The diaphragm and some common misconceptions

Tell a Friend

Related articles

By Dave Vinning

This is an excellent video that clearly shows the following:

1. The diaphragm is connected to the lowest rib coming off the sternum (there are 2 floating ribs below this point).

2. As the dome-shaped diaphragm makes its descent, it becomes wider around.

3. In order to accommodate the diaphragm’s wider circumference, the ribs must move – they swing up and out in cooperation with the diaphragm’s movement.

4. The two movements are highly coordinated and depend upon one another. If the ribs don’t move, the diaphragm’s motion is compromised.

5. The diaphragm is the primary muscle of INSPIRATION. It does its work as you inhale…when you exhale it is relaxing. Muscles cannot contract in two different directions. This is a common misunderstanding, perpetuated by analogies which imply that the diaphragm is engaged upon exhalation, such as: “Support with the diaphragm”.

What the video does not show is:

1. You cannot directly feel the diaphragm and any discussion that implies that you can is confusing. Furthermore, the phrase “breathe from the diaphragm” is rhetorical because we use the diaphragm with every breath we take 24/7. Saying “breathe from the diaphragm” is like saying “smell with your nose”…there is no other way to do it.

2. Those who say things like this may be confusing abdominal muscles with the diaphragm because we have plenty of sense receptors in the abdominal area. The abs are, in fact, antagonists to the diaphragm (they help you blow air out). Therefore, those who advocate keeping the abs engaged at all times are creating isometric tension in their playing (never a good thing!)

3. The diaphragm usually performs its job involuntarily (good thing – you’d hate to have to think about breathing in the middle of the night!)…but if we need more air to play, we can order more air and our entire breathing mechanism, including the diaphragm, will respond in-kind.

4. Abdominal expansion is a secondary motion of breathing which occurs as the result of the diaphragm’s downward motion. When the diaphragm contracts, it becomes less highly domed and wider around and pushes down on the contents of the abdominal cavity. The contents of the abdominal cavity spread out all around the body – front, sides and back – and that is where abdominal expansion comes from. Those who push out the belly in an attempt to bring air into the body are misinformed and are creating tension. There is, in fact, a serious pedagogical misunderstanding about the role of abdominal expansion, particularly among low brass players. This video gives you a clear indication of where abdominal expansion actually comes from.

5. The ribs are connected to the sternum via the costal cartilage, spongy tissue which allows motion between the rib bones and the sternum. In the back, the ribs are connected to the spine via joints. Rib motion is a primary motion of breathing, unlike abdominal expansion. Those who are preoccupied with abdominal expansion would benefit by thinking about adequate rib motion and allowing the abdominal expansion to take care of itself.

2 Responses to “The diaphragm and some common misconceptions”

  1. Dear Mr. Vinning,

    Thanks for a simple and excellent article!

    I’m an American horn player and a teacher of the Alexander Technique living in Japan.

    I would very much like to translate this article into Japanese and introduce it on my blog. (, of course with a prominent link back to this page.

    Would you let me do that ?

    All the Best,

    Basil Kritzer

  2. frankie says:

    In point no.4 of what this video does not show you raise the point of pushing the stomach or “belly”.

    You are very quick to dismiss this technique, there is a right and wrong way anatomically of using the belly to breathe.

    I would rephrase this as:

    Pushing or “forcing” the belly out creates tension, but letting it drop out and down will naturally pull the diaphram down thus pulling the lungs down thus helping in the beginning stages of the breathe.

    loving your work here!

Leave a Reply

Recent articles

Brass Musician welcomes Kate Wohlman aboard as chief editor and newest contributor! Brass shows its mettle Relaunch of Iconic 1950’s Jazz Catalog, Bethlehem Records, Announced by Verse Music Group & Naxos of America Jon Sass Low Brass Seminars

Our contributors

Sponsored ads