So many singers begin lessons with the idea you should “breath from your diaphragm”… but very few can actually answer what their diaphragm IS (or for that matter, where it is). Let’s level up your knowledge!
All breathing is diphragmatic breathing. You cannot inhale without your diaphragm kicking in to help you. Your lungs are nothing but limp sacks (very important limp sacks, but still!). It’s your diaphragm that does the heavy lifting all day, every day. In Singing, when we talk about “breathing from your diaphragm” (or “breathing low”, or taking a “belly breath”, or any of the other millions of ways people talk about this simple idea), we’re really just talking about accessing more of your lung capacity and/or helping to reduce tension around your neck and jaw. Shallow breathing is rarely your friend in singing (there are exceptions to every rule), mainly because a shallow breath that catches in your upper chest is more prone to making your shoulders rise, your neck muscles tense, and all the little microtensions that follow in the average voice user. In the simplest sense, breathing with a focus on the level of your diaphragm (around your lowest rib), helps to counteract many of our common bad habits. It can also help you power up for intensely long or powerful phrases, but mainly, we want to think of singing with your whole body as a baseline rule of thumb for your comfort and your ability to access all the sounds you want to.
Diaphragmatic Breathing is crucial for more classically-oriented styles (that is, Western Classical music and its descendants like Golden Age musical theatre), but if you’re a contemporary artist who mainly sings with a microphone, you can get away with much less. In fact, some contemporary singers get tripped up thinking about diaphragmatic breathing because they “over-breathe” as a result. For contemporary singers, a good rule of thumb is to listen to your body: become aware of what you feel where, and what patterns may follow (tense belly at the end of phrases? tense neck and jaw when singing big intervals?), and address your breathing accordingly.
So, how does the diaphragm work anyway? This layer of muscle is shaped like an upside-down cup when it is at rest (ie. when you’ve breathed out). When it engages (when you breathe in), the cup draws down and flattens out, changing the air pressure in your thoracic cavity (aka chest). Air rushes in to fill the empty space. Any “sucking” or “gasping” feeling that you experience is actually extraneous! When you gasp a breath in, you may *feel* like you’re getting more air because you’ve actually narrowed the surface area of your windpipe– the result can actually be that you take in less air! By focusing on breathing from the level of the diaphragm, you’ll likely find it easier to avoid gasping or audible breaths.
Breathing well varies with each unique body; since we’re all shaped differently and have different needs, your optimal breathing patterns may feel different than described by other singers. Not sure if you’re on the right track? Schedule your complimentary Consultation to unpack this important vocal idea!