Breathing: Basic Concepts

 In Singing, Vocal Technique

B:“ Do you mean I have to push?! ”


hen I talk to people about my job, whether they are singers or not, that one question often comes across: “ DO YOU SING FROM THE DIAPHRAGM?”; or if you are a singer, you may have heard:“ YOU NEED MORE SUPPORT!”; “IF YOU STRENGTHEN THE DIAPHRAGM, THEN YOU’LL BE ABLE TO SING HIGH NOTES!”.
Well, oh well… ?
Breathing is one of the most discussed topics in singing. There are some things we need to be aware of.

The first one is we use Diaphragmatic Breathing in singing. We don’t use Chest Breathing for various reasons.

Breathing plays a very important role in the tone production, but that should not lead us to work directly on it or to overemphasise it.
Personally, I only work “directly” on it if there is a valid motivation to do so, for instance, a kind of “lazy” posture.
Think about this. If you want to cook some pasta (yes, I’m Italian and I love pasta!), you need water in a pot and some fire to heat it. Imagine yourself standing by the pot with your hand under it with a lighter in order to keep the fire going! (By the way, don’t try that at home!).
Your job is to light the stove and the fire will just take care of heating the pan and cooking the pasta.
So it is with breathing. It is the effect and not the cause.


INHALATION (breathing in) and EXHALATION (breathing out).

We have two muscle groups that will cooperate and work to inhale just enough air; then to send the right amount of air to the vocal folds (or vocal cords), when we exhale.


First of all, let’s make it clear, you don’t sing from the diaphragm.
The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle, which is responsible for the inhalation phase.
When we breathe out, it does not push air out as is not involved in this movement!
The diaphragm muscle relaxes in the exhalation process, but we are not letting it completely relax otherwise our voice will “fall apart”.
That means there is a coordination to be built, and that is what a voice teacher will help you with.


One of the most common issues most students will have troubles with is breathing out correctly.
Most students who start taking vocal lessons think that:
– they need more air to sing. This is, in most cases, incorrect;
– they need to “support” the air, but that idea turns into “pushing”.

These two factors will result in an imbalanced tone. You will either sound choked or breathy.

Your vocal folds are as big (or as small) as a thumbnail. They won’t be able to resist the excess amount of air that is sent to them.
Let’s exaggerate it: imagine a straw house as being your vocal folds, which has to withstand a whirlwind that represents the air you send out.


I was one of those who would be over concerned with my diaphragm, but I was not aware I was actually manipulating it.
I thought I needed to fill my belly up in order to reach the notes I wanted. The result was strain, constant engagement of the extrinsic muscles of the larynx, unease of voice production and poor control.


Every good teacher will help you reach your goals.
Ultimately, if your goal is to sing freely, in a balanced manner you need to learn to send the right amount of air to your vocal folds.
The coordination AIR vs VOCALS FOLDS is one of the keys to improving singing. If you notice you’re using too much air, try reducing the amount of air you “push out”.
Most importantly, if you are over concerned about your diaphragm, try and approach a more natural side of the breathing.
In my experience, simple breathing is more efficient.

Work hard to accomplish your goals. Never give up! Let the ordinary you become extraordinary! 

Pietro Pratico

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