"Singing from the Diaphragm" – An open letter to the world of voice training

Leslie works with Della on diaphragm release.I’ve had the opportunity lately to work with a number of singers and voice actors. When they tell me about some of the instructions and information they’ve been given, I never cease to be amazed by the lack of basic understanding exhibited by their vocal coaches. Admittedly, this impression comes entirely secondhand, but If I could send a message to all the voice trainers of the world it would be this:

Singing first and foremost is a breathing pattern. This breathing pattern consists of long, slow, supported, vibratory exhales, followed by short, quick, efficient inhales. The ability to do that breathing pattern must be the foundation for all vocal techniques, and if you are not training a singer’s body to efficiently execute that pattern, they will invariably have problems.

Perhaps the statements of this yoga teacher will be viewed as presumptuous by the voice community, but consider this: you do not need to be an expert in auto mechanics to know that the fanciest car will go nowhere without a functioning engine. Similarly, I do not need need to be schooled in vocal pedagogy to know that an efficiently operating breathing mechanism is quite literally the engine that makes singing possible.

Is the diaphragm important in this process? Of course it is, but the diaphragm is a muscle of inhaling, while singing is 90% exhaling. This means that the diaphragm is shortening its fibers only 10% of the time during most vocal phrasing. What, then do vocal coaches *really* mean when they tell a vocalist to “sing from your diaphragm?”

If you are a voice coach, and you can’t answer this question accurately, you need to educate yourself.

If you are a voice student reading this, and this is brand-new information to you, I would encourage you to show this article to your voice coach, see what they say, and if they have questions, please send them my way.  I’d love to have this conversation first-hand for a change.

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6 comments on “"Singing from the Diaphragm" – An open letter to the world of voice training

  1. Dear Leslie,
    Thank you for your note of concern regarding the instruction on breathing for singers. I am happy to note that you do admit to second hand knowledge and therefore perhaps you do not fully understand the technique that singers are taught by their teachers. As it happens I am both – yoga teacher and I also teach singing and chanting. Perhaps I can try to explain to you a missing link.

    First – as you perhaps know most of the people who come to yoga or singing have very short breath – usually only clavicle. As you rightly say – the breathing is the engine that generates sound and the amount of air that one inhales is the fuel that propels the engine. Therefore the first and foremost task that teacher has is to make student aware of short breath and teach them to breath with full engagement of diaphragm – we would call it a 3 stage yogic breathing – so that they have a max capacity of air available to sing. This usually is a long process as it requires a lot of awareness and retraining of the body’s breathing apparatus – hence perhaps the emphasis on “diaphramic breathing”.

    The second step is to create a little pressure between diaphragm and vocal cords (or you can think of it as mini neck lock) before making any sound. Ability to create, hold and manage this pressure is the next skill required to create the type of sound with desired volume, colour and intensity when you let the air hit the vocal cord. The deeper the breath and the better the control of the pressure – the longer the exhale and the better managed the sound.

    This pressure is managed mainly (but not only) by diaphragm, hence the emphasis on diaphragm and that is what teachers mean by saying “sing from diaphragm” 🙂

    We need also to remember that that everyone is an expert in anatomy or even iterated in it and some people will use metaphors to have the students do what they need them to do. That is OK as long as they get the results 🙂

  2. Thank you Leslie…this is fantastic information and helps demystify the ever confusing, cryptic cliché hurled at us during rehearsals to “Speak from your diaphragm!” I have always thought I was an idiot not to really “get” that!
    Thank you.
    Getchie

  3. I recently attended a YogaVoice weekend with Mark Moliterno, whose processes and links between anatomy, energy, and yoga philosophy were amazing. He takes it well beyond the diaphragm issue, which is noteably a key starting place. The field of yoga has much to offer vocalists!

  4. As a vocal massage therapist who helps rebalance the muscles and other soft tissues required for good vocal health I would like to point out something, Leslie. The diaphragm is not just used on the inhale, it’s also working during the controlled release of breath as the air is released from the lungs. Muscles don’t just let go, there is a controlled handover from agonist to antagonist.

  5. Can you please help me in knowing whether how I could know that I’m singing correctly, how can I sing without losing my breath very quickly.
    How can I sing riffs and runs effectively because I know that I’m not doing it correctly and finally how can I sing high notes without staining my voice

    • It is not possible to do this via the internet. If you’re in the NYC area, I would be happy to schedule you for a private session. You can contact me through my website.

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