ðrew vervan Rotating Header Image

so what is the proper use of a diaphragm?

[Note: The point of view from which I approach the advice offered here is that of personal experience; in other words, I’m sharing with you what I have discovered. If you have something constructive to add, please email me (drewvervan@drewvervan.com) – I’d love to hear from you.]

I must say, at the outset, that writing about the “diaphragm” is fairly hilarious!

If you’re interested in singing, you may have heard of something called a “diaphragm.”

When I first heard of it, I didn’t really understand what is was or where it was, so I certainly didn’t get a clear picture of how to use it.

But if you want to sing with sustained notes; long, lyrical phrases; and lots of power, then getting a full understanding of the diaphragm is crucial.

When voice students begin lessons, I have them spend their first few lessons lying on the floor – and, as strange or humourous as that may seem, I have a good reason: I’m trying to help them rediscover their natural way of breathing.

How do YOU do it?

First, you need to understand “what” you are trying to do, before you can get to the “how.”

The diaphragm is a muscle located underneath your lungs, and its main function is to help you breath.  As I understand it, this muscle separates the lungs and upper organs of the body from the lower organs, such as intestines and so forth.

Many voice teachers talk about the diaphragm as if you can feel it or touch it – there’s lots of advice pointing to your lower abdomen, for example.

Truly though, what this is trying to do is to get you to use your abdomen muscles to expand the area below the diaphragm.

So, your goal is to expand the area below the diaphragm, so the diaphragm can drop down and create more space for your lungs to expand downward.

Comparatively, many people try to take deeper breaths by raising their shoulders – but your bones are not as flexible as your muscles and soft tissue.

So, back to lying on the floor ….

When you were born, you had perfect breathing skills.  Somewhere along the way, however, we seem to lose the ability to breath with good technique, and, instead, we start breathing with our shoulders, trying to move our immovable rib cages.

To rediscover your perfect breathing technique, try the following exercise – you’ll need a good solid place on the floor, and you’ll need a heavy book, such as a dictionary:

1.  Lie on the floor.

2.  Place the book on your lower abdomen – not on your chest.  Think of the soft area below your ribcage – this is the place on which you want to focus your attention.

3.  With the book in place, take slow deep breaths – trying counting silently to six as you breath in; then counting to six again as you exhale.  You should begin to see the book rising and falling – rising as you inhale; falling as you exhale.

Once you are successful at moving the book, you will have rediscovered your proper breathing technique.

The next step is to take this technique and do it while you’re standing up – by the way, because of the way our bodies are constructed, we have great difficulty breathing properly while sitting – unless you sit up very, very straight and tall, to allow room for your abdomen muscles to expand outward.

So, while standing, place your hands on the spot where you had the book.  Now breath again, and try to focus your muscle movements so that you hands expand outward and contract back inwards along with the movements of your abdominal muscles.

Now here’s the singing part – it’s the exhaling that translates to sustained singing.  So, your goal is to learn to inhale a good amount of air fairly quickly – in a split second – and then control the exhale, using the abdominal muscles to support your singing.

Ok- so those are the basics.  You may need a good voice teacher to help you perfect these techniques, but this should get you started.  As you try to get the hang of this, be certain to spend plenty of floor time, until that breathing technique becomes very natural for you.

Once you’ve mastered breathing, the next steps are to learn how to focus your sound and develop good resonance techniques.

Good Luck!