Breathing for Singing –
The Role of the Diaphragm

Breathing for Singing

Breathing for Singing – Diaphragm inhibition

Have you ever heard the phrases…

‘Sing from your diaphragm’

‘Use your diaphragm when you sing’

What do these mean exactly? I would like to clarify the role of the diaphragm and give you a few tips on breathing for singing.

The diaphragm is a large double domed shaped muscle that separates your upper and lower body cavities. Above it are the lungs and the heart and below are your other organs. At rest the diaphragm resides up and under your lower ribcage – much higher than most people imagine. When it contracts two things happen

  • It acts upon the lungs, pulling them downwards and causing a vacuum, which naturally draws air into the body
  • It exerts downward pressure upon the abdominal area and forces the lower body to expand

lungs singing


This gives the illusion that breath is being drawn in very low and hence you may have come across the term ‘belly breathing’ as a result. Just for clarification, it isn’t really possible to distribute the breath to the lungs anywhere but centrally as the bronchial tubes enter the upper middle of each lung. It is okay, however, to visualise a’low breath’ when breathing for singing.


Do NOT Sing from the Diaphragm

Watch This Video for Breathing for Singing Exercises

Hold Your Breath

breathing for singingAs the diaphragm draws air into the body, the intercostal muscles help to expand your floating ribs. The overall feeling should be one of expansion around the middle and lower body. Your fixed ribcage will elevate slightly also as the lungs become fuller. The idea now is to maintain that feeling that you experience while you sing. Think of it as holding the air inside your body without  closing your throat. This volume of air will become your support for your voice as you sing.


Leak the air out

diaphragmAs you start to sing, maintain that expanded feeling you had at inspiration. The key to achieving really powerful high notes is expert breath flow control. You keep the air pressure in the lungs and maintain the expansion of the ribs to STOP THE DIAPHRAGM from returning back to its resting point. The natural will of the diaphragm is to relax back to its original place and if you allow that to happen then you are no longer in control of your airflow but your diaphragm is.

The negative effects of allowing the diaphragm to dictate the outbound airflow are:

  • increased air speed
  • loss of support
  • increased resistance in the throat – constriction
  • a tight sound with little resonance
  • an inability to access the higher register




  • coen kleisen

    Reply Reply April 20, 2013

    this is a very clear explanation and very helpful. what about the lower back muscles?

    • Tony

      Reply Reply May 7, 2013

      Hi Coen

      The back muscles also tighten to help the overall support system. I would say that the support is firstly provided by the intercostal and abdominal muscles and then followed by the lower back muscles.
      Hope this helps

  • donald nwali

    Reply Reply April 21, 2013

    Hi, dis diaphramic breathing tips has really been helpful…its an eye opener, tanx alot 4 dis exposition

  • Rob

    Reply Reply May 6, 2013

    Tony, having also viewed the Judas Priest tutorial , I have a question concerning the action of the abdominal muscles. Keeping in mind that I must maintain the expansion of the ribs, do the abs tighten inwards while singing to provide ” support ” ? In the JP video you mention that the abs and lower back are working to provide support. Thanks.

    • Tony

      Reply Reply May 7, 2013

      Good observation Rob!

      Yes, there is a kind of ‘duality’ at work with the ribs staying expanded and then a slight inward tightening of the abs to support the tone.


  • Vivienne

    Reply Reply October 10, 2013

    I came across your website whilst searching for images of the diaphragm for an online article I am writing about migraine. Would you very kindly allow me to use the image labelled “leak the air out” in the article with full credit to your website. Many thanks, Vivienne

    • Tony

      Reply Reply October 10, 2013

      Hi Vivienne

      I’m glad you found my website and please feel free to use the image. Perhaps you can send me a link to your article when you are done and I will reference it here. Migraines are a serious issue for singers as you can imagine 🙂

      Kind regards

  • Sheila L.

    Reply Reply November 4, 2014

    Hi, I just started watching your videos tonight for the first time and I’ve been singing for a long time and I have to say I am just so impressed with how you teach. Your techniques are explained so well and you make it easy to understand and to do. Thanks for sharing your much talented information with others.

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