The Truth About the Diaphragm

Many musicians speak of the diaphragm as though it is something you can feel. This is confusing because you can’t directly feel your diaphragm. You can feel the secondary motion of the abdominal expansion which is created by the diaphragm’s excursion but you can’t directly feel the diaphragm.

When a teacher tells a student “breathe with the diaphragm” the student tries diligently to follow the instructions because that’s what students do. Trying to feel the diaphragm is like trying to feel the liver (!) You know it’s somewhere down there and you know it’s important but, unless there is a problem, you can’t directly feel it.

Teachers who use the phrase “breathe with the diaphragm” are implying that something different than normal breathing should happen when we make music. As though…now that we are playing our instrument, we will really step it up and use this special sort of breathing in order to play well. In fact, we breathe with the diaphragm with every breath we take – 24/7. We don’t have a choice in the matter because the diaphragm is the primary muscle of inspiration. There is no other way to breathe than with the diaphragm. Teachers who perpetuate this myth might as well say “smell with your nose” or “listen with your ears”…

If a teacher wants to encourage good breath support becasue it takes more than just passive breathing to play well, that is a different (and valid) story. Let’s not confuse this issue with nonsense like “diaphramatic breathing”…

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