Breathe/Support from Your Diaphragm: Why This Phrase Isn’t Fully Accurate

Breathe/Support from Your Diaphragm: Why This Phrase Isn’t Fully Accurate

I often like to ask my voice students how they currently define breathing and breath support on the first voice lesson. It’s surprising to me how often they mention that they need to use their diaphragm to breathe and support the breath. The funny thing is, they’re not totally wrong. However, there is a way to reference breathing and breath support in a way that is less confusing and more straightforward.

If you’re a singer, you’ve probably heard the phrase “breathe/support from your diaphragm” at least once in your lifetime. Here is more information about the diaphragm to help you understand more about its function, and better ways to talk about the breath:

The diaphragm is inside your body, thus hard to picture. When someone gives the quick command to “use the diaphragm,” it can be difficult to understand due to the direction itself being vague. Many people, singers included, don’t know what the diaphragm looks like or where exactly it sits in the body. This direction can often lead to more questions than answers.

The diaphragm isn’t located in the stomach, but rather right under the lungs. The direction to “breathe and support from the diaphragm” can cause us to confuse our diaphragm with our abdominal muscles. When our stomach expands as we breathe in, it is our abdominal muscles that are releasing to create space for that expansion. Then, when we sing, those abdominal muscles are what engage to support the breath.

The diaphragm is actually located directly underneath the lungs and inside the ribcage. It’s not in your stomach at all! So, next time you hear someone say “breathe from your diaphragm,” remind yourself that they probably mean to release your abdominal muscles and expand your stomach as you inhale.

The diaphragm is an essential component to ALL forms of breathing, even if you’re breathing from your chest. You may be currently asking yourself the question, “What does the diaphragm even do?” The diaphragm makes it possible for us to breathe… period.

Your diaphragm (which is sandwiched under the lungs) contracts downward and flattens, causing air to be suctioned into the lungs. If you didn’t have your diaphragm, you wouldn’t be able to breathe. All people, even people who don’t sing, subconsciously use their diaphragm to breathe. You can rest assured knowing that your body already knows how to use the diaphragm properly!

So, with all this being said, what is a better direction to use? I recommend using the phrases “release your abdominal muscles” and “expand from your stomach as you breathe in.” These instructions are more accurate and tend to be easier to grasp for beginner voice students. Knowing the true function of the diaphragm has helped me to be a better singer and voice teacher. The more information you know about the diaphragm, the more you will understand about applying proper breath control to your practice and performing. You can also know how to accurately teach others how to support their voice. Hope this helps, and happy breathing!

Kylie Evans

Kylie Evans is a Voice Coach at Seattle Voice Lab, where she teaches state of the art gender affirming voice lessons that cover both speech and singing. She previously taught at Boise State University as an adjunct professor, lecturing in vocal pedagogy as well as teaching private voice lessons. Before her time at Boise State, she was an adjunct professor at NYU Steinhardt while she attained her graduate degree in vocal performance as well as an advanced certificate in vocal pedagogy. Kylie also loves to perform. Some of her recent roles are Christine in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Chorus in Dvořák’s Rusalka, and Woman 1 in Songs for a New World.