continued thirst for development in guitar and piano playing helped create some excellent skill development content for the publication.