Diaphragmatic Breathing 101
Learning to breathe using the diaphragm can be a tricky thing, so I’ve put together a quick tutorial on engaging your diaphragm so that you can breathe more efficiently for singing.
Breathing is the foundation of your voice
Think of it like this, the foundation is breathing, the walls are resonance, the roof is vowels and the fittings are diction and delivery;
- Foundation – breathing
- Walls – resonance
- Roof – vowels
- Fittings – diction and delivery
So lets take it from the start by developing your diaphragmatic breathing as a powerful foundation! First up is posture, you wouldn’t start building a house without the right tools and knowledge, right? Lets get started!
Step 1 – posture
Posture is SUPER important when learning how to sing, in fact – it’s going to be important from now on every time you sing to set up your posture so that you can breathe more efficiently. Keeping a correct posture for singing is pretty simple, but it’s often overlooked when a singer gets more confident, and even if you’re just starting out it can be an easy thing to forget.
If you practice while standing up, stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and with your knees unlocked. If you’re sitting down that’s fine too! Then we’re going to work from the top down by thinking “Head Up”, “Shoulders Back”, “Chin up”, “Chest Up”. I’ve put together a video tutorial on breath support to show you how it’s done the RIGHT way:
Can you see how easy it is for me to sing, even higher up into my range? That’s not because of muscular vocal cords or pushing – it’s actually from proper diaphragmatic support of my voice and controlling my airflow vs. air pressure so that I have consistent pressure to keep my vocal chords vibrating, but not so much airflow that my tone becomes dangerous and breathy. It’s pleasant, light, but also resonant and full at the same time. Try it yourself using these steps:
- Head up
- Shoulders back and down
- Chin parallel with the floor
- Chest up
Can you feel how much easier it is to breathe, and also how much clearer your singing voice sounds when you set up your posture like this? You need to go through these steps EVERY time you sing until it becomes second nature to sing with healthy posture – even then you’ll need to make sure you’ve got a relaxed and healthy posture, even I catch myself skipping a step here and there after 15 years of Rock Vocal Training!
Step 2 – Engage the diaphragm
Think about breathing from your stomach or lower down in your lungs towards your ribs in an outward fashion – your chest and shoulders should actually stay stationary while your diaphragm extends down. The only evidence should be a change in your belly as your diaphragm draws in air like a vacuum. It can be a little unnatural at first, but this is actually how you breathe when you’re sleeping so I assure you it IS totally naturally, and it really is the way we SHOULD be breathing all the time. Try it either lying down first, or you can try the other steps I showed you in the video above:
- “Shoot an arrow” with your head facing forward (my personal favorite)
- Pant like a dog that is feeling hot, decreasing in speed until it moves to your diaphragm
- Imagine you’re breathing through an imaginary straw
Your chest and shoulders will stay in the same place, but your diaphragm will make your belly rise and fall with each breath. When you can engage your diaphragm to breathe with, it’s time to learn some control!
Step 3 – Support and breath control
How to sing from your diaphragm is actually only one part of the equation – just as important, you need to learn how to control your air after it’s been drawn in by the extended diaphragm. Your vocal cords are actually different to other ‘wind’ instruments, in that it’s not air moving across them like a reed or a whistle that makes a sound, but in fact vibration of your vocal chords creating resonance that makes a sound. The LESS air you sing with the better your voice will sound, the healthier your voice will be, and the further your range will extend! You can try this yourself by HOLDING your breath as you sing rather than expelling air like when you speak – can you feel the resonance up in your head and behind your nose? Congratulations, that’s proper breath control causing resonance!
Want more resonance? Book a session with me today and I’ll show you how!
When you’ve learned how to breathe properly and then control the air like I’ve shown you above, then you’re ready to start developing your resonance and learning about vowel sounds – practical AND modified vowel sounds to be exact. When you’re singing, it’s important for your throat and vocal tract to take specific shapes as you ascend in range to make the best use of resonance chambers, this is called a ‘modified vowel’. To facilitate these vowels, we also need to sing with particular vowel sounds which I refer to as ‘practical’ – AH, AA, OO, EE and EH. You can hear this clearly in a well trained singer, quite often they are singing a DIFFERENT vowel to the one you would expect in the word they’re singing, for example, the word “indigo” would likely be “EH-nd-EE-g-AH” depending on the style of singing and the voice type of the singer. It’s actually pretty easy to work on, and it’s one of my specialities as a Rock Vocal Coach, so you can book a session with me to your right when you’re ready to start developing your vowels and building resonance in your voice.
Can you set up a healthy posture and create a RESONANT singing voice using diaphragmatic breathing? Let me know if you have any issues in the comments below!
Feel free to leave any feedback or questions below!
Kegan DeBoheme is Bohemian Vocal Studio’s resident vocal coach and voice expert. He teaches professional singing and voice technique to students all around the world and enjoys providing tutorials like this one on how to improve your voice.