Day 17 Alexander Technique & Singing Tip: Day 2 of 3 on Breathing and the Diaphragm

The movement of the diaphragm and how it relates to singing.

Fun question #1 to ask people: when you breathe in, does your diaphragm go up or down?

Fun question #2: The corollary, when you exhale, or sing, does the diaphragm go up or down?

The green arrows indicate the direction of movement of the ribs and diaphragm during inhalation and exhalation. The blue highlights the shape of the diaphragm and the vocal tract, emphasizing their similarity.

The green arrows indicate the direction of movement of the ribs and diaphragm during inhalation and exhalation. The blue highlights the shape of the diaphragm and the vocal tract, emphasizing their similarity.

Answer #1: When you inhale, the diaphragm descends, and the ribs expand outwards (kind of up and out like a bucket handle being lifted. The ribs’ greatest movement is at the sides, but there is also an increase in volume at the front and back.)

  • Notice from the picture above, that roughly 2/3 of the lung mass is in the back half of the body. If you try some classic singer teacher directions like “leaving your chest high” or being in the “noble posture”, make sure that you’re not collapsing , narrowing your ribs in the back. If those aren’t free to move and expand with your inhale, you’re restricting where most of the air goes!)

  • “Belly Breathing” occurs when we lock our lower ribs from moving (where the diaphragm attaches), and inhale. Try it, and notice how much your belly protrudes when you breathe. Notice if you feel any sensation of pulling down on your throat and tongue. Now allow for movement in your lower ribs while you breathe. Your belly will expand as the diaphragm moves downwards and displaces some of your guts, but not as much. Notice if the sense of a downward tug on your throat and tongue is released.

  • If you allow your whole body to be available to the movement of the breath, you can feel the diaphragm descend, move your guts down and your belly out, and exert a gentle expansive pressure all the way down to your pelvic floor (between your sitzbones, tail bone, and pubic bone), and even all the way down to your feet! There’s no air down there, that’s contained in your lungs above your diaphragm, but allowing your body to be free enough to feel this chain-link of events when you breathe sets you up in a wonderful free and easy way when you go to exhale. Might this be what many teachers mean when they say “sing from where you go to the bathroom, or from hairline to hairline, or from your #$*&”?

  • Notice how we’ve drawn a blue line to highlight the shape of the diaphragm and the shape of the vocal tract through the mouth. Everything in the body relates to everything else, but the arches of the body have a very strong correlation with one another. One of these correlations is the diaphragm and the vocal tract and tongue. When you inhale and the diaphragm descends, notice if you feel any tendency for your tongue to descend or be pulled along down your throat. See if you can resist this tendency, and find the opposition of the tongue releasing up and away from the diaphragm while you inhale.

Answer #2: When you exhale, the diaphragm ascends and the ribs return down and in.

  • Back to the blue highlighted portions. Notice when you exhale and allow the diaphragm to ascend, if that can be helpful for feeling that your tongue can release and stay easy. Many singing teachers when trying to counteract tongue root tension, may ask a singer to exhale a decent amount of air so that the diaphragm begins to rise, which can help the tongue to release, and then ask the singer to sing without inhaling, to capitalize on this more released tongue.

  • Notice how losing or maintaining your awareness of where the front of the diaphragm connects to your rib cage may relate or not to your ability to maintain “chiaro” or front or upper partials in your sound.

  • Notice how losing or maintaining your awareness of where the back of the diaphragm connects to your lower back may relate or not to your ability to maintain “scuro” or back or lower partials in your sound.