Should You Really Sing From Your Diaphragm
There’s a huge misconception among singers and even otherwise really great voice teachers that you should “sing from your diaphragm.” But where did that come from, what do people mean when they say it, and what should you do instead? Is there any truth to the phrase, “Sing from your diaphragm”? Let’s start with what people actually mean and move on from there.
What People Mean
Most people I hear saying that you should “sing from your diaphragm” seem to believe that your diaphragm is a muscle that causes your belly to expand when you breathe. They have a (not totally unfounded, but definitely not correct) idea that if you take higher breaths up in your chest that you’ll be “singing from your throat,” and they’re trying to distinguish between the two phenomena–throaty singing vs. grounded, supported singing.
What is The Diaphragm
Your diaphragm is actually a dome-like sheet of muscle that separates your chest cavity from your abdominal cavity. When you inhale, your diaphragm contracts and flattens (no matter what your belly is doing), and when you exhale, your diaphragm rises and domes back into your chest cavity (no matter what your belly is doing!) Let me say that one more time. No matter how you’re breathing, and no matter how you’re singing, your diaphragm is there doing its thing.
So What Should You Do Instead?
To sing the most efficiently for most styles of music, you usually should, in fact, take a low breath. You’ll want to use your external intercostals, those muscles located between your ribs, to help your ribcage expand and stay expanded. This will help keep your diaphragm in a low position, which means that it’ll be easier for you to not expel all your air at once. When you sing, it’s important to learn to regulate your airflow. Once you go below resting expiratory level (that balance point right before your body wants to naturally inhale), you begin to need to squeeze your abdominal muscles in order to keep the tone going, and this triggers the false vocal folds in your throat to constrict. This is what people mean by “singing from your diaphragm” instead of “singing from your throat.”
Is There Any Truth to it?
Well, yes. It’s based on the true ideas that low breaths can be helpful, that your diaphragm is in some way involved, and that regulating your airflow this way can keep your throat from becoming constricted.
The reason the command to “sing from your diaphragm” is so problematic is that because it’s inaccurate, everyone has their own interpretation of what it means. Some people take it to mean “squeeze your abs,” which is almost never a good idea and usually causes throat tension. Some people take it to mean “jam your stomach out,” which might not be as rough on your voice as squeezing your abs but also tends to just cause constriction. Learning breath control for singing is so helpful-—just make sure you’re using your muscles correctly and not going off of misinformation.