There's a lot of talk about breathing in the singing world.
"If you take a deep breath and sing from your diaphragm you can hit higher notes."
- lots of people
I was once told that. Numerous times. How about you? Did it help? Kind of? Was it difficult? Yeah, It didn't make much sense to me either.
There's a lot of technical reasons as to why "singing from your diaphragm" isn't the tell all solution to singing. The thoracic diaphragm is a useful tool, but it doesn't create the pitch, it's more of a tool to regulate big air. By pushing the diaphragm out, it let's the lungs expand more in a vertical shape and allows the singer to hold that shape and control the air speed. This is a great technique for more traditional singing in music that allows ample breathing time and requires more projection. However, it's still not used to create the pitch and overall tone, but rather support all notes at higher volumes.
So, this begs the question... is the diaphragm needed for commercial singing? Of course. It's being used more than you realize, even if you have no idea what a diaphragm is. Do you need to think about it when you sing the latest Bruno Mars or Taylor Swift hit? Nah. Just breathe.
Like other vocal tips, is it easier said than done? Well, this one actually is pretty easy. Just start taking bigger breaths. It doesn't take long to get into the habit of it. The trick is to make sure you don't hold all that new breath inside. It wants to be released. Very much. Let that air back out when you sing. The amount of pressure you'll feel released is a beautiful thing. And when singing something difficult, it's easy to forgot, breathing involves air in AND air back out. So, remember both. It'll be habit before you know it. After all, breathing is something you can even do in your sleep.
A great example... remember *NSYNC? Of course you do. Justin Timberlake's good ol' boy band. When I was a 15 years old, those were my boys. I was a teenage boy going through puberty that realized I could sing and started liking girls. Naturally, seeing all those screaming women for *NSYNC was a no brainer for me. I wanted to be in a boy band. So I studied those guys. I learned how to sing every JC part (because he was the best) and I was amazed at something I saw in a documentary about them. *NSYNC would run several miles every day, while singing their entire live set in perfect five part harmony to train before and during tours. They had to sing and dance live (something that I do miss with a lot of current artists) and that takes A LOT of breathing. A LOT. Those dudes were in shape. So one day it hit me, when I would be out jogging listening to music, I'd sing along, and higher notes were actually easier to hit. Were they big and powerful, nope. But they were there. Really easily. As I analyzed the situation, I realized the big factor was obviously the breathing. While out running, I have little control of my breathing. My body wants oxygen in, carbon dioxide out, and it will repeat without my consent. Hmmm...
In today's modern singing world, music isn't written with breathing breaks, and, let's be honest, very seldom do singers need to project without a microphone these days. So, these two factors make the traditional deep breathing technique difficult to accomplish while singing a more modern tune. I've learned the hard way, trying to shove a deep diaphragm focused breath in the middle of a Guns N' Roses or Adam Lambert song leads to a tough time. The notes get harder to hit, and the voice falls on the bottom side of the pitch and sounds flat. Trying to fix a heavy flat high note sucks. Your voice will be worn out in 30 minutes if you continue to do that.
While practicing, don't worry about flipping, mix voice, head voice vs. falsetto, and by all means, keep compression out of it. Just focus on air in and air out while getting those lyrics and notes where they need to be.
Basically, just breathe. Take bigger breaths, and then let them out while singing. It's just a little bit more than speaking really. Go for a jog, or even a swim (yes, I sing when I swim too), get the breathing going, start singing. You'll feel it. It feels fun too.
- Chris Keller