The Mystery of The Diaphragm: Part 2

I finished my last blog post on what may have been a bit of a cliffhanger for a lot of singers; with the revelation that the (thoracic) diaphragm isn’t in its active phase when we sing, and so, therefore, we don’t ‘use’ it to sing.

However, the idea that we do has been around for a long time, and it continues to be taught.

I think this is because the diaphragm is the main creator of inhalation, so the assumption has been that it also controls the exhale. Or perhaps because we are not quite sure what we are experiencing in the abdomen when we sing.

I like to scotch this myth, as I think it can confuse singers and cause them to create unhelpful tension, both physically and mentally! If we can’t really feel this elusive, supposedly vital, muscle, that is going to make us sound amazing (but it appears that everyone else can!) then we could be spending a lot of uncertain time searching for an answer that isn’t really there.

The answer is actually much easier to implement.

We want a steady, controlled flow of air passing the vocal cords when we sing. As previously discussed, we want as little air pressure as possible to allow the vocal cords to stretch and vibrate happily, so less air in, better control out, is the aim.

We discussed the importance of good posture, especially keeping the ribcage stable (intercostal muscles between the ribs engaged) and sternum raised, yet in a relaxed fashion.

In addition, we want to engage the deep abdominal muscles as we sing, as the abs work in an antagonistic way to the diaphragm – they engage whilst it relaxes, pushing the abdominal organs upwards with the diaphragm – this, alongside the action of the ribcage and recoil of the lungs, helps us produce a smooth, controlled, flow of air.

So, in essence, rather than wondering if we are doing the correct thing with our diaphragm when we sing, if we focus on our posture, ribcage and abs, this gives us a tangible and more effective way of controlling our airflow, but also making that ‘lesser’ breath work for us, both in terms of minimal pressure on the vocal cords and making it to the end of a phrase or held note!

Mystery solved….

In my next blog I will discuss what creates volume in the voice, and why that old chestnut, ‘what a great voice – must have a cracking set of lungs!’ is also a load of old hokum….

For more info and practical application of the techniques and ideas discussed in this blog, please contact me or visit

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