Archives par mot-clé : emission

highs and lows

The Musician Sound From Lows To Highs

The broad breathing allows the sound column to vibrate homogeneously over the whole tessiture.

Upper And Lower

The low pitch vibration spreads in the ground and in space from your posture stabilized on your roots, as if you were sitting on the sound source. Keeping concentrated on this balanced position, you release then your whole body at the very end of your exhaling, to let your spontaneous inhaling come in, maintaining this fat and low voice vibrating on the « ah » vowel : you develop this fat and vibrating sound from practicing the overtones control, as recommended by Joe Allard and by David Liebman.

You can quietly play upper and upper notes in the pitch range, reaching the higher register and the related overtones, still driving this low vibration from your heels, and above all, without modifying anything between your embouchure and your diaphragm : any unwanted alteration of the sound must be avoided by letting loose and relaxing down to your breathing center point, even reaching down to your heels !

Doing so, the high register sound can be kept rich and homogeneous by extending the downwards feeling to your roots : keep thinking low in the highs !

This way, and counter to some misconceptions, carefully dismissed by Alfred Tomatis in The Ear And The Voiceyou ensure the sound fullness by maintaining from lower to higher pitch this body configuration of your air column and of your embouchure throughout the whole range : among other benefits, this brings a gratifying comfort feeling and allows playing legato between extreme notes of the tessiture.

« Musically, you go up and down, but physically you must always go down. The pitfall is that a sound may look nice but not be a good one.« 

« Thanks to the work achieved (low and fat breathing, vertical pushing), you can now play much more backwards, so you can avoid playing your way up when you hit high notes.

(…) You are going to learn how to feel down in order to better go up. (…) But you should obviously never go back up !

Always pack down and vertically push down. »

« Low note articulation and tone production are two of the subtle challenges confronting saxophonists, as is the opposite problem of the tendency to go sharp in the high register. A saxophonist should not sound like he has a different tone for each register. The overtone matching process may go on for years. »

vibrate effortlessly

Anticipating the vibration of the sound column fosters your verticality and brings a rich and consistent voice throughout the tessiture, amplified by your instrument : the invariance of this body attitude ensures an easy emission of lower and higher notes as well.

« Laryngeal vibrations form fundamental tones, while the harmonic shower of sparks associated with the fundamentals, rich in higher frequencies and reinforcing the initial sound considerably, depends on the skeleton.« 

« There are many advantages to the activation of this bony resonance. The energy that is dispensed is extremely important. Ample, warm, dense sounds are made with minimum effort.

It takes some work to get the feeling of ascending the scale without expending any energy at all. You have to learn to differentiate between the kind of energy that seems necessary to rise in pitch, and tension in the larynx.

It is easy to confuse going up in pitch, with its attendant naturally increasing intensity, with the need to employ effort, which is entirely unrelated. The intensity of sound comes from avoiding any pushing, so that the larynx is free to drop slightly lower. (…) the sensation of support will shift lower in the body at the same time.« 

listen to your enjoyment

The homogeneity of the sound material to be sculpted makes the whole pitch range available to your fingers’ work (combined with your tongue) : on this ground, the musician’s personal speech takes advantage of the spectral richness of the overtones of his inner vibration, hovering over the difficulties related to low or high notes.

« The interpreter who genuinely listens, that is to say, listens to both what he wants to play and what he played, is confident to master its sound (…)« 

« Once you found your wide, colorful and relaxed sound, which may go unscathed from the most extreme fortissimo to the most intimate pianissimo, and able to carry all the richest emotions of the human soul into these extreme shades, then you have found yourself, which leads you to an unrivaled joy (…)« 

During that process, as Robert Pichaureau used to say, You should behave like a statue ! “ and Mastering your inner vibration is a treat“. This way, you realize how practicing your instrument brings you enjoyment and self-confidence.


fingers and tongue

The Musician Sound After Fingers And Tongue

The radiating sound column appears as the material to be worked out, and actually sculpted by the articulation between your fingers and your tongue, which materialize the gesture of the body/transmitter with the instrument/amplifier.

As A Chatty Player With Skillful Fingers

down to your fingertips

Your fingers interact with the instrument from the initial emission, for the note pitch, and are driven by your musical intent, as Dominique Hoppenot recalls it in her Inner Violin / Le violon intérieur.

« (…) fingers transmit the expression of what is decided elsewhere, and the difficulty in developing a gesture is more often due to the confusion of a mental image than to a mechanical inability.« 

Your fingers get positionned before your tongue interacts, without disturbing this first note.

let your tongue take language

« The first note is played without the tongue, thanks to your back muscles ; the following one extends it by letting the tongue go back down.« 

Then, only the light tip of your tongue (Joe Allard would rather talk about the « edge ») is sufficient to detach notes, withdrawing backwards and aligned with the reed : the tongue edge lets the reed vibrate, which you must still feel and visualize deep in your belly bottom.

« We would begin the tone with no tongue, get very loud and while the note was still going on, he’d have us barely articulate. We would touch the reed as lightly as possible, so that the tongue would interrupt the vibration of the reed without stopping it, teaching us to barely tongue. He’d have us practice it loud so that we’d learn to use a light articulation even though we were playing loud.

Lots of students tongue hard when they play loud ; Joe’s exercise separated that. »

« Allard preferred the nomenclature “edge“ rather than tip, because “tip means an extreme point“. He purported that speech books with which he was familiar described the tongue as having an edge and a blade, the blade being the surface of the tongue. »

« The actual sounding of the articulation comes with the release of the reed. Conceptually, the tongue can be seen as an extension of the reed. »

Towards Your Personal Style

The dynamics of this musical sculpture stems from the speech consistency built on your musical idea (as the mental driver, as George Kochevitsky explains it in his Art Of Piano Playing), carried on by the sound vibration, your fingering, and finally the tongue acuteness.

following your fingers and ears

As seen in other topics (the instrument, highs & lows, the sensations, the convergence), your proprioceptive sensations drive the instrument, following the path : brain > inner vibration > fingers (& embouchure) > instrument.

To make the last step easier, your fingers work close to the instrument keys, and the light end of your tongue lies close to the reed edge as well.

Thinking your sensations first (from your natural breathing), while forgetting your connections with your instrument (i.e. your fingers – and embouchure), make your fingers work out your musical idea and not disturb it. In other words, your musical intent drives your expression, through your technique.

« { Ludwig Deppe (1828-1890) wrote that tone must be produced, not by finger stroke (…) but by coordinated action of all parts of the arm. }

Ludwig Deppe was opposed to hammering the keys, saying that one should not strike but should caress the keys. (…) Each finger had to work under the conscious direction of the will.

He spoke of a mental map of the entire route from brain to fingertips and stressed that, together with fingers and hands, the mind should practice also.

(…) Training the ear went hand in hand with technical training.« 

« { Amid all the noise made by those who came after Deppe, a pianist and teacher by the name of Oscar Raif made some extremely interesting experiments. }

Raif concluded that it would be worthless in developing piano technique to attempt to augment the agility of each individual finger.

The difficulty lies not in the movement itself, but in the precise timing of the successive movements of the fingers. Since timing is the product of perception and will, it should be clear that technique is initiated in the central nervous system. From there, movements must be coordinated as part of one action and governed bv our will.

(…) The finished performance must be preceded by frequently repeated, consciously willed primary movements. »

« Any normal bone-muscle apparatus is sufficient for the development of a high degree of technique because of the brain behind the hands.« 

« ((…) first, fingers are prepared on the keys to be pressed. Each finger then presses with a light downward movement only, never leaving its key. (Thus the size of finger movement is equal to the depth of the key). And playing proceeds very slowly, pianissimo, with the whole attention concentrated on fingertips.« 

« The musical idea, always going slightly ahead, should stimulate technical development. If technical aspects take the leading role, there is the danger of degradation into superficial virtuosity.« 


the embouchure

The Musician Sound Towards His Embouchure

The instrument of the woodwind player really appears to behave as his megaphone, thanks to his embouchure.

Get Your Mask Down !

Your mouth/mouthpiece /reed/ligature set defines your global embouchure : this configuration may vary between players, closely associating your morphology and the gear you use.

Your inner resonance propagates to the reed, which should easily vibrate, opposing a low resistance, hence a not too hard reed is recommended in order to be able to master the depth of the sound, shaped up at the bottom of the air column (Peter King had told me once how he had bee surprised to see that Cannonball Adderley was playing a really weak reed, when he substituted him in England in the 70’s).

This way, you define the best mouthpiece/reed combination for your sound control : this compromise depend on several factors, but you must know how to adjust it, mainly by selecting an appropriate reed, with your usual mouthpiece. And if you need a softer reed to ease out your playing, then you would be able to modulate your reed strength later on, bringing full balance and self-confidence : through your mentally visualizing that your emission remains centered on the sound source, you avoid unnecessary contractions above your diaphragm (which would be triggered by a harder reed), following the recommendations of Alfred Tomatis in The Ear And The Voice.

deep throat

By focusing on the opening of his sound column backward and downward – by willing to prononce the « ah » vowel – the player forgets about his real trunk and his mouth, thus ensuring that his throat remains free of contractions.

« The objective for both the pharynx and the larynx is to keep the throat open and supple, avoiding closure by the constrictor muscles. The regulation of the pharynx under the organizing control of the ear consists of achieving what is famous in singing as the open throat with the help of the dilator muscles and the tongue.« 

Think Your Sound, But Do Not Pinch It

The wind player sets up his vibrating attitude by rooting his sound column in his heels, and moreover pictures his embouchure at the sound source, down to the bottom of his diaphragm : then, letting the relaxation down, his inner vibration gently takes off on the « ah » vowel, to feed the instrument through his embouchure.

Dominique Hoppenot describes how the violon player lets his vibration propage to the violon body through his clavicle.

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

Once your posture is set up and stabilized, your hands naturally seize your instrument (entering your mouth if you are a wind player), to amplify the anticipated sound ; then your flexible and relaxed embouchure, which you actually forget, since you are focussed on the air column bottom, comes into play : it links you, as the sender (the instrumentist’s body), to the amplifier (the instrument body). The projected sound gets then sculpted out by your fingers, and your tongue.

« You should forget all about your embouchure positioning, and be sure not to press it.« 

« The goal is to be as relax as possible in the embouchure area, so that the delicate mechanisms at the reed can be free to occur without exerting a strain on its vibrational capacity. By the time the air stream reaches the mouthpiece, the major portion of the work for a personal sound has already been completed.« 

« When you let your mouthpiece come to your mouth, enjoyment also enters as an intruding momentum. The same way as when you take momentum to jump over an obstacle, boom ! there it goes, you are played by your instrument, so you should not play yourself, this is not a wordplay.

As little as your embouchure takes off, then you nail your mouthpiece pinch, without looking for it, playing means then sitting on the air, this is fantastic !« 

« Generally, I prefer closer mouthpieces, but I try to find the combination of the length of the facing and the tip opening so that I don’t have to press hard to play it, so that everything feels easy.« 


the sound source

The Musician Sound Flows From The Sound Source

Mastering your internal vibration progressively makes you precisely localize its source.

Spreading Pleasure

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 your original breath. This inner process is unveiled in George Kochevitsky’s Art Of Piano Playing.

down to rooting

Concentrating on the source of vibration, you can imagine it is located as deep as possible in the ground. Then, you let the vibrating sound flow around, and do not push it outwards so that it keeps its fullness while resonating in the instrument.

Avoiding any unnecessary stresses, the wind player, or the pianist as well, can imagine and picture his vibration spreading in the ground.

« { 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 successfulpianistic 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 most thoughtful and advanced musicians (…) insisted that “the technical training from the ‘outside’ must be replaced by technical training from the ‘inside’. “

Grigori Kogan called this third main trend in the theory of piano playing the psychotechnical school.« 

 « Hugo Riemann (1849-1919) wrote :

It is impossible to develop velocity otherwise than through exercise of the telegraphic apparatus from brain to muscles. The process from within-outward cannot be replaced by anything.« 

From this point down, your back muscles extend the inhalation process towards exhalation, converging from the diaphragm to the transverse abdominus muscle, and the sound 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…

customizing your sound

The real singer or instrumentist triggers his inner vibration on the « ah » vowel – mentally visualized at his heels level – thanks to his down-flowing relaxation extending his natural inhaling : he should then maintain this tension-free feeling, regardless to the pitch height, thereby ensuring an homogeneous radiating sound, through the whole tessiture of his intrument.

You can then appreciate your personal tone color.

« Because of this activation and the special ability of the skeleton to transmit sounds, the control adopted by the bony voice is direct, conserves energy and maintains the integrity of the full spectrum of sound.

This production has nothing in common with ordinary vocal emission, even if that emission sounds easy. This degree of control is difficult, if not impossible, when we use only air conduction. Bone filters for higher sounds at the expense of lows, making sounds that are particularly rich and dense.

(…) It is easy to see the advantages of an emission that is easily controlled and rich in high frequencies. It has a propensity to align the spine. This in turn facilitates emission, releasing progressively more energy. »

« If [the sound] is not going to come from the mouth or nose, where will it come from ? You make it with the whole body through the excitation of the spinal column and the contact between the larynx and the cervical vertebrae.

Bone conduction has a special timber, rich, heady and colorful. It has an ethereal quality and seems to come from outside the body. It literally awakens the environment with a smooth, vibrant and dense sonority. It carries with ease.

What is more, when you have it nailed, this sound can be quickly modulated over the entire vocal range without costing you any effort.« 

center yourself to better concentrate

From her side, Dominique Hoppenot shows us how your downward letting-go sets free your internal vibration control.

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 : this 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 of your 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.« 

« 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.« 

« 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« 


do not blow

By Not Blowing, The Musician Frees His Sound

How your no-blowing makes the sound generated by your internal vibration deeper.

You Play Your Body

To ensure a clean and flawless emission, either fff or ppp – and without using the tongue edge for the first one ! -, you should precisely imagine the mouthpiece rim plugged to the sound source. Through your natural breathingyour exhaling extends your inhaling inwards and propagates your vibration down to the ground.

Thanks to his proprioceptive pictures, the music player drives his relaxation down to his feet, through his sound center (i.e. his natural breathing center point) to let the internal vibration of his singing « ah » vowel radiate around : then his transverse abdominus leads the vibrating exhalation backwards, ensuring thus the stability of the sound.
That was meant by Beniamino Gili when he used to drop his belly down to the ground in order to capture and maintain this feeling all along the emission of his sound, without disturbing the action of the diaphragm (see voice and breathing).
In other words, the voice of the musician must play his body’s resonance, without addressing it directly, so as to avoid parasite contractions.

« You should imagine your embouchure in your belly.
Feel like playing inside your body.
Your breath flows inwards, certainly not the other way around.
Your instrument will play you.
The singing breath is enough.
If you don’t vibrate, then your breath is not warm enough.
Your breath should flow out through your ears.
Your breath should flow out through your neck.
You should feel as if your breath flows out from your whole body, but not from front.« 

The Artist Overlooks His Body

George Kochevitsky shows in The Art Of Piano Playing how you should avoid any apparent physical motion, in order to enhance the quality of the result of your musical intent.

Forget about your body, and concentrate on your relaxed vibration flowing down to your heels (while you are standing up like the sax player, or being seated like the pianist) : the good singing sound then surges around. Localize your sound center point, and free your diaphragm so that you feel as sitting on it, then filling your sound with overtones.

« { Steinhausen on the psychic origin of technique : in 1905, several months after the appearance of Rudolf Maria Breithaupt‘s Die Natürliche Klaviertechnik, Dr. Friedrich Adolph Steinhausen’s Die Physiologische Fehler und Umgestaltung der Klaviertechnik (“The Physiological Misconceptions and Reorganization of Piano Technique“) was published. }

Following Steinhausen’s motto that we cannot teach our body how to move, the psycho-technical school suggests that the more our consciousness is diverted from the movement, and the stronger it is concentrated on the purpose of this movement, the more vividly do artistic idea and tonal conception persist in the mind. Consequently, the artistic conception creates a desire for its realization, the will impulse occasioned thereby becomes more energetic, the needed natural movement is found more easily, and the process of its automatization is accomplished sooner.« 

« The roots of technique are in our central nervous system. The problems connected with muscular conditions and outward appearance of our playing apparatus are important, but they are secondary. »

warm air is stable

You sure must not blow, since the air is not to be pushed out, but you rather do sing internally and downwards, as Alfred Tomatis demonstrates it in The Ear And The Voice : the vibrating air is warm, and that can be felt by feeling the sax neck, which can even be considered as an evidence for your fat and lived-on sound quality.

Thanks to your downward letting-go accompanying your exhalation, your flexible triggering of your inner vibration propels rich vocal harmonics : you are then consuming very little air, which you can imagine 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.« 

« IYou 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.« 

kind of let your singing go down

Upstream from his instrument, the musician should sing downwards, the same way the singer behaves.

For a wind player, concentrating on his inner vibration is antagonistic to the action of blowing, which would trigger an outwards deconstructing effort : hence it is absolutely recommended not to blow, not even to want to do it !

By and large, driving your internal vibration appears as paramount for any musician : you can achieve this control of your internal vibration and check it out by downwardly extending your attitude reached at the end of your natural inhaling, which enforces your anchoring in the ground.

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

From this point on, you feel the air column opening from the sound source down to your heels. The vibration radiates deep inside, like the recycled water jet gushing and feeding the basin center.

« The air column vibrates and recycles like the water jet at the center of the basin.« 

« This is essentially a way to self-awareness and self-knowledge, a search for the movement from the inside to the outside, from the center to the periphery (…)« 

Do Not Blow It !

You should certainly not blow at this point, because you are already sitting on the air, with full confidence, and you readily play without any blowing noise disturbing the emitted sound : actually, either your tongue is not active, lying still in the back of your mouth, or it moves backwards from the mouthpiece rim to let the reed vibrate. There, you actually sing, using as little air as possible, and making out that actual playing implies no blowing : blowing is not playing, since playing is breathing (think about the French expression, “Souffler n’est pas jouer“), as Joe Allard used to say (see breathing and air).

« In your true sound, which is not worked out yet, you can find all colors, vibrations and overtones : your sound must be lived through, it is not to be worked out. « 

« Finally, years later, I realized the importance of Joe’s exercises and explanations : the “fat“ bottom lip, the abdominal breath, the “e“ position for the back of the tongue, anchor tonguing for the tip and more.

These were guiding principles and once understood, it meant that you were playing the saxophone as intended, as an extension of your voice, not as some separate piece of brass that you fingered. »

And Charlie Parker used to mean that the saxophone should drive the horn player :


breathing and air

The Musician Sound Develops Through 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.

Thorax

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.« 

« 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.« 

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.« 

« 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.« 

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.« 

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.« 

When Your Internal Sensations Awaken

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. »

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. »

Unification of your body results from this attitude, all feelings above your diaphragm being ignored, as Dominique Hoppenot explains it in Le violon intérieur.

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

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.« 

your sound emanates 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 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.« 

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. »

« 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 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.« 

« 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.« 

« 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. »

David Liebman  remembers these words from Joe Allard (of Quebec ancestry, and whose first clarinet teacher Gaston Hamelin was French), the teacher master who made him discover his sound mastery :

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

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.« 


the instrument

The Musician Sound And His Instrument

The quality of your sound is ensured if your musician body and your instrument literally operate on the same wave length.

Merging Your Instrument With Your Body

The musical instrument, whether it uses wind, strings or skins, acts as an amplifier of the musician’s voice directly driven by his inner vibration : to take advantage of this amplifier’s acoustics, the player aims at stimulating its resonance, and at merging with the vibration inside his body.

« Your body is your real instrument. »

« The horn is like a megaphone which amplifies the sound wave set up by the vocal cords and reed vibration. Air, even air lying still in the horn itself, becomes sound. »

The Whole Body Sings

As Alfred Tomatis describes it in The Ear And The Voice, the musician’s voice must make his body sing, hence vibrate, in order to feed his instrument and so that it sounds, again and again, and resonates.

your voice is your first instrument

Thanks to relaxation flowing down to your heels, you visualize your embouchure at the bottom of the sound column : it is revealed, at the very end of inhalation, as gently landing on the source of vibration, generating your inner sound which then spreads around, being amplified by your instrument.

« For a singer, virtuosity means neurological control of those parts of the body specialized in singing, as if it were a musical instrument. (…) Having learned to merge himself with his instrument, the great virtuoso can then become totally objective at will.« 

« It is futile to try to sing if this self-image is not integrated through a singing instrument, a vocal instrument. (Adapted by Guy Robert)« 

« A well-defined body image specific to the act of singing implies a well-organized mental attitude and finely tuned alignment, which will allow the entire body to resonate during singing.« 

Your Body Makes Your Instrument Sound

Speaking of a windplayer, his sound builds up from his vibrating air column, opened as if he pronounced the « a » vowel, as Phil Woods tells us about his saxophone sound, during a Master Class at New York University :

« You find the center of that horn for your physionomy : the node, what makes it vibrate, you know, and when you find it, it’s there. »

the violin extends the body

The sound vibration remains at the core of playing any type of instrument, as Dominique Hoppenot shows it in her Inner Violin / Le violon intérieur.

From this point of view, you may devise the violin <=> saxophone analogy : the bow <=> air column excites the string <=> reed, the vibration of which is then amplified by the violin body <=> sax tube.

« (…) the violin player should feel the violin and the bow as an extension of his own body : they both appear as outgrown from him to the point where you expand your body scheme up to the instrument boundaries.« 

« The violin and the bow then behave as revealers of your body sound and not as instruments creating music from scratch.« 

« Virtuosity is enhanced by the absolute invariance of the violin against the body, of the bow extending the arm.« 

« Your efforts are motivated by your expected improvement, which is not brought as a systematic reward from each practice session. It requires some period of time to mature and may come out when unexpected. »

Your Instrument In Your Head

As a music player, you should devote the necessary time to physically and mentally assimilate this process, aiming at unifying your instrument with your body.

« Many years of solitary introspection lead me to analyze and to understand the unconscious operations of our body, when we vibrate an instrument.« 

Then, the sound to come should be mentally anticipated and devised by the windplayer (who lets his relaxation flow down and wants to say « ah » as low as possible), before he takes and brings his instrument to his mouth :

« (…) you should be aware of everything which must be achieved before playing a sound : here is the real work. To achieve this : refrain from holding the instrument in your hands.« 

the piano mind

Concentrating on proprioceptive images drives your internal vibration to your instrument, giving life to your musical ideas over your natural breathing as if you would sing them : then your instrument amplifies and projects them around.

As soon as your instrument seems forgotten, since you are relaxing yourself on your sound center (the location of which is felt from your appropriate body preparation), you feel as if you were directly plugged to your musical speech : you do not pay attention to the so-called technical problems, and become the actual master of your instrument. To really enjoy it, you should play soft and full tones in order to better drive the sound emission.

The full sensation of your sound requires some progression, beginning with a slow, soft and precise pattern : such a practicing indeed gives time to your vibrating sound to deploy and settle in your voice, enhancing your sensations flow from your belly bottom down to your heels. Then, keeping your sound source located as low as possible, makes you hold your optimal and fat vibration of the « a » vowel longer and longer. This way, you physically understand how your musical thought can drive your instrument.

In his Art Of Piano Playing, George Kochevitsky describes this easiness sensation as resulting from the mental control on the playing apparatus, showing how your musical idea drives your instrument playing.

« { Steinhausen on the psychic origin of technique : in 1905, several months after the appearance of Rudolf Maria Breithaupt‘s Die Natürliche Klaviertechnik, Dr. Friedrich Adolph Steinhausen’s Die Physiologische Fehler und Umgestaltung der Klaviertechnik (“The Physiological Misconceptions andReorganization of Piano Technique“) was published. }

Beginning practice starts with too much expenditure of force. The elimination of too much muscle action is the real basis for developing agility.« 

« While the mind is dominating and determining this goal, the whole arm is “the animated tool“, but always, only the tool.« 

« { Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) was the first to emphasize consistently the importance of mental factors in the pianist’s practical work. He presented his ideas in his edition of the Bach Well-Tempered Clavichord (1894). }

Busoni suggests that, until the musical meaning becomes clear, one should not touch the instrument. Because the demands of the keyboard tend to force one to forget about musical meaning, mental practicing away from the instrument plays an important part in the preparatory work.« 

« 1/3 – When a stimulus creates excitation, the result is a discharge of impulses. Inhibition suppresses superfluous (or even harmful) excitation. The restraining, coordinating and protective role of inhibition is of utmost importance in the integrative activity of the central nervous system (…)

2/3 – Slow and extremely even playing is indispensable, not only for obtaining clear proprioceptive sensations but for strengthening the inhibitory process.

3/3 – For strengthening the inhibitory process, I recommend practicing pianissimo, extremely evenly, in slow as well as in faster tempos. The student should also be able to regulate both sudden and gradual increase or decrease in volume in any section of the composition and in any conceivable tempo. The ability to do this, plus the ability to slow down and to stop at any given moment, is the best proof of proper balance between excitatory and inhibitory processes.« 

« When a pianist realizes a given musical idea, the tonal image, the auditory stimulation (conditional stimulus), must always precede the motor reaction (unconditional stimulus), in performance as well as in practicing.« 

« The musical incentive has to be a signal provoking the motor activity. Otherwise the latter, the technique, can easily become an end in itself.« 

« Each time an intricate passage is repeated, its execution demands a new adaptation, and so acquiring technique appears as adjustment. Repetition, instead of dull drilling, now becomes a trial solution, a trial always rationally prepared.« 

« During one practice period, several conscious well-prepared repetitions of a troublesome spot in a piece can be sufficient. When we repeat that spot too many times, our attention is weakened and consequently distracted : unconscious repetition would probably obliterate the positive results we had achieved.« 

« (…) the increase of tempo while studying a musical composition should proceed gradually, and this increase must often alternate with slow and very careful playing. The ability to play evenly and the ability to slow down at any point in a passage serve as criteria of precise and sufficient inhibition. (…) Deep legato practicing is extremely useful for strengthening weak nervous processes.« 

« { Josef Hofmann (1876-1957) }

““The full acoustic picture of the music must be lodged in the mind, before it can be expressed through the hands.“ Then the “playing“ is simply the manual expression of something a pianist knows.« 

Sax And Clarinet Aligned With Your Body

More precisely, when the woodwind player lets his clarinet vibrate, after having stabilized his sound on the saxophone, he gets a better mastery from this approach, with respect to the somewhat different tension of the sound, considering the sound column should develop the same way in a well centered and verticalized manner, in order to obtain the much sought-after playing ease. 

Eddie Daniels explains with his words how he gets carried away by his clarinet :

« The clarinet disappears, and I disappear and all you hear is music. (…) It’s playing so great that I forget there is a clarinet. »

« The  clarinet is leading me. (…) Sometimes the clarinet is playing me ; sometimes I think I’m playing the clarinet : that’s when it’s wrong ! When you think you’re playing the clarinet, already there’s too much separation between you and the clarinet, and then it’s not really happening (…) so when it’s just the music. »