Archives par mot-clé : diaphragm

body and breathing

By letting his chest relaxation flow down to the sound source, the music player secures the continuity of the internal propagation from inhaling to exhaling ; such a configuration then brings a strong support to the vibration carried by the exhaling, from the very end of inhaling.

Exhalation is primarily a passive activity during non-exerted breathing, since the diaphragm relaxes while gravitational and resetting forces of the chest and the lungs act as a spring during exhalation, which narrows the chest. 

Exhalation must perform slowly and regularly in order to play a quiet melody.

If the chest is expanded, as with inhalation, exhalation automatically begins when the muscles relax and the air is exhaled without any significant muscular contraction.

This flexible system of controlled breathing is typically called breath support. The amount of emitted air is therefore controlled by a flexible coordination of simultaneously activated inhalation and exhalation muscles.

Claudia Spahn, Bernhard Richter, Johannes Pöppe et Matthias Echternach,
Physiological Insights for Players of Wind Instruments (DVD)
(excerpts selected by  Guy Robert)

a virtual trunk

Merging yourself with your instrument makes you vertically work out your air column, through its actual delving, aiming at vibrating the ground and space : thereby, the body part above your diaphragm becomes oblivious, since you do not blow, and you can visualize the embouchure located at the sound source, as your vital center in your belly bottom.

Hence, your physiologic trunk becomes virtual, fading behind the air column, and your lower limbs appear now as your new real tree trunk, the roots of which ensure your posture stability and propagate the vibrating sound around.

Grass cannot grow without its roots. Same thing with your sound : if you don’t provide it with roots, it crashes down, it’s as simple as that.

You can hold on to this natural breathing only if you stay relaxed. For that, you need to stand grounded on your feet, well balanced around your center of gravity.

When seated, you should consciously feel your buttocks and your feet. Anyway, you must be grounded, then you can let your relaxation spread downwards.

Robert Pichaureau
(translated by Guy Robert)

You feel as if you were changed into a statue. You hang to the ground and not to your trumpet.

Robert Pichaureau, Favorite Expressions
(translated by Guy Robert)

You feel your upper body components to become lighter, as if they were freed from gravity, while you get invaded by an immovable, but not heavy, stability feeling in your abdomen.

Michel RicquierL’utilisation des ressources intérieures
André Van Lysebeth, Revue mensuelle yoga
(translated by Guy Robert)

The main idea consists in using gravity, instead of struggling with it, and in pulling power from the ground. To achieve this, the musician should picture himself getting rooted like a tree : he then pushes downwards and the ground sends this input power back to him.

Marie-Christine MathieuGestes et postures du musicien
(translated by Guy Robert)


{Grigori Kogan in his lectures and later (1958) in his small book U vrat masterslva (“At the Gates of Mastery“) put forward as psychological prerequisites of successful pianistic work three basic principles :

(1) The ability to hear inwardly the musical composition which has to be realized on the instrument — to hear it extremely clearly as a whole, as well as exact in all its details.

(2) The most passionate and persistently intense desire to realize that glowing musical image.

(3) The full concentration of one’s whole being on his task in everyday practice as well as on the concert stage.}

The psycho-technical school advocates the free and complete use of all parts of the pianist’s apparatus, beginning at the fingertips and including the torso. This technique is universal, or in other words, the really natural technique of coordination.

George Kochevitsky, The Art Of Piano Playing

inner violin and embouchure

The musician sets up his vibrating attitude by rooting his air column in his heels, and the wind player moreover pictures his embouchure at the sound source, located at the bottom of his diaphragm : then, letting the relaxation down, the inner vibration gently takes off from the root of the air column, to feed the instrument through this embouchure, or through the violonist’s clavicle.

The most important of all is to listen to the sound that will come and not just to the sound already achieved.

Dominique Hoppenot, Le violon intérieur
(translated by Guy Robert)

inner violin source

The player knows how to observe himself breathing lower and deeper in order to pick up his sound at its source, at the very end of his natural inhaling : to achieve this, he internalizes his feeling at the bottom-point of the diaphragm and lets it propagate down to his heels.

The relaxation flows down to the effortless vibration starting with full grain and fat : such is sound laying.

As for a singer, the violinist sound comes from inside. Your job is actually to free your sound, the sound that you virtually have, that is to say your voice.

There is nothing to search elsewhere than inside yourself.

(…) you can never escape the inner searching ofyour sound, the “deep dive“, as the only process able to reveal your sound asa demonstration of your “being“.

You must understand your emission as if it freed a latent sound, already internalized, a sound which can somehow spread in space without the aid of the bow.

You should know how to wait until the last second before landing smoothly. (…) When you start a sound, you must precisely know how to stop it in every imaginable way.

(…) seating and concentrating in your Hara are meant to radiate as much energy as possible to give maximum musical power to your tactile ends.

The virtual center of this process – which is the true breathing center – is thus in the middle of the belly, and not at all in the chest containing the lungs (which are nonetheless the real physiological location of the breathing function !…).

Concentrating is primarily going back to the center of the body and settling there, instead of being played by divergent and opposing forces.

Hara, from Eastern people, and especially the Japanese, is the crucial point of our body. Located at the lumbosacral junction, it coincides with our center of gravity. Hara is not a specific organ that could be located anatomically, but it is the physical area where our strength is concentrated, where our stability is anchored.

Being positioned means to settle in one’s Hara, together with one’s center, as the concentrum point.

Dominique Hoppenot, Le violon intérieur
(translated by Guy Robert)

the sound source

You should internally visualize the source of your sound at the bottom center point of your diaphragm, down to your heels and even beneath : this is the Japanese Hara or the Chinese Tan Tsienn, representing the location of universal energy, or of original breath. This inner process is unveiled in George Kochevitsky’s Art Of Piano Playing.  

From this point down, your back muscles extend the inhalation process towards exhalation, converging from the diaphragm to the transverse abdominus muscle, and the air column enters into vibration along its whole height, feeding the vocal cords, as Alfred Tomatis shows it in The Ear And The Voice.

Incidently, you might consider the various understandings of “the sound source“, all of which are relevant to our subject… This fat and vibrating sound also fills up Dominique Hoppenot‘s Inner Violin.

You should feel and watch the point where inhaling becomes exhaling, realizing that you do not actually work your inhaling out. Visualizing this process is the whole point.

Robert Pichaureau
(translated by Guy Robert)

Concentrate on your diaphragm : you can feel it abasing itself while inhaling and pressing down on your viscera, then flexibly raising back up while you expire. You should unveil this focal point of your breathing, but how can you locate it ?

Just feel the precise point where the pressure generated by the lowering-down diaphragm converges.

(…) at about 5 cm under your ombilic and 7 to 10 cm inside your belly.

Michel RicquierTraité de pédagogie instrumentale
André Van Lysebeth, Pranayama, dynamique du souffle
(translated by Guy Robert)

When you have found this center point out, just keep your body weight concentrated there.

Michel RicquierL’utilisation des ressources intérieures
André Van Lysebeth, Revue mensuelle yoga
(translated by Guy Robert)

find your voice without blowing

Thanks to your downward letting-go accompanying your exhalation, your flexible triggering of your inner vibration propels rich vocal harmonics, consuming very little air which you can imagine or feel like it were recycling within the body, at the diaphragm center.

The two lower vocal cords are drawn together and vibrate through emission. The vibration is caused by air passing across the cords. The volume of air is so small that it seems almost spontaneous and automatic as with speech. The brain essentially regulates the tension of the vocal cords to keep the flow of air at a minimum, so that the vibration corresponds to the desired pitch.

Whenever the thorax contracts prematurely, it prevents the diaphragm from functioning to its full extent.

(…) In order to avoid pushing when you sing, you need to notice certain proprioceptive sensations.

You must learn to conserve stored air and to give out the least possible amount, as if you were distilling the sonic flow in some way. (…) The more slowly and regularly the flow emerges, the less underlying tension results, and the more easily the larynx works.

The great art consists of not pushing, of remaining in a state of supple tension, and of avoiding undue muscular effort.

Alfred Tomatis, The Ear And The Voice
(translated by Roberta Prada and Pierre Sollier)

inner violin and breathing

We can extend the violin bow <=> air column analogy mentioned before for the sound laying during its initial emission : the first push of the bow sets the air column into vibration, at the very moment when inhaling becomes exhaling, during the handover from the diaphragm to the transverse abdominus muscle.

The division between the “upper“ and “lower“ parts of the body vanishes when it gets unified by the tilt of the pelvis.

To hasten the awareness of your back muscles and integrate them quicker into your instrumental action, it is recommended to “imagine“ them, to develop their role, to locate them, to play them at will (…)

One who knows how to terminate a sound is sure of being able to resume it.

Breathing (…) involves the entire trunk, from the nose to the anus, in a complex and admirable muscular synergy that appears as a huge wave which rises and falls down along the trunk, without border demarcation between the “upper“ and “lower“ parts of the body.

Inhaling then consists of an active tension of the diaphragm, together with a relaxation of the abdominal and pelvic muscles, while exhaling develops as an active tension of those same abdominal muscles pushing up the then-relaxed diaphragm.

Dominique Hoppenot, Le violon intérieur
(translated by Guy Robert)

breathing and air

Air naturally surrounds you and your body spontaneously ingests it during your inhaling, thanks to the diaphragm action, released then by the muscles surrounding it.Thorax_EN

During this stage, it is recommended not to inhale more air than necessary (in other words, do not voluntarily take in any air), in order to ensure the fullness of the sound to come, as Alfred Tomatis states it in The Ear And The Voice, because
– this would trigger contractions altering the wealth (i.e. the sound spectrum) of the air column vibrations ;
– such contractions would subsequently kick you out of your air column (you would not be sitting on it any more) ;
– you would then need more energy, because of those unwanted contractions, to be able to achieve your musical speech until your next inhaling, which would therefore last less long and be less mastered.

Hence, the best air quality is provided by a perfectly relaxed abdomen until the sound emission smoothly begins, springing out of the sound source and synchronized with your exhalation, as it is scientifically explained by Claudia Spahn, Bernhard Richter, Johannes Pöppe et Matthias Echternach in their Physiological Insights for Players of Wind Instruments : you can reach this configuration by focusing on your spontaneous inhaling process while avoiding any disturbing stress by letting it going down your back. Then, you feel the air column vertically rolling down from the diaphragm, as the air gently vibrates through your heels and the ground.

Unification of your body results from this attitude, all feelings above your diaphragm being ignored, as Dominique Hoppenot points it out in Le violon intérieurThen, the conscious extension of this motion links up with the seamless sound laying (triggerring the vocal cords vibration) during the exhaling phase. This relies on the action of this specific transverse abdominus muscle, as singled out by Marie-Christine Mathieuto maintain your sound quality, you must feel its action flowing inwards and downwards, although it makes the diaphragm slowly raise, appearing as a seeming paradox only. When you run out of available air, releasing that transverse abdominus leads to a new spontaneous inhaling through the natural down-run of the diaphragm in your back, pulling down the lungs bottom to inflate them : keeping the feeling of your sound source under your sternum will insure that your solid sound extends through your next exhaling.

A true person breathes through his heels.

Robert Pichaureau, Favorite Expressions
(translated by Guy Robert)

You must relax when completing your inhaling, doing so, your instrument is naturally played.

The floating ribs get raised, which we name the costo-abdominal-diaphragmatic breathing. We should even say “diaphragmatic-costo-abdominal“ breathing, since inhaling is generated by the diaphragm.

Whether you play or you sing, the diaphragm raises, you don’t care about it, but it does go up. Relaxing carries inhaling, you don’t have to inhale, the diaphragm works that out. Release everything ! Don’t take any air in ! Thank you, and here it goes again and now…music comes in, not air.

Robert Pichaureau
(translated by Guy Robert)

The diaphragm operation determines the freedom of the aerial ways which proves vital to the technical operation of a wind instrument.

For singers and wind players, the breathing maximum does not mean the technical optimum.

The trickiest idea to grasp is that the player must RELEASE his diaphragm during his inhaling… in other words, he should not control it, which would prevent it from freely operate by itself. To voluntarily act on this muscle, even thinking about it, would readily limit its operation.

The diaphragm mobility around the floating ribs and the jaw flexibility both determine the pharynx opening, the free air flow, hence the sound magnitude and its spectral richness together with its emission comfort.

Dr Delphine Olivier-Bonfils, La respiration diaphragmatique
(translated by Guy Robert)

The transverse abdominus is simply the main muscle antagonistic to the diaphragm. It comes into play to quickly and powerfully expel the air, when the diaphragm relaxation – rather inefficient then – cannot achieve it any more.

Marie-Christine MathieuGestes et postures du musicien
(translated by Guy Robert)

Air should flow down while you inhale and certainly should not go up for the exhaling phase, but to the opposite, it should keep flowing down. Whichever way it runs out, you should consider that it does not flow back up to exit through your mouth, but it keeps flowing down during your low exhaling and your vertical pushing.

Michel RicquierTraité de pédagogie instrumentale
(translated by Guy Robert)

Thinking about the breath causes restriction, by forcing muscles to act counter to natural principles… Just focusing on the musical result you want will dictate how you’re going to use your air.

Joe Allard

Joe Allard would say (in perfect French of course) :
“Jouer, c’est respirer, il n’ y a pas de différence.”

David LiebmanDeveloping a Personal Saxophone Sound

The execution of a complex movement requires not only precise timing regulation but also involvement of the least muscle work needed for any given action. This is achieved by localizing the excitatory process.

George Kochevitsky, The Art Of Piano Playing

voice and posture

By linking natural inhalation to the letting-go from the diaphragm down to the ground, the sound column gets unleashed down to the roots of the virtual trunk of this imagined tree : its verticality fosters the optimal resonance of the singer’s or instrumentist’s body.

You sing through your body.
Singing is one of the most efficient ways to shape our body.

(adapted by Guy Robert)

(…) Before a sound is emitted, a primer should be fully elaborated, bringing its awareness of the “shaping“ of the body so that it can thereby acquire the postural pattern that suits it to become the instrument of singing.

(adapted by Guy Robert)

(…) a clearly-defined body image, specific to the singing act, must be ingested into you. It implies that a mental attitude be psychologically organized, that in turn drives a posture, which itself responds to a physiological complex function capable of resonating to vocal stimulation.

(adapted by Guy Robert)

We know that the vestibule processes the stimulation of every muscle in the body and sends the information to regulate upright posture, mobility and body movements.

Impulses toward erect posture, muscle tone and movement create responses in the form of  information and stimulation emanating from the muscles, tendons, joints and even from the bones. This enormous excitation alone accounts for the increased tone that leads to movement, good balance and good posture.

The listening posture requires that the spinal column be well aligned and standing tall along its vertical axis following its natural curves.

When you are able to control while maintaining your listening posture, your body literally stretches up, aiming at a rather unusual verticality. (…) From this point, your pelvis begins to tilt forward while you stand and show a tendency to slightly bend the knees (…)

(adapted by Guy Robert)

Your sacrum seems to settle such as you feel to sit comfortably on your own pelvis. (…) Your lower ribs are spaced at maximum, your diaphragm finds its greatest extension, and its amplitude range will thus be facilitated, your abdominal muscles will be stretched without excess, synergistically acting together with the diaphragm. You need not bend these muscles.

(adapted by Guy Robert)

(…) thanks to the posture of listening and self-listening, and thanks to the global posture, the body will follow in order to deliver all proprioceptive sensations that govern verticality (…)

(adapted by Guy Robert)

Alfred Tomatis, The Ear And The Voice
(translated by Roberta Prada and Pierre Sollier)

the posture

Visualize your roots and imagine them plunging into the ground, from the trunk of this virtual tree, represented by your air column. Here you are, straightened up (during your natural inhaling, your air column gets aligned with your heels, making your pelvis slightly tilt to its equilibrium position), then let the central relaxation slide down to the ground, ending with your air column starting to vibrate thanks to your abdomen transverse muscle : Alfred Tomatis highlights this body preparation in The Ear And The Voice.Transverse_EN

You feel like sitting on the sound source, in your Hara which drives your posture (as Marie-Christine Mathieu shows it), and at this time only, your instrument comes into play, amplifying the vibrating sound. Then, as you are stalled on the belt-shaped transverse abdominus muscle surrounding this center point, you end up forgetting all about the upper part of your body (above the diaphragm) ; in his Art Of Piano PlayingGeorge Kochevitsky shows how the arms should be forgotten to free the player technique.

Your actual trunk becomes insensitive (without any move of your shoulders or of your thorax), and although you feel downward-packed, you get aware of your complementary zones, contributing to the sound production :
– your head, merged with the embouchure which is ideally visualized at the lowest level, down to your heels,
– your upper limbs, ending and merging with the instrument itself, as in Dominique Hoppenot‘s Inner Violin / Le violon intérieur,
– your abdomen, like sucked up by the sound source,
– your lower limbs, becoming your actual roots, spreading the sound through the ground and space.

Focus your mind on your back muscles work, while your air flows ; you will get your balance and keep your verticality, thanks to the action of these muscles.

Robert Pichaureau
(translated by Guy Robert)

Your head and your body merge together.
Your feet push the ground, following your inhaling.

Robert Pichaureau, Favorite Expressions
(translated by Guy Robert)

The problems affecting most saxophonists are often self-inflicted. By that, I mean unnecessary bodily tensions accumulate over time and become habitualized. This results in the player’s inability to relax enough to find a physically comfortable and aesthetically pleasing tone.

David Liebman,
Developing a Personal Saxophone Sound

The balance of the standing body builds up from the pelvis, not from the lower limbs.

Marie-Christine MathieuGestes et postures du musicien
(translated by Guy Robert)