Stop Trying to “Use Your Diaphragm”

A Tip On The Anatomy Of Breath Support

How many of you have been told to “use your diaphragm!” by a voice professional?

I want to let you in on a little secret . . .you can’t actually “use” your diaphragm. It’s a futile request.

While the diaphragm is an essential muscle for breath support and for the production of sound, you can’t actually direct your diaphragm to do anything because it is an involuntary muscle. Just like another very important involuntary muscle in our body, the heart, the diaphragm has an essential job to do, but we cannot directly control it. Telling a singer to “use your diaphragm!” is like telling an athlete to “pump your heart!” It’s an impossible request and contributes to much confusion around the nature of breath support for singing.

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The diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle at the bottom of your ribcage that separates your thorax (where your heart and lungs live) from your abdomen (where your digestive organs live). When you inhale, this dome-shaped diaphragm contracts downwards flattening out. When this happens, the volume of the thoracic cavity increases, a vacuum is activated and air is then drawn into the lungs. It’s the slow rise of the diaphragm from this flat shape back up to its original dome shape that helps move the air out of the lungs at the precise velocity and volume optimal for vibrating the vocal folds into making a resonant sound.

But how can we effect the diaphragm to rise slowly if we can’t control it?

Well, even though we can not control the movement of the diaphragm itself, we can effect the manner in which it rises by how we engage the muscles that connect to it: the abdominal muscles, the musculature of the lumbar spine and the muscles making up the pelvic floor. Our ability to engage those muscles in an efficient way has a direct effect on what happens to the diaphragm.

So when we talk about breath support, we are really talking about the muscles that support the diaphragm to stay low and move slow.

The next time a voice professional implores you to “use your diaphragm!” you will know that they are not as informed about the anatomy of support as you are (and you may consider that as a reason to choose a new teacher). You will also know that what they are really saying is for you to engage the muscles of your lower abdomen, lumbar spine and pelvic floor in a more efficient way to support your diaphragm as you move air into sound.

1 thought on “Stop Trying to “Use Your Diaphragm””

  1. I’m doing a vocal health workshop today and needed an image for the muscles involved. I’m so glad I found this because what you are saying makes PERFECT SENSE and I will be cutting such phrasing out of my vocabulary immediately. Thank you!


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