Your personal sound eventually results from many convergences, here are a few of them : – your body and your instrument, – your body and the ground, – inhalation and exhalation, – your air column and your diaphragm, – your inner ear and your vocal cords, – your neck and your waist back, – your embouchure and your sound source, – your sound source and your heels, – your sound and your musical ideas, and more globally, your own mental images and their subsequent physical support, like your trunk bottom and your verticality feeling, as Alfred Tomatis explains it in The Ear And The Voice.
As described in “air and breathing“, you may visualize that global convergence in your lower back, making you vibrate and forget about blowing, hence avoiding any disturbing stress : the control of the mental power on this matter is outlined in George Kochevitsky’s Art Of Piano Playing.
By freeing the tranverse abdominus muscle and letting it press on your “buoy“ surrounding your pelvis, you can then feel your internal sound flowing down to the ground (another proprioceptive image), and realize that you burn very little air. Such a richest vibration is produced from the optimal configuration of this transverse abdominus, seized at its lowest position thanks to letting it loose at the very end of your natural inhaling : the real sound is laid at this very moment, flowing down through your heels and spreading during this non-pushed exhaling.
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.
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 Ricquier, Traité 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 Ricquier, L’utilisation des ressources intérieures André Van Lysebeth, Revue mensuelle yoga (translated by Guy Robert)
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.
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 intérieur. Then, 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 Mathieu : to 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.
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.
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.
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 Ricquier, Traité 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.
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.
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 Tomatishighlights this body preparation in The Ear And The Voice.
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 Playing, George 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.
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.