What are these "pedagogical catch phrases"?
Well, catch phrases perhaps, but pedagogical? Hardly.
Again, these catch phrases become gimmick and what do they mean really?
The physicality of singing needs to be understood - by both singer AND teacher.
REAL teaching isn't just regurgitating phrases. Teaching is about passing on true knowledge and understanding. The teacher needs to know and understand first in order to pass that on to a singer.
So let's examine the phrase "breathe from your diaphragm".
This is totally ridiculous.
Breath fills your LUNGS. The diaphragm is a muscle. It is also a muscle that has NO nerve endings or sense of position. It is a REACTIONARY muscle. When the lungs fill, the diaphragm drops and flattens at the bottom of the rib cage.
If we as teachers do not understand the suspension affect of the muscles of the body and how they support the voice and the breath, how can we honestly teach it well?
Repeating what we have been told, in simile and metaphor and visualization isn't going to work all the time!
Knowledge is POWER.
As singers, and students of singing, we need to explore the knowledge. We need to research and do the work - in our research and our practicing. If you do not know WHAT you are doing, and WHY you are doing it, what is the point?
The diaphragm is only ONE muscle. It is not the ONLY muscle. The entire physicality of the body and the position and development and balance of the suspensory muscles as a totality is what makes up the support system and the breathing mechanism!
Knowledge of how the muscular workings balance for support and breath and vocalizing is imperative to how we teach, and how we sing!
Perhaps it is worth exploring the muscle group that affects the breath in support: the sacrospinalis muscle groups. There is elasticity and release from the head through the pelvis. It is this elasticity that helps to release THROUGH the diaphragm so the breath can fill the lungs. The lungs, that are in the ribcage - not in the stomach or the lower back.
"Breathing low" - another catch phrase, cannot physically happen. Why? Cause the lungs do not live there! "Breathing high" - doesn't work either! Breathe into the lungs. That is the reality.
Ultimately, the diaphragm will do what it is supposed to as a RESPONSE. You cannot "strengthen" the diaphragm as this works at cross-purposes. The diaphragm anchors on the inside of the lumbar spine and when at rest, rises in dome-like shape at about 4th rib level - or nipple level. Yes, that high.
The bottom of the heart and the lungs rest on the diaphragm. The stem of the diaphragm is actually in several sections, which allows for flexibility. It is NOT a solid, one-piece muscle. There are connective tissues at the top of the diaphragm that extend and "pulley" to the back and up through the neck muscles, which help with support suspension from above.
The diaphragm is tent-like in its suspension. And if we consider the support mechanism as being suspended, pulley-like, and in no way rigid, we begin to realize how much the skeletal system and the full muscular system informs how we support our breath and our sound.
There needs to be stretch - lengthening and widening - in order to create the shift needed.
Ultimately it is not the isolation but rather, the integration of the breathing mechanism with the support mechanism that allows for a balanced coordination.
Breathe from your diaphragm? Hardly.
Breathe and sing with your body soul and spirit? Perhaps. But as a teacher, you MUST KNOW in order to teach it. And singers, YOU MUST FIND OUT AND DISCOVER and don't just take the catch phrase as gospel.
Vocal pedagogy is not an exact science. It is also not a simplified catch phrase system.
It is body, breath, vibration and the knowledge in the mind, imagination and the physicality.
When you don't know - YOU NEED TO ASK! If you don't get answers, or you are given excuses or another catch phrase, it's time to find someone who can give you those answers.
Then YOU must take that knowledge and physicalize it.
Take responsibility - for your teaching AND your singing. It is YOUR responsibility.