The Musician Sound

My thoughts about the musician sound elaborate from the following concepts :

Sound and Inner Vibration

My exploring the alto saxophone, coming from practicing the clarinet, made me realize how paramount the sound foundation is, as resulting from the mastering of my inner vibration : by avoiding any physical stress disturbing the musical gesture (“body tensions shrink your sound“, as Marie-Christine Mathieu shows it), we manage to merge with our instrument.

Some basic components of this body-instrument set are positioned hereafter : the internal vibration propagates from the source, down to the ground through the virtual trunk and the roots, and keeps the warm air in the horn thanks to its minimal flow.

In other words, the expression is fully controlled when the body fades out behind the sound. Then, the playing process of the body-instrument set becomes flexibly driven by the musician, who can then concentrate on his musical speech since his sound is already put in place : from this point onwards, other musical features logically build up, such as articulation, nuances, rests…

In the first place, you should learn to know yourself : learn to be aware of everything which must be achieved before playing a sound.” 

The Sound Ripening

Many findings result from this approach, which was happily taught to me by Master Robert Pichaureau some years ago (1983-85) and is feeding my personal routine in a continuous way : practice and assimilation make concepts mature with time, so that they become obvious.

Along these lines, this great teacher helped many musicians to unveil and (re-)build up their sound, enhancing these principles in a unified way for all types of instruments (he used to refer to The Inner Violin / Le violon intérieur of Dominique Hoppenot, extending the concept beyond the brass and woodwind players…) :

the sound of inner violin

Your best inner vibration is lived through and felt in consistency with your natural breathing, hence feeding your musical speech, which becomes spontaneous while getting more personal.

Here are Dominique Hoppenot‘s  words in Le violon intérieur , about actual feeling and experimenting :

 “In order to express (your art), (…) you must exist within your body, you should have something to say, and be able to say it.” 

 “What is described in a teaching speech as live and always renewed concepts easily becomes dogmatic when written down and you might take a risk in being satisfied by an intellectual understanding while only the lived experience matters.” 

 “True knowledge develops only through analyzing and assimilating information according to your own personality, and “knowing“ necessarily requires the duty of personal experience.” 

Your Mind Drives Your Art

Le Traité méthodique de pédagogie instrumentale, written by Michel Ricquier, also shows and explains the sound produced by the brass or the woodwind player. As a complement, the paramount role of mind for the art expression is developed in his book L’utilisation de vos ressources intérieures.

In the USA, Joe Allard was a notorious Master, as a clarinet and saxophone player, who educated several generations of musicians, following similar principles, from whom I mention excerpts consistent with my observations.

 “If you know how to play, if you understand your approach, then you have a good plan for your playing. You eliminate much of the fear of playing. There’s still concern because you want to play well, but you’re not afraid to blow.

 David Liebman is one of his famous followers, who elaborated his ideas about the development of a personal saxophone sound.

“In truth, there are no rules, only concepts. In all honesty, it took me years to understand some of his directions. This was especially true for the all-important overtone exercises and their significance. It finally dawned on me during my twenties how much the tone of the great players evidenced ease of production, evenness of sound, a rich and deep sonority, and most of all, personal expressiveness.”

Great musicians of all styles demonstrate as many embodiments of personal sound. Among the most significant ones to me, we can find Charlie ParkerPhil WoodsCannonball AdderleyDavid LiebmanEddie DanielsMiles DavisChet BakerClark TerryPierrick PédronJean-Charles RichardGéraldine LaurentMartin FröstRomain GuyotMaurice AndréTimofei DokshitserGuy Touvron

Ringing Multiple Bells

These teachings are feeding my understanding, following several milestones selected in a personal fashion, describing my feelings (and relevant proprioceptions) stemming from a progressive assimilation of the Pichaureau method and comparable concepts.

the instrument

The internal vibration flows from the musician’s body to his instrument which behaves as an amplifier : making one’s instrument sound good aims at optimizing its resonance.

the posture

Your body should be positioned so as to allow the unnecessary stresses to be cleared out downwards, down to the ground, taking advantage of the verticality of the sound column.

breathing and air

The good sound builds up on the exhalation, which seamlessly extends the inhalation : your aim should be to pick it up, by staying tuned to your natural breathing.

the air column

You should figure out the air column, better named as “sound column”, as deep as possible : it feeds up your internal vibration which is amplified by the instrument.

do not blow

You should not blow-externalize, in order to be able to drive your vibration inwards and downwards : this way, you let your global resonance develop while sitting on the air, without inserting any stresses disturbing your sound.

the sound source

From your diaphragm center, you visualize the starting point of your internal vibration as low as you can, through the heels-roots : this will make your sound column deeper, bringing a fatter sound out of your body to your instrument.

the embouchure

Your internal vibration propagates through the embouchure – which you should visualize at the bottom of your sound column – producing then a sound specific to the musician-wind instrument configuration : this requires a good response from your equipment.

fingers and tongue

Your fingers and tongue finally embody the tools of you wind player becoming a sound sculptor by customizing your expression built on of your internal vibration.

a virtual trunk

Like the sportsman towering his performance by merging into his pelvis, this feeling forgets your real trunk for the benefit of your lower limbs, which then may appear as a new virtual trunk : it supports your vibrating body, echoing through the surrounding space.

highs and lows

Exploring the whole range of your instrument becomes easier by keeping your sound column relaxed from the bottom, where your exhaling and inhaling naturally link up in the fat vibration : you can now master your playing legato over a large range, together with the grain of your sound.

the sensations

When you listen to your natural breathing and you absolutely do not push, then your relaxation flows down, bringing the enjoyment of letting-go.

the convergence

When those multiple factors converge towards your vital center point, you may consider your body as unified behind your instrument, which receives its vibrating energy and makes it sound around.


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