The Musician Sound Grows From His Breathing And Air
Driving your internal vibration with your natural breathing is key for your sound quality, and requires only a minimal air consumption.
Breathe, You Bet !
The inner motion propagating your vibration towards your instrument comes from your sound center, the location and feeling of which you get accustomed to through watching yourself naturally breathing : air naturally surrounds you and your body spontaneously ingests it during your inhaling, thanks to the spontaneous action of your diaphragm, released then by the muscles surrounding it.
During the inhaling stage, it is recommended not to ingest more air than your body needs through the natural operation of its diaphragm, in order to ensure the fullness of the sound to come : in other words, do not voluntarily take in any air, as Alfred Tomatis states it in The Ear And The Voice.
“What happens in normal respiration ?”
“You have to take in a comfortable amount of air, no more. Then you distribute that air with minimum pressure, as if caressing the vocal cords. This excites the spinal column so that it starts to sing.”Alfred Tomatis, The Ear And The Voice
“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.”Dr Delphine Olivier-Bonfils, La respiration diaphragmatique – Article publié dans le Journal de l’Association française du Cor 2000 n° 78 (Translated by Guy Robert)
singing in the open air
To sum it up,
- wanting to take some air would trigger contractions altering the depth of the internal vibration (i.e. the sound spectrum) ;
- such contractions would subsequently disturb your column of sound : you would not be « sitting » in the air any more ;
- at the same time, more energy would be ill-advisedly consumed through those disturbing contractions, in order to develop your musical speech, down to your next inhaling : your playing sequence would therefore last a shorter time and be less mastered than you would be able to do.
“Again, you are reminded that everything lies on the effort necessary to avoid stress.”Alfred Tomatis, The Ear And The Voice – (adapted by Guy Robert)
“Singing well brings about the rediscovery of true respiration, calm and unstressed, with a natural physiological rhythm. The diaphragm is liberated, autonomous, not locked in expansion.
Certainly all these movements and gestures are equally muscular. But they respond to a set of muscles that are the antagonistic push muscles, the flexors.”Alfred Tomatis, The Ear And The Voice
When you watch yourself breathing naturally, releasing your lower back rearwardly to avoid unnecessary tensions, you become aware of the connection of your body with the ground, embodied by your lower members, like a tree trunk linked to its roots.
“I used to consider the broad breathing process, coming without any pushing.”Alfred Tomatis, The Ear And The Voice
Then, while relaxing down to the base of the sound column, you want to pronounce the « a » vowel, which gets your inner vibration take off from your heels, and you certainly do not push, consuming then as little air as possible and thus developing a rich sound spectrum.
“You should actually concentrate on your self letting-go”
“Such a correctly emitted sound rebalances breathing on a non-pushing mode.”
“Part of vocal training is learning to breathe so that the exhalation coordinates with the activity of the larynx. Once we acquire excellent listening, the mechanisms that regulate the larynx, pharynx, tongue, lips, etc…, must be implemented and the vocal apparatus must function perfectly.
When all that is mastered, singing indeed seems to be simply a matter of breathing.”
“With breathing exercises as with exercises for the larynx, you will need patience. Acquiring exceptional mastery over the breath is a long and serious learning process. You need to acquire ample, calm breathing. Never work over tension or fatigue. Short sessions through the day will yield better results than one long session.
Once the respiratory mechanism is well regulated, you have to integrate it with all the other proprioceptice sensations specific to singing.”
“With training, only the diaphragm takes part in respiration for singing. The thoracic muscles remain in relaxed extension so the ribs stay open and cannot exert too much pressure. In fact, it is not easy to consciously direct the movements of the diaphragm to retain the air and make it flow over the vocal cords without ever pushing. (…) The thorax, as expanded as possible and relatively immobile without being locked, assures phonation.
Everyone has a different way of describing this. Gigli told me that he let his belly “fall to the ground “ to breathe and maintained the same feeling as long as the breath steam lasted. That way, the abdominal muscles do not interfere with the diaphragm.”
“Singers must be taught to act judiciously on the exhalation.”Alfred Tomatis, The Ear And The Voice
Awake Your Internal Sensations
Hence, the best air quality is provided by a perfectly relaxed abdomen until the sound smoothly takes off, 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 your column of sound vertically rolling down from the diaphragm, as the air gently vibrates through your heels and the ground.
“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
let your letting-go fall down !
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 ; his configuration then brings a strong support to the vibration carried on by the exhaling.
“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 ballad. ”
“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.”Claudia Spahn, Bernhard Richter, Johannes Pöppe et Matthias Echternach
“The division between the “upper“ and “lower“ parts of the body vanishes when it gets unified by the tilt of the pelvis.”Dominique Hoppenot, Le violon intérieur (Translated by Guy Robert)
We can extend the analogy between the violin bow and the column of sound, as mentioned before, for the sound laying at its initial emission : the first push of the bow matches the column of sound beginning to vibrate, at the very moment when inhaling becomes exhaling, during the handover from the diaphragm to the transverse abdominus muscle.
“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)
your sound flows from your whole body
Then, the conscious motion reaches to the seamless laying of the sound (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 still want to sing a low « a » vowel, in order to feel its action flowing inwards and downwards, although it makes the diaphragm slowly raise, appearing as a seeming paradox only.
“The transverse abdominus is really 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 Mathieu, Gestes et postures du musicien (Translated by Guy Robert)
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 deep sound extends through your next exhaling.
“A true person breathes through his heels.“Robert Pichaureau, Expressions favorites (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, La respiration (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 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 – Article publié dans le Journal de l’Association française du Cor 2000 n° 78 (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 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. ”Joe Allard
“Joe Allard would say (in perfect French of course) : “Jouer, c’est respirer, il n’y a pas de différence.””David Liebman, Developing a Personal Saxophone Sound
And George Kochevistsky shows that knowing how to manage your vibration source means a minimal physical effort for your sound production :
“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 Kochevistsky, The Art Of Piano Playing