How to Sing 15. Breathing 4 What the diaphragm can and cannot do - How to Sing - 15. Breathing (4) - What the diaphragm can (and cannot) do

How to Sing – 15. Breathing (4) – What the diaphragm can (and cannot) do

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The diaphragm (pronounced ‘die-a-fram’) is very important in singing – but many singers and singing teachers are misinformed how it works, and, by mistake, are giving out wrong information. This video is intended to clear up the confusion. Alexander Massey of is an international soloist and teacher of professional and amateur singers, who also specialises in vocal rehabilitation.

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52 thoughts on “How to Sing – 15. Breathing (4) – What the diaphragm can (and cannot) do”

  1. @I3lindGuardian You’re welcome. This sequence of breathing videos has been a long time coming. As I prepare them, I am always thinking both about what singer’s should do, and what they shouldn’t do. Singers (and teachers) miss so many details when they start thinking about breathing, that I think the videos need always to include information about what to look out for and avoid ….

  2. I cannot thank you enough for these videos. Your teaching method is one I found easiest to follow. Thanks again!

  3. @TheModeleParfait Thank you. It is an interesting challenge to give the relevant theory, techniques and exercises, make it all make sense and keep a lesson to about 5 minutes!

  4. @ConsumingFire39 Thank you – how am I going to manage to live up to that testimonial?! Yes, the methods I teach absolutely transfer to other vocal styles. My view is to learn the classical techniques, and then ‘disguise’ them a little in order to make the sounds and phrasing typical of the genre you want to work in.

  5. @ConsumingFire39 Holding in the throat is a very common problem. I will address that in the breathing videos. Meanwhile, practise opening the lower ribs and upper back, and raising sternum – breath will enter. Let the air sit inside you for a moment without moving tongue or closing the cords at all, then exhale with pursed lips keeping ribs / sternum open, using core muscles to expel air. Make sure there is no ‘click’ in throat before exhalation.

  6. @ConsumingFire39 I will aim to define the ‘click in the throat’ properly in a later breathing video. Basically, when you breathe in, you should not then stop the air even for a moment by holding it at the level of the throat (effectively gripping your vocal cords together in the way we do when lifting a heavy object). The air release that would follow that would be heard to have a gentle ‘click’ sound from the throat. In vocalising, it is heard as a hard edged attack to the note.

  7. Thank you for the kind comments. Sorry for the slowness to respond or post the next video in the series. Singing technique requires the coordination of many muscles; isolating one feature for a video takes careful planning …

  8. I have questions regarding breath. So as I am taking air in do I want to force my diaphragm downwards or do I want to feel as if I am pushing my stomach outwards thereby achieving a downward motion of the diaphragm. Also how can I still keep the ribcage open, sustain the air and still let it out by sucking in my lower abdominals all at the same time? I do not want to expand so much that I feel stiff or suck in too much on the lower abdominals that I have no air left. How do I balance this?

  9. ‘Forcing’ plays no part in singing. When you open the lower ribs and back, and gently open the front of the chest, the diaphragm descends. During this inhalation, if the abdominals are released, the area below the ribs, above the pelvis will generally expand (no pushing). ‘Sucking’ abdominals in is not part of singing. Breathing for singing is a DYNAMIC, flowing process. Opening the spine and ribs, inhaling, initiating onset, sustaining sound, are all fluid – it takes months to years to perfect.

  10. your tutorials are very much practical….i have a question….can this techniques be used for harsh metal vocals like growling, screaming????

  11. You are a Godsend!! Been looking for some detailed explanations about proper singing…thanks so very much!! Just wish you could be here for a day to tell me what I am doing wrong 🙂

  12. Absolutely yes. The best breath management is done this way. But you must be careful with growling / screaming not to put too much pressure on the vocal folds. These techniques must be done using a microphone, where the amplification equipment does 90% of the work of enhancing the volume.

  13. Focussing on just epigastric makes people stiff, and puff their chest out which doesn’t help. Think of GENTLY floating sternum slightly forward, letting lower ribs and middle of back open up. It’s not about ‘filling’, but about moving the air in and out in ways that help. Fullness is not necessary, diaphragm bracing is.

  14. Don’t over-focus on the belly button. When we inhale, and the diaphragm descends, the guts are compressed, and there is gentle expansion all the way round between our lower ribs and pelvis (ie in the abdominal region).

  15. when you say gently float the sternum forward are we focusing on the ribs expanding them …or putting more focus on the sternum going forward on the inhale

  16. It’s not either / or. The three places for gentle expansion are 1) just below sternum, 2) lower ribs, 3) middle of back. This gives a general sense of the ribs ‘accordion’ (better than ‘cage’) opening.

  17. The quantity of air is not important. Otherwise how would you sing a high note at the end of a musical phrase? The point is how you manage air flow, and air pressures. We need finer, more detailed control as we go higher, but not more breath.

  18. Dear Alexander, can we expect any video or even an article with regards to techniques of the higher octave singing? Even an article would be very helpful – Prashanth

  19. First, I believe that our understanding of the upper part of our voice must be rooted in establishing solid technique for our middle notes. The upper notes can be developed from this, in conjunction with a refined mastery of mouth resonance. I hope to produce a video later in the series (but other topics are more important first), as well as an e-book on voice.

  20. I provide these YouTube videos for free, and try to respond to most of the comments and questions posted on my channel. Sorry I can’t provide feedback for individual singers on this channel. I could give you a skype lesson if you would like, and would need to charge for that.

  21. i tried it!!! i tried it!!! xD omg it works tho!!! thank you!!! i’ve learned to improve from not being a natural born singer your video tips work!!

    1. It depends. ‘Warming up’ is a metaphor. Nothing needs to get warmer. When you hum, do you grip the lips and jaw, or tighten the tongue – then it doesn’t help. Do you try to hum to extremes of pitch range? Not a good idea. Do you consider which vowel shape to create internally while humming? It makes a difference. Do you attend to breath management and good alignment – both more important than a good hum.

  22. The more I watched about your videos the more I came to realize that singing is all about being nature including our posture and phrasing. Grow-ups are having a problem in singing because our muscle is sometimes too tired-up, proper singing technique seems a kind of therapy to ease up our body and mind. I bet children won’t having too much problem in this regard or it is easier for them to understand.

    1. An adult does not have a more ‘tired’ body. But an adult may have developed muscular habits unhelpful for the voice. A child still needs lessons as much as an adult does. Singing is a set of very refined coordinations.

  23. Kudos. It’s ridiculous how many people believe that the diaphragm sits behind our abdominal wall and pushes it out.

    1. I don’t know why you are trying to expand your tummy. That has nothing to do with singing technique. If you do that, muscles actually puller the lower ribs INWARDS, which is not what you want. When we gently expand the lower ribs and back, the diaphragm descends, compressing the guts, which is why they bulge outwards when we inhale – it is a passive result of inhalation.

    2. so i should b feeling the expansion on the side and the bulge is the cause of the side expansion.? btw does the lower rib expands slightly?

    3. +amirun akmal No, the bulge in the abdomen on breathing in is because the diaphragm descends and compresses the guts.. And yes, the lower ribs HAVE to expand – otherwise the diaphragm will not descend on inhalation, or be properly braced when phonating.

  24. Hello Alexander! 🙂 First of all thank you very much for these series! they’re absolutely amazing; few series on the net have this profesional and fun quality; trough your videos you give us an insight on what true singing is about! Brilliant! …Although I have a question. Watching your series I at last understood the process of breathing in/out while singing, specially the “straw” excercise gave me the clue to getting to feel the real breath support, so what I normally do it’s to breath in as if I was breathing trough the straw before starting a phrase and it works perfect for me. But I was wondering if there’s any mechanism for breathing the air in while you pronounce the first syllable or vowel that would have the same “impact” and “power” as the “straw” breath in? is that necessary? or am I doing someting wrong? Thanks Alexander ! 🙂

    1. +Mendoza Paulo I’m puzzled. I don’t teach people to breathe IN through a straw. Breathing OUT forcibly through a straw can help us feel the abdominal squeeze on exhalation. To breathe in, we must gently open the sides of the ribs and the middle of the back. Ideally, as we do so, we are preparing the resonating space inside our mouth by shaping the vowel, even if we are going to vocalise a consonant before that vowel.

    2. +Alexander Massey Thanks for your reply. now I understand what you mean. My question was if the breath in meaning the opening the sides of the ribs and the middle back was something that we should do consciously (what I mean by consciously is that we should program our minds to “remember” to breath in before the phrases) or that the body does it itself as an “natural” automatism.,

    3. +Mendoza Paulo After the first inhalation, the rib frame can stay open all the time. This keeps the diaphragm braced downwards. So when the abdominals relax, the diaphragm automatically returns to its low, braced position (because the opened ribs are pulling it there permanently). Take a look on my channel at the playlist ‘Vocal pedagogy’, at singers like Eula Beale, or Luigi Alva. We must consciously train ourselves to keep our ribs open. The habitual movement for normal (it not singers’) breathing is for the ribs to close on exhalation or phonation.

  25. Hey Alexander, thanks so much for these videos. Just a matter of terminology: when you talk in this one about “keeping a finger on your chest to monitor it staying open”, you’re referencing the part right below the sternum, yes? The part that opera singers talk about “being able to push a piano away” with? Cheers, Jeff

    1. Yes – but I definitely do not like the idea of trying to push the piano away. That thinking is not supported by our newer scientific understanding of how breathing muscles operate.

  26. Hey Mr. Massey, your advice would be greatly appreciated, as you are clearly well-versed in the field of singing!

    When I hiss or exhale air, I definitely feel the muscles of my torso contract, as you’ve described in your videos. I find that when I just focus on contracting my lower abdomen muscle (the muscle right above the pubic bone), all the other torso muscles used for exhalation automatically contract– I prefer using this mechanism so I can avoid tension higher up, as some advocate for contracting the upper abdominals.

    Is supported singing really just a dynamic opposition between this lower ab mechanism and the ribs staying open? If so, is learning supported singing really just a matter of finding that perfect amount of lower ab contraction coupled with the expanded ribs to create just the right amount of pressure under the vocal cords?

    Would you mind recommending a few exercises to learn how to connect this dynamic opposition with the voice? I cannot afford a vocal teacher, but I have succeeded in teaching myself how to breath and gain control of the muscles of the torso and ribs, so I have faith in myself. I know HOW supported singing works, I know WHAT MUSCLES to use for supported singing, I just don’t know how to apply this to my voice! It’s quite frustrating, really, but I think through diligent practice and motivation I will be able to achieve proper breath control.

    Thank you so much for answering these questions– I apologize if it’s a little excessive!

    1. This is a great question. I really, really want to do more videos on this. My apologies for not having done any videos for a long time. Yes, the breathing should be as you described. I think my next breathing video needs to be to show how to connect this ‘singer’s breath delivery system’ with the action of the vocal folds for creating good onset. As a quick suggestion, keep the jaw loose, but purse your lips to ‘compress’ the air escaping on ‘fff’ (as though blowing up a stiff balloon) – once the air is flowing, almost immediately covert the ‘fff’ into ‘vvv’, not letting the tongue or neck muscles join in at that moment. Imagine as if playing with a small child, and pretending to make motorbike noises. But the sound must be launched not by thinking of starting in the throat, but by starting from the lower abs. Once you have a comfortable ‘vv’ happening, gently open up to a vowel ‘ee’, keeping the back of the jaw loose and low, but the front teeth relatively close. Sorry I can’t write more at the moment.

    2. That’s alright! Thank you so much for your response– feel free to add any more comments later on if you have time!

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