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the sound column

The Musician Sound Grows Up His Sound Column

The musician’s inner vibration is the raw material of his artistic expression, which eventually comes out from his instrument.

Like Standing For The Ovation

The inner vibration of the windplayer expands in his air column, then gets amplified by his instrument, through his vocal cords and his embouchure.

« You should always internalize yourself, this way, stretching the sound out is appropriate, but doing so, just focus on the sound only, and keep your vertical standing up, together with your body opening.« 

« When you sing, your body does open up, and it should always behave this way, we name it “sitting on the air“.« 

« The idea is that the movements of the vocal cords be utilized for the artistic purposes of shaping a sound. »

from the air column to the sound column

You can live through this slender inner space – rather named “column of sound“ by Alfred Tomatis in The Ear And The Voice – by relaxing your abdomen muscles, focussing on your natural breathing process : that makes you forget about your embouchure while enhancing your verticality and the deep rooting of the air column, like a tree trunk which would be embodied by your lower limbs.

When focusing on relaxation flowing down your rear back, starting from the end of your natural (and non-forced) inhaling, your air column – or better, your sound column – must be felt as deep as possible, in order to reach its stable position, as though you were sitting on the radiating vibration, which then excites another column, a physical one this time, your cervical/vertebral spine.

« In correct emission, the larynx is lined up against the cervical spine which, excited by the vibrations transmitted to the larynx by the vocal cords, starts to sing of its own accord.

Under these circumstances, the larynx is excited exactly as the strings of a violin. It is the strings that vibrate and the violin that sings. When the posture of the singer is well aligned, his larynx excites the vertebral column just as if it were that little piece of wood inside the violin that is called the “soul“ of the violin. Its purpose is to carry sound from the anterior plate to the posterior plate.  We want to make a column of sound, resonant over and under the glottis, not a column of air, as myth would have it.« 

« (…) But it is one thing to talk about a column of air with all the ideas that are usually associated to it : the push, the pressure, tension on the cords, etc.., but a column of sound is something altogether different.

The latter implies relaxation, a measured and tranquil expenditure, being on the lookout for tension, to reduce effort, to avoid pressure.« 

strings and body and soul

The same process operates with a violin player, who plays his instrument ideally merged with his body : Dominique Hoppenot outlines this resonance-amplification sequence in Le violon intérieur.

Once installed, the air column is ready to “play“ the violinist’s body, as soon as the bow vibrates the string : this vibration gets enriched by the resonance of the violinist’s body, thanks to its transmission through the clavicle, then is amplified by the violin body.

« Thanks to its internal architecture, your body will cease to be an obstacle, behaving then as a true sounding board and as an amplifier of your faithful musical emotions, in the same way as for singers.« 

« Such as your voice, your sound is the absolute musical support, the wire that carries the music and inspires emotion. Hence, it is as compelling to “position“ your sound as it is to position your voice.« 

« To vibrate, it is necessary (…) at first to start from the idea of sound, not from the obsession of gesture. You should not vibrate to produce a “vibrato“ but to vibrate the sound through a deeply “felt“ pulsation. The good vibrato, able to convey your emotion, therefore picks up your natural vibration and amplifies it at your will.« 

« The singers and wind players know for sure that they cannot get a decent sound emission without their breathing being positioned, without their famous “air column“.

They also know that they can neither phrase music, nor actually play it without knowing how to play their breathing with ease.« 


the posture

The Musician Sound And His Posture

The musician’s posture aims at easing his body and his instrument to merge together.

Your Body Gets In Line For Vibration

Visualize your roots and imagine them plunging into the ground, from the trunk of this virtual tree, represented by your air column – actually, your sound column. Here you are, straightened up (during your natural inhaling, your sound 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.

your voice widened by your posture

Alfred Tomatis highlights this body preparation in The Ear And The Voice.

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

« (…) 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.« 

« (…) 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.« 

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.

« 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 (…)« 

« 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.« 

« (…) 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 (…)« 

Your Body Blends Into Your Instrument

Transverse_FRYou 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).

« 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. »

your posture facing the piano

If you are a standing-up player, your playing position should embody your actual rooting, making your vertical sound column deeply flow into the ground. In order to assess this verticality, you may picture yourself as being seated on your pelvis, centered on your sound source : so downward-packed, locked on your heels and forgetting about the upper part of your body, your vibration easily takes off.

Such an attitude is also relevant to the piano player, who can picture his virtual verticality down to his heels, while being physically sitting on his stool, delving his feet into the ground.

in his Art Of Piano PlayingGeorge Kochevitsky shows how the arms should be forgotten to free the player technique.

« (…) two other ideas occupied the representatives of the anatomic-physiological school : weight playing and relaxation (…)« 

« { In 1905, Rudolf Maria Breithaupt (1873-1945) published Die Natürliche Klaviertechnik. } Breithaupt, a fervent proponent of this idea, proclaimed that the most important principle of technique was a loose and heavy arm (…) In the third edition of the same book he wrote that the ultimate ideal of artistic performance is predominance of the spirit over the body, liberation from the material, the overcoming of the pull of gravity : only a fine sense of balance is left from the latter… It goes without saying that in the cases of greatest speed the weight seems almost eliminated.« 

the freed up violin

The musician’s inner vibration is transmitted to the instrument-amplifier from his body posture through the pianist’s fingers, through the embouchure of the woodwind player, through the lips of the trumpet player, through the clavicle (not embarrassed by a cushion which inhibits the vibration) of the violinist : this transmitter link must be as little constrained as possible, to free the optimal resonance of the instrument.

Dominique Hoppenot uses these words about the balance fundamentals :

« It is a pity to spend a life of toil and research ignoring that all difficulties with the sound, the disjointed hand, vibrato, hopped, staccato, etc… are nearing resolution as soon as the perfect balance of the body is achieved.« 

« What matters is the overall balance of the body, the general feeling experienced within your body, and not an isolated gesture or detail, observed from the outside.« 

« When the momentum and the opposition forces are fully developed, there can be no tightening and no exaggerated support, no more than voluntary effort to hold the instrument.« 

Then your head and limbs should freely move :

« No motion of your head should go and pick up the violin as if it were an object outside the body ; it does come to your body without changing your posture for all that.« 

« The purpose of consciously non-holding the instrument is to totally free the sensitivity of your fingers, which you feel as talking and “telling“ the music directly out of our mouth.« 

« (…) you must always understand that every action involves your whole body, through its static as well as dynamic behavior.« 

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 ;
– your abdomen, like sucked up by the sound source (Hara),
– your lower limbs, becoming your actual roots, spreading the sound through the ground and space.

« Our whole energy actually arises from our center of gravity : it is located at the level of the third lumbar vertebra, area that eastern people call “Hara”.« 

« It is essential that the supporting muscles – especially those located in your back – fully play their part, freeing your arms ends from overload, providing them with the necessary independence and lightness and giving to your arms a flexibility unknown before.« 

« (…) such a freedom is available only when technical problems are mastered, when you develop a full confidence in the result, and especially when the musical flow spreads through your body, without finding any obstacle by any constraint or unwanted tension.« 

« For the artist, relaxation is an absolute necessity. »

Rooting Starts From The Pelvis

Going back to the woodwind player, his embouchure should be flexible enough so that the internal vibration fully propagates to the reed, while his instrument remains well-balanced on his well-grounded body.

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

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

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