How To Sing From Your Diaphragm
By: Aaron Anastasi
My guess is that if you’re reading an article on how to sing from your diaphragm then you have heard that singing from your diaphragm is one of the primary goals for even the occasional singer, and vital for anyone who hopes to sing at any sort of profession level. So let’s talk about how you go about doing that. In this article you will discover…
- What the diaphragm is and how it functions
- How to sing from your diaphragm
- Three diaphragm-engaging (vocal) exercises that beat all
The diaphragm is an important part of the respiratory system and is located just below, and expands across, the rib cage, separating the ribs, lungs and heart from the abdomen. This is important because when you breath, your diaphragm is engaged. It contracts and creates room, enlarging the space above it (thoracic cavity), creating a suction of air into your lungs and giving your lungs the maximum amount of space to fill up with air.
As I’m sure you know, air is the most important aspect of singing (and living for that matter!) Having enough air and being able to use and conserve that air is what singing is all about. Okay, so what. What does that mean, and how do you apply that to your singing? We’re getting there. I promise.
Diaphragm breathing is also sometimes called abdominal or belly breathing. And this is key. Stay with me here. Most people, instead of belly breathing, take short breaths. This is referred to as shallow or chest breathing, where most of the air is taken into the chest area, rather than through the full capacity of the lungs. In contrast, when you breathe (and sing) from your diaphragm, you expand your belly, and, with the help of the diaphragm, almost double the amount of space for your lungs to expand. All this extra air is what allows you to sing more powerfully, keep better pitch and have the ability to sustain notes.
All right, so how do you do it? Let’s do an exercise to help you feel what it feels like to breathe (and sing) from you diaphragm.
1. Either laying down, or standing up straight, place your hand on your belly with your other hand on your chest.
2. Take a nice deep breath.
3. As you inhale, do your best to keep your shoulders and chest down allowing only your stomach to expand.
4. Exhale slowly, allowing your hand to fall along with your belly as it depresses and your lungs deflate.
5. Repeat this exercise several times to get a feel for this type of breathing.
Somehow, over the years, we move away from belly breathing, even though this is the way we all used to breathe when we were babies. Have you ever heard a baby cry? Did you ever wonder how they were able to project so loudly and have such an incredible lung capacity? They are breathing from their diaphragm and using that air to carry their voice far enough to get the attention of anyone anywhere in vicinity.
Let’s talk about a couple of vocal exercises that will help you connect this type of breathing to your singing. The first one is an important breathing exercise that will begin helping you retrain yourself to breath properly, since the ultimate goal is for you to effortlessly, without thought, breath properly so that your singing will always have the power, pitch and resonance that you want.
This first exercise is simply called “Panting”. And it’s just like it sounds. This exercise can be done, like the last, either laying down or standing up straight (with good posture). Again, place your hand on your stomach and quickly breath, pant, in and out, remembering the same steps as above: watch that your shoulders and chest don’t raise; make sure your stomach is expanding on the inhale and contracting on the exhale. You don’t want to hyperventilate, of course, but do the panting exercise for several seconds at a time. This is a good exercise to repeat daily in order to begin retraining your breathing.
Next, let’s move to a more specific vocal exercise, while keeping with the diaphragm-engaging breathing exercises. This exercise is “Hey, Hee, Hi, Ho, Hou”. This will work through the vowels while helping you remember your breathing, and should be done in the 12321 pattern, which will also be a good warm up and vocal expanding exercise.
The 12321 pattern is simply singing the “Hey” on the 1, which is any note right around the middle of your range. The Hee will be on the 2, which should just be one key above the one, and so on: the “Hi” on the 3, “Ho” back on the 2, and “Hou” on the 1.
Once you’ve done that, start your 1 one note higher and repeat the pattern. Continue raising the key of your first note and repeating the pattern, until you reach close to the top of your range. As time goes on, push yourself to reach higher and higher notes, working to expand your range.
Note: as you get to the higher notes, with this particular exercise, you will be borderline screaming, so make sure you do this somewhere where you won’t be bothering others!
I hope this helps!