I am coming to visit the states for a week (I live in London)... I have an eleven hour flight and I thought it would be perfect to practice on strengthening my diaphragm as I won't be doing much else. My question: When i practice diaphragmatic breathing (and even singing along to songs without producing sound but focusing on when to breathe and the amount of breathe coming out) I can maintain strong, consistent breath. However, the second I begin singing and producing a tone, my breath goes all over the place. My voice is breathy and I can't even hold a consistent exhalation to support the tone. Why is this and how do I overcome it to keep that strong balanced breath when producing tones?
OK, why is this a dangerous question? Because I have found that "thinking about diaphragmatic breathing" invariably causes tension right where you don't want it... at the bottom of your ribcage where your diaphragm is connected. Even if you try to keep it open there, you may be freezing your position, which is STILL TENSION!
Here's the truth.. the diaphragm works as an involuntary muscle, like your heart. If you were to squeeze or otherwise physically interfere with your heart as it beats (unless you are a great heart surgeon :), your heart would have a problem, so yes, you can affect it by voluntary muscular actions. However, what you usually do is to interfere with its natural and automatic actions.
The only way to help your diaphragm is to stay out of its way. KEEP YOUR RIBS WIDE. This is universally taught by all correct vocal training. But even this begs yet another question... how do you keep your ribs wide? There's a place just below your shoulder blades in your spine. From this point, you can shift your ribcage forward. This point must remain alive and flexible, not frozen stiff even in a correct position. If you move your head so it is balanced over your tailbone, you will find this point moving in and your ribcage opening up.
You must not take this posture too far in a "swayback" spinal position. The point is in the middle of the UPPER, not the lower back. You must also not freeze it in place.
Then apply power (squeeze) from the pelvic floor. Singing this way will strengthen the diaphragm naturally, as well as other muscles in the abs, chest and back that do the work to hold the diaphragm open.
Learn about how the diaphragm works, what affects it and what you need to do for it, but then stop worrying about your diaphragm. In my "Power, Path & Performance" 6-CD training course, I teach everything you need to know about your diaphragm, and include illustrations. This training, comprehensively balanced with all the rest of the techniques taught in this package, will put to rest "stinking thinking about breathing" that gets so many singers and speakers in worse trouble than before they started thinking about it.
Trust your automatic nervous system with its silent conversations. Diaphragmatic breathing is created, strengthened and correctly joined with other muscle groups important for breath support and control when you concentrate on sensing your power in your pelvic floor.. not your chest!