This is a detailed guide for beginners to learn how to sing from your diaphragm with proper breath support.
It’s a mystery to many beginning vocalists when starting out when vocal teachers say things like:
- “Breathe from your diaphragm…”
- “Breathe with your stomach…”
- “Stop breathing from your chest…”
That you get confused on how to breathe correctly.
Breathing is essential for singing and learning how to sing with proper support will allow you to sing with resonance and intensity with minimum strain in your voice.
That’s why we are going to show you who to engage your diaphragm to support your vocals and practice safely without destroying them.
Let’s get started.
What Does The Diaphragm Do?
The diaphragm is located right below your lungs and the primary purpose is to help support your lungs taking in and getting air out. This means that when you breathe in, the diaphragm collapses to bring in more oxygen and vice versa when you exhale.
There is a huge misconception about breathing from the diaphragm and that it is a muscle you can’t directly control.
When vocal teachers say to breathe from your diaphragm, what they mean is they want you to engage with your lower breath support such as your lungs, abs, lower back, intercostals (rib muscles…)
This is an important mindset shift because it forces you to realize that singing isn’t just about focusing on one muscle but using your entire body to support your singing.
For example, when you go to the gym and try to do a bench press, you aren’t just engaging with your chest but also your abs, your glutes, and your back.
Otherwise, your chest muscles would get tired too quickly and you may hurt your lower back.
The same thing applies to singing where you want to use your entire body rather than just your stomach or throat when you sing.
The idea of “shallow breathing” is where you mainly breathe from your upper chest and mainly engages the vocals when you try to increase the intensity.
So now that you understand that proper breath support is using your entire body to support your singing, we are ready to learn how to sing with your entire body.
1. Find Your Diaphragm
First, before we can sing with proper breath support we need to find your diaphragm.
So once you find your lungs, go slightly downwards toward your sternum and that’s where your diaphragm location is.
Here’s a breathing exercise to help you instantly know what proper breath support feels like:
- Lay down on the floor with your back…
- Take a very deep breath in slowly…
- Hold it for a second…
- Exhale naturally.
This exercise is effective because it takes out gravity out of the equation to support your breath.
This allows you to focus on your breathing naturally and at the same time making “shallow breathing” very difficult to do (since it’s hard to raise your chest while lying down…)
Notice that when you breathe from your diaphragm, your stomach starts expanding first before your sides and chest…
Just like a balloon.
Now, take a deep breath in and try saying something like “La” while holding the note.
Don’t force your throat and put a ton of tension and just let the air come out naturally.
Now try raising the volume of that sound without putting pressure on your throat and you are going to feel that you are engaging your stomach and diaphragm for the volume.
Remember this feeling since you are going to want to replicate it while you sing.
Take a couple more deep breaths and ingrain this feeling.
Learning how to improve will not just help you as a singer, but will also help improve the quality of your life as well.
2. Practice Breathing From Your Diaphragm Standing Up
Now that you understand what proper breath support feels like while learning how to breath from your diaphragm laying down, the challenge comes doing this while standing up.
This is because now you are fighting against gravity and you need to support your body with your muscles so that you can breathe and sing naturally and have power and resonance.
Now here is how you have proper posture:
- Stand up straight with your feet shoulder width apart
- Contract your glutes to around 10-15% to stabilize your hips
- Now, contract your abs to around 10-15% to stabilize your waist
- Puff out your chest a little and engage your shoulder blades and back muscles around 5% (not too far out…)
- Look straight in front of you at around 90 degrees.
Learning how to have proper posture is essential for singing so that you don’t ruin your voice.
Now, once you are standing up with proper posture try to replicate that feeling of breathing in when you were on the floor.
Remember how you first engaged with your stomach before your sides and chest expanded.
You will know if you are breathing with the support of your diaphragm if your entire body feels like it’s inflating like a balloon while standing with proper posture.
It’s going to feel very awkward at first if you have never breathed properly before but you will get used to it pretty quick.
3. Strengthen Your Diaphragm Muscles
If you want to learn how to sing from your diaphragm then we need to strengthen them so we can use it while we sing.
This is because you haven’t trained the muscles surrounding the diaphragm to support your vocal cords when you eventually try to increase the intensity.
That means engaging with your intercostals, your lower back, your abs since they aren’t used to being engaged while you project your voice.
Here’s a breathing exercise to help strengthen your diaphragm muscles: imagine blowing out a birthday candle on top of a cake.
Here’s how you do it:
- Take a deep breathe in from the nose…
- Slightly push your abs and put a good amount of force trying to blow out a candle…
- Do this as many times as you want while taking a small rest in between.
This exercise is important because you are consciously exaggerating your diaphragmatic breathing muscles to physically let you know how it feels.
You can pay attention to which muscles you need to engage while you sing.
It also lets you realize how to add more power and intensity to your voice without having to tighten your abs or throat.
Another breathing exercise you can do to engage your diaphragmatic breathing is to do lip trills just like how Celine Dion does it below…
Pro tip: You need some tension in your abs to maintain proper support, but other than that it should stay relaxed just like how you were breathing while on the floor.
4. Start Practicing With An Actual Song In Your Lower Range
The best way to learn how to sing from your diaphragm is to sing with actual songs.
Breathing exercises are great since they are like training wheels, but ultimately we want to use your diaphragm while we sing.
That’s why we need to find a song that we like to practice that’s within our lower range (Or you can just lower the key to your voice…)
Now here’s the catch: Try to sing along with your favorite song at 0.25 speed.
In the beginning, our focus isn’t to sing the whole song with diaphragm breathing, but getting one note at a time accurately with proper breath support.
You want to slightly exaggerate and be aware of the breathing with each note you sing with questions like are you:
- Forcing it through your throat?
- Engaging your lower breath support?
- Hitting the note correctly?
It’s about building the tiny blocks correctly with each note that allows you to become better at breathing with proper breath support.
And we keep doing this until breathing correctly becomes second-nature to you.
When you first start your muscles are going to get tired because they aren’t used to it.
And keep doing this in your lower range until you feel very comfortable before taking it to your higher range.
Otherwise, if you start to feel strain in your throat go back to your lower range and try to figure out why it’s straining.
And with all these tiny repetitions you correct, you are instilling a habit that will support you for your entire singing career.
5. Sing From Your Diaphragm When Using Head Voice And Falsetto
If you also want to learn how to sing in your head voice or falsetto you are going to need to also learn how to sing from your diaphragm.
You use the same techniques as above with your chest voice but it’s going to feel slightly different since you are using a different vocal register.
I’ve also noticed that it takes more air for your voice to be developed when you sing in falsetto.
Here’s how to sing from your diaphragm while you sing falsetto:
- Take a deep breath in with proper breath support…
- Find a small vowel that’s easy to start like “ooo” and hold that note…
- Then once you can do it with an easy vowel slowly up to actual words…
Remember to focus on engaging your entire body while you are singing in your falsetto rather than just using your throat.
Not only will you make your voice sound richer, but you will also be able to extend your practice time since your voice won’t get as tired easily.
Plus, it will make your voice sound richer and more resonant instead of being strained.
6. Practice Breathing From Your Diaphragm Consistently
Just like any habit, it takes around 66 days on average to instill a habit of proper breath support in learning how to sing with your diaphragm.
The thing that you want to keep in mind is that if you want to learn it faster, then you have to use it more.
Another way to speed up the process is that you want to establish a cue, routine and a reward every time you do a successful practice session with diaphragmatic breathing.
It can be something as simple as:
- Cue: Standing in your practice area
- Routine: Singing with diaphragm breathing
- Reward: Treat yourself with a snack afterwards
It’s these little things that you do every day that will help you sing with proper breath support without thinking about it.
What you are doing is you are established to your body that you are rewarding it with proper breath support.
Once it becomes second-nature to you, you can focus solely on your singing having a peace of mind that you are breathing correctly.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I know if I’m singing from my diaphragm?
The best way to know if you are breathing from your diaphragm is to lie down on the floor and take a deep breath in… and exhale.
Now try talking in that position.
It shouldn’t feel forced (but it should feel slightly harder since you are going up against gravity…)
- Does singing feel like that or do you feel more tension in your throat?
Experiment and see how to increase the volume without putting strain on your throat.
My throat hurts when I sing. What should I do?
I highly recommend you stop singing since trying to force it out while it hurts can damage your vocal cords.
This can be several things like:
- Singing mainly from your throat without using proper breath support…
- Your vocal cords are dehydrated…
- Your vocal cords are weak from being sick…
- And a bunch of other reasons…
But if it’s a problem that continues then I highly recommend you go to a doctor and check it out.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry since you only have one voice in this lifetime.
Should you sing from your throat or stomach?
The answer to this question is that you need to sing from both and use your entire body to sing well.
You need to put some tension on your throat so that sound can actually come out and you should engage your lower breath support (your abs, intercostals, diaphragm…) to add intensity and richness to your voice.
Otherwise, if you sing just from your throat your voice is going to strain and get tired very easily.
You need to use your throat since that’s where the vocal cords are and you want to use not just your stomach but your abs, intercostal, and lower back to give you more power when you sing.
Otherwise, if you focus on just your throat, it’s going to strain quickly.
In this guide I showed you how to sing from your diaphragm and engage your entire body to support your vocals.
I went over useful tips anyone can do to find their diaphragm and actually engage it.
Then we went over some exercises in how to strengthen these muscles so that we can use them for an actual song.
If you have any questions about singing from the diaphragm let me know in the comments below!