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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000124.txt from 2008/01

From: Tony Pay <>
Subj: [kl] Support again
Date: Mon, 07 Jan 2008 16:31:01 -0500

On 7 Jan, Jonathan Cohler <> wrote:

> Not being a medical doctor, I couldn't comment in detail on the particular
> muscular systems involved in the process, but it is clear that the change
> in pressure is controllable by a conscious process (otherwise we couldn't
> do it). Note there is a difference between conscious control and
> well-trained behaviour. The fact that something is a well-trained
> behaviour doesn't mean that is an unconcscious behaviour.

The point -- and it's a subtle one -- is not to do with whether the
behaviour of a muscle (in this case, the diaphragm) is subject to conscious
control, or to do with whether we can perceive the *results* of that
behaviour in the world.

It's to do with whether we can *sense* the contraction of that muscle
directly -- to do with whether there are sensory nerves going from it to our
brain, nerves that fire when it contracts. If we cannot sense the
contraction of a muscle directly, I say that the contraction of that muscle
occurs outside awareness -- even if its results are within awareness.

Though the action of the heart is involuntary as well (because we can't
*decide* to make our heart beat, clearly) this statement is true of the
heart. We are aware of the heart's contraction, if at all, only by the
results of that contraction -- by its sound, or by its thump against other
parts of our body if we've been exerting ourselves.

We can't feel *it* go, squeeze, squeeze, squeeze...

On the other hand, the contraction of your triceps when you do a bench press
is very directly available to your senses. You feel the strain, you may even
feel the pain, *in the muscle itself*.

The diaphragm is half-way between the sorts of muscle of which the triceps is
typical, and the heart. Like the heart, it can contract involuntarily, in
response to the body's need for air -- you don't have to *remember* to
breathe! -- but also, unlike the heart, it can contract if I decide at a
particular moment to take a breath.

But you know you are using it only by its results -- like the heart, there is
no *information that it's contracting* passed to our awareness by sensory

What that means is that when you blow -- that is, when you contract the
abdominal/back/pelvic blowing muscles, the ones that work in the opposite
direction to the diaphragm -- then the only way you know how much the
diaphragm is opposing the blowing is by *seeing how fast the air comes out as
a result*. You can't *feel* how much your diaphragm is working against
those other muscles, which like the triceps you *can* feel.

I have a little demonstration that I call, 'the magic diminuendo'. (As an
expert clarinet player, you will see the point instantly if you try it.)
Play a forte clarion F, with your abdominal muscles flexed though not pulled
in; and then without changing your abdominal muscles (notice, you can check
that by what they *feel* like), do a diminuendo to nothing.

I suggest that you will then appreciate that you have, without anything in
your experience changing whatever, allowed your diaphragm to resist your
blowing to the point where the force acting up on the bottom of the thoracic
cavity is matched by the force acting down on the bottom of the thoracic
cavity, and there is no resultant air pressure.

You wrote:

> But whether you choose to keep one muscle pressure constant and vary only
> the other one, or to vary both of them is a matter of choice.

That's true. Indeed, you can play at exactly the same dynamic with your
diaphragm completely relaxed, a bit contracting, quite contracting or
maximally contracting by correspondingly increasing the contraction of the
blowing muscles. (In my terminology, that's to play with no, light, medium
or heavy support.) But to have the experience of legato be like the *sound*
of legato, and the bit that's varying be outside awareness, is far more
elegant, I submit.

What's more, the magic quality of the 'magic' diminuendo goes over into a
magic quality of creating an appropriate dynamic envelope to a phrase, if you
want, playing 'with constant support' in this sense. To imagine it IS then
to do it, it seems.

Of course, expert players have been doing something *like* this all along.
But if you conceptualise it as I've described it, it all seems so much

Or so I think.

> In either case, however, you are consciously changing the air pressure at
> the moment the notes change in order to obtain legato.

I hope to have unpacked the word 'conscious' in that sentence in a way that
is helpful.


_________ Tony Pay
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