Myth Buster-Vocal Edition: Sing from your diaphragm

It is so crucial that we stay educated and continue to follow research in the vocal education world. I want to make sure I have the best information to give to my students and to remember that every student is different. There is no “one size fits all” solution to vocal coordination.

There have been some myths that have been floating around for years. It is time to put an end to these myths and get back to the basics of vocal anatomy and pedagogy.

Myth #1: “Sing from your diaphragm”

I grew up hearing this statement and though I was clever enough to figure out that my vocal folds are not located in my diaphragm… others have not. Quick anatomy lesson:

Physically, it is impossible to sing from your diaphragm since your vocal folds (we don’t call them cords anymore)are located in your throat, specifically, in the larynx. Your diaphragm is located and connected to the base of your rib cage, like an upside-down bowl, under your lungs.It is used to push your viscera(guts), or as my voice teacher in college used to call them “beef and noodles”,down and out of the way for your lungs to expand. Then you use your abdominal muscles to maintain a feelings of the inhale position as you exhale creating the ability to sustain your breath through a piece of music. That is also why lifting your shoulders to breathe doesn’t actually work… Your lungs have nowhere to expand if the diaphragm is not allowed contract to and make room for them to take in more air.

So though you need your diaphragm to provide support in breath control, you cannot sing from it. Healthy sound comes from having an energized breathing technique. Your folds need a steady stream of air that matches the register you are singing in. A higher register requires a much different stream of air than a low register. That’s getting into the physics of sound and waves and a 40 page paper, so I digress.

Just know that you don’t “sing from your diaphragm”. Myth busted! Most of my students are beginners, but they have, so far, understood the concept of how breathing works, even if we are still learning how to do it, without using this phrase. It is a process that is not solved overnight or by practicing breathing techniques without adding vocalization. Singing technique is about coordination and if you don’t practice adding the vocalization and breathing together, then it’s a waste to practice breathing at all.