How to "Sing from Your Diaphragm"?
First, don't take the term "sing from your diaphragm" too seriously. Some background on terms for singing:
he world of singing has completely 180'd in last 30 years or so, since we can now see what is actually happening in the throat. How could I explain what has happened with the world of singing?
Because no one could easily see what was happening inside the mouth and throat, there was a lot of myths and guesswork when it comes to singing technique and how to teach it. Not only that, but most voice teachers would disagree on which myth about singing was correct! This made it quite tough to learn to sing, to teach singing and to learn how to teach singing! In addition, we had other, separate arguments going on...classical ideals of sound got muddled with what was actually healthy for your voice. Then there was yet another argument on talent vs. training. The non-classical singers/bands/producers believed in the "you got it or you don't" and many professional singers would be afraid to take voice lessons (even if they were running into strain and desperately needed help) because then it meant they were no longer "talented" or "gifted". They wouldn't be seen "needing" training, sometimes it was done in secret. Whereas classical singers were told what to do and how to do every single nuance of every note with a long lineage of traditions in sound that were to be preserved and respected.
Yikes. What a mess.
So when I, as a "13-year-old-just-came-from-homeschooling-in-Canada-to-scary-8th-grade-public-school-in-Texas- social outcast-wanting-to-learn-how-to-sing, entered the world of singing, I was in for quite a trip!
Not only did I have ZERO skill/talent, but my teachers didn't know how to start from scratch when it came to singing (as many of them had to survive their singing careers on talent, teachers doing guesswork and having to apply guesswork). So it was ten years or so of me learning everything I could about singing, working with voice pedagogy researchers, a Juilliard school teacher, Alexander Technique teachers...etc. that I reversed engineered how to get from zero ability/talent to "oh, that actually sounds good!" level of singing.
The exciting thing about being a "pioneer" voice teacher so-to-speak is that you get to see the difference that the science of singing makes in your own voice and the voices of your students, while also seeing that applying science to the human movement of singingis also...an art.
Science can you tell you about the chemicals in a wine that is corked, but it can't replace tasting a corked wine. So the art of teaching is one in which we learn to hear and feel the science of singing. That's a whole different skill and it's not learned in a textbook.
This is why in my breathing for singing course, I've created exercises that help you refine your perceptions of your breathing, so that you're much more likely to make new discoveries in how to sing better for yourself and also be able to unstick yourself from singing habits that aren't helping you. I've overcome deeply ingrained habits in my singing with these same exercises in the course. That's why I made it. For someone out there who feel totally hopeless and defeated in their singing. You can unstick yourself.
The nice thing about learning to overcome habits that are very hard to break, is that it makes you much harder to break. Still human though.
Here's what I found out:
Singing isn't hard per say, just slow. Like...building muscle. The difference in singing is that you're building tons and tons of new neuron connections, and that takes time and patience and putting in your quality practice sessions each day. It never seems like much, until you look back over time and say "wow".
Now that brings us to terms!
"Sing from your diaphragm" could mean anything really, from one teacher to another. So let's just throw that out and start over:
Instead of "Sing from your diaphragm"...think "use all the muscles involved in your breathing when you sing to guide and control the sound of your voice, don't try to control the sound of your voice exclusively via effort in the throat".
Okay, not quite as convenient to say, but let's break this down a little more:
Your throat (or vocal tract to be more exact) should only filter the air into sound, not be the sole place you feel effort in singing, instead, use your whole torso.
Or a poetic-ish version...your voice is a leaf in the wind, let the airflow be the breeze that gently moves your voice around unencumbered.
When your air is flowing out of your body, your vocal folds will vibrate and naturally slow down your air flow to some degree, but it's the movement of your body that should be the primary control of the air. If your airflow is too much, too little, not steady enough, or uneven pressure, that delicate coordination can become either rigid (by using extra muscles in the throat that aren't necessary or too much tension in the muscles that are necessary) or flimsy (think: unintentional vocal breaks).
So what does this actually feel like?
If you want a really solid sense of this, come to the group class or a lesson, or take the course, or a mix of those. I can hear when you are moving more in the direction of your body controlling the vocal sound vs your throat.
If you're not doing that, then you'll be playing a "lottery" so-to-speak with the following exercise. You'll be trying on your own, and hoping you're right, and you'll have no way to know unless and until you hits limits in your voice or strain, or usually both. It took me several years of banging-my-head-against-the-wall struggle on my own to get a sense of this with very little help. That was ME though. You might be that random person that is already mostly doing this and just needed it pointed out slightly and then you're good to go (that's rare but at least if you can't take classes you can try this out).
1. Breathe out silently through your mouth
2. Breathe out silently through your mouth and then begin a sung note
3. What changed? The more the sensation, mouth position, airflow speed, airflow rate, volume of air changes...the more likely you added something to the movement of singing you don't need. Keep removing stuff until your voice feels more free, then learn what you need to add for tone changes, volume changes, pitches, etc.
This is simple, and sometimes it's easy and sometimes extremely challenging, like basketball:
1.Get the ball in the hoop
2. Get the ball in the hoop despite challenging circumstances
Now when is this idea NOT helpful? We could say that if your habit is to sing very breathy and you are wanting to sing more loudly, you may need to temporarily set this idea aside while you figure out how to efficiently use the correct tension levels needed in the throat to sing loudly in a healthy way. There are other instances too, but that's a common one.