A different type of breathing – Proper Diaphragmatic Breathing

Proper Diaphragmatic Breathing

There seems to be quite a bit of mystery surrounding the topic of diaphragmatic breathing. Some people believe it doesn’t exist at all and you should breath normally, while others seem to grasp the idea but haven’t fully implemented it (and it shows in their voice). I’m going to take some time to discuss my thoughts on the practice and you’ll have a better understanding of how the support functions.

Breathing during singing

First things first, diaphragmatic breathing is a real phenomenon, most people do it incorrectly. Even a lot of vocal coaches don’t fully understand how it works, which is why they can’t help their students become the singers they want to be.

They themselves cannot do diaphragmatic breathing. If you can’t properly do it, then obviously you’re not going to fully understand the concept. With that out of the way, let’s move forward.

Proper diaphragmatic breathing is simply learning how to hold your breath while exhaling. This is not to be confused with circular breathing, which requires keeping certain passages in the throat open. 

The inhale portion of diaphragmatic breathing is the legendary and often spoken of “press down”. The press down is simply learning to hold your breath.

It requires engaging the muscles you use while inhaling and maintaining their engagement for the entire course of your  singing.

This motion is the brakes to your air flow, it slows down the rate of air. When you sing higher you need less air, so you press down more to slow the rate of air down. If you would like to recognize which muscles you’re trying to control then you should do this basic exercise, which will be in the video. Breathe from your diaphragm and then try breath in again, you will feel a pressure around your rib cage. These are the muscles you must learn to control. 

The exhale process is not talked about as often and doesn’t have a clever name. This is where I believe a lot of confusion for diaphragmatic breathing exists. First, take a breath from the diaphragm and, then, hold your breath. Finally, let all the air out with a sigh (I like to use an “H” sound). This is the exhale motion of support. 

You must learn to balance both motions. In doing so, you’ll learn what true vocal support is all about. When performed correctly you won’t have too much air coming out – only enough air to get the note started (yes, you start your singing notes from the support, not from your throat).

If your stomach is moving as a response to the release of the air and you can visibly see it moving, you’re letting too much air out. 

There’s always videos of people showing the pump motion for support. This is more of a demonstration of the exhale motion, but actual support doesn’t pump like that. That would be a whole lot of extra air you just added to your singing for no reason. Again, proper diaphragmatic support is the combination of learning how to properly exhale while you inhale. If you remember all those concepts and expect that the stomach shouldn’t look like it’s moving in at all, then you’ll properly perform the diaphragmatic breath.

About the Author:

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Chris Glyde is a Bel Canto trained vocal coach based in Rochester New York. This style of Bel Canto is geared towards contemporary vocals, not opera. Click here if you’re interested in learning more about getting vocal lessons in Rochester with Chris Glyde.