breathing and air

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.Thorax_EN

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 intérieurThen, 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 Mathieuto 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.


A true person breathes through his heels.

Robert Pichaureau, Favorite Expressions
(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
(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 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.

Marie-Christine MathieuGestes et postures du musicien
(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 RicquierTraité 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 LiebmanDeveloping a Personal Saxophone Sound


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 Kochevitsky, The Art Of Piano Playing

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