Date: Sun, 30 Nov 1997 03:58:30 -0500 (EST)
From: "Dr. Henry Meredith" <>
Subject: Breathing (long reply)

At 12:44 AM 11/29/97 -0800, "Kyle R. Hofmann" <> wrote:
>On Sat, 29 Nov 1997, Dr. Henry Meredith wrote:
>> The diaphragm is not a muscle but a sheath of elastic tissue, like the sheet
>> of rubber across the bottom of the bell jar, which HAS TO BE PULLED DOWN to
>> create a vacuum in the jar, but returns to its original position in
>  Ah, but as you say later it is INVOLUNTARY.  Being involuntary means
>that we shouldn't worry about it; as long as everything else is working
>correctly, it will manage itself.

If everything is working correctly, it is managed by those other things -- technically, if it's not a muscle, the diaphragm itself cannot be voluntary or involuntary.  I was using the term more as a synonym for "passive."

>> >  Were that true, we could all breath simply by moving the diaphragm up
>> >and down.  This is not possible,
>> We DO move the diaphragm up and down, with our abdominal muscles.
. . .
>  Whether or not there are true muscles or merely connective tissue, there
>are things in there which certainly feel and act like muscles, even though
>they may not be.  My purpose is functional; I haven't the slightest idea
>of what's really going on, and I don't think the rest of us do, either.  I
>describe what I believe to be correct in the most instructional way
>possible, even if that requires some simplification.
. . .
>> >Don't try to expand your stomach; your lungs
>> >are not in your stomach, and there is no air there.
>> Oh, but you must PULL the diaphragm (the involuntary sheath) down with
>> voluntary muscles (those of the abdomen/pelvic "girdle") which are quite
>> strong, and they must move internal things out of the way of the newly
>> positioned diaphragm.  This creates the vacuum in the chest so that air can
>> rush in (Nature abhors a vacuum).  Nobody actually believes that air goes
>> into your stomach.
>  So, by tightening our abdominal muscles, you are proposing that we can

I didn't say tightening.  It's an expansion, a protruding (see bellows analogy).

>breath in because so tightening it moves an involuntary sheath which has
>nothing whatsoever to with our lungs? I think the truth is slightly

You didn't understand the bell jar experiment analogy, then.  That is how the lungs are filled.  The diaphragm has everything to do with the lungs -- it is what determines the size of the chest cavity, creating the vacuum for
inhalation and reducing the cavity to help expel the air for exhalation. Its action however is governed completely by the abdominal girdle muscles (and yes, they work in tandom, but the "active" (what I called "tension") part of the cycle, the inhalation, is the expansion of the abdomen and the pulling down of the diaphragm to draw air inwards.  This would correlate with the lifting of weights with the bicep contracting (again, I like to avoid the word "tightening" when eaching).  Relaxing the bicep, the tricep comes into play (contracts); and "Relaxing" the abdominal muscles that
distended the abdomen and pulled the diaphragm downwards, now obviously brings into play tandem muscles by which we can boost the "lifting" of air out of the lungs (squeezing the toothpaste tube from the bottom), but I
still consider this the relaxation part of the respiration cycle, and that (energized) "sigh" is what we use to play the trumpet.

>  What seems to happen to me is that your lungs expand.  If your diaphragm
>needs to get out of the way, it does, because it's to weak to resist.

The diaphragm is the intermediary that CAUSES the lungs to expand by defining the size of the chest cavity.  But it is PULLED down to enlarge it for air intake and PUSHED up to reduce it for air outflow.  This pulling and pushing is what I meant by involuntary.  Sure, we could just breathe naturally, and when we do, this is the same process, but less exaggerated both directions (in & out), because we are breathing only to stay alive and not to also play the trumpet which requires more air.
. . .
>> I'm of the school of thought that air speed has little, if anything, to do
>> with playing the trumpet.
>  Well, air speed or no, I do think most people tighten to get higher and
>louder notes if they don't know the proper way.
>> . . .  the breathing out part of the respiration cycle represents the
>> "relaxation" part (what I call the SIGH -- always an exhaling).  The intake
>> portion of the cycle, however, is the necessary "tension" part (if you're
>> frightened by a sudden event, you breathe IN, as in a gasp).
>  Though tension is necessary, it shouldn't be noticable.  Someone else

I INSIST that it be noticeable on my brass students.  I want to see the abdomen protruding (more than for just a staying alive breath) on intake, and receding on exhaling.  Unlike singers and flutists, who have little or no resistance provided by their instruments, trumpet players do NOT have to put that resistance in their bodies to hold air back from being all gone too quickly.

>brought up the fact that muscles can only tense one direction, and that
>different muscles have to tense to move it the other direction.  Thinking
>about it, wouldn't we take notice of something if there's significant
>resistance to its movement?  When we tense up and attempt to force air
>out, isn't that simply having both sets of muscles tensing, making them
>work against each other getting us nowhere?

As I mentioned above and as described also in the post about opposing muscles, these should NEVER be operating AT THE SAME TIME unless you are purposely trying to create an isometric exercise, which I agree (and so does
Arnold Jacobs) does not enhance playing, because it is static, neither moving air in or out, but two sets of muscles tensing against one another and going nowhere.  I never did recommennd this, nor did I ever recommend "forcing air out"!  (see warm air and "ah" & "oh" analogy).

>> The tension is the expansion of the abdominal muscles to create the
>> conditions for air to come in.  When we play, we can "enhance" the
>> relaxation, by bringing the stomach IN to LIFT the diaphragm and hence
>> the air inside the chest cavity, boosting its release with more energy
>> than just sighing.  But when the stomach is IN, it is relaxed -- and yet
>> that's "support" -- as in a hydraulic LIFT for a car in a mechanic's
>> shop.
>  So, again you propose that an unconnected sheath of muscles with nothing
>to do with our lungs helps us breath?  I don't understand how this works.
>Can you cite a (fairly recent) textbook?

The sheath IS connected around the circumference, sealing the chest cavity (otherwise how could a vacuum or a rarefaction of air pressure be achieved?) and, as I said before, has EVERYTHING to do with the lungs (which are merely the balloons of the bell jar experiment receiving and letting out air according to the pressure imbalance that nature wants to balance.  Please read any elementary science book that discusses the bell jar experiment.  I
also mentioned Arnold Jacobs and any of his breathing discourses.  A good summary article, co-authored by Arnold Jacobs and an MD and written up by David Cugill? (or was he the doctor) in the Instrumentalist (Brass Anthology) would be helpful -- the title and date escape me (it's 3:30 a.m., and I've played two concerts yesterday with a rehearsal in between so the mind's a bit foggy!) -- something like "The art of breathing: a Medical/Musical Analysis."  I'll repost with details.  Why must it be recent - -- people have been breathing (and analyzing the process) for centuries.  :) Try "The Science of Breath" by Yogi Ramacharaka, 1902 (?) if memory serves.

>> >  Thus, to exhale properly, we should open our mouths, keep our torso
>> >straight, unbend our neck (this is especially important, as bending the
>> >neck does awful things to airflow; I've been there), and lower the chest.
>> No -- it should stay "high" (until most of the air escapes), with the air
>> ready to roll out, as is permitted by the tensile strength of the lips and
>> the resistance of the mouthpiece and instrument.  This is the support.
>  My problem with that approach is that there's strength in the chest that
>may be used in exhaling which, in your method, is ignored until the end,
>by which time the player has hopefully taken a breath.  I have no problem
>with practicing exhaling with the chest up (as Claude Gordon recommends),
>or while you're bent over (as James Stamp recommends).  They're both
>useful exercises to make your exhalation stronger.  But as long as you're
>making it stronger, why ignore a set of useful muscles?  Would you rather
>the Olympic weight lifters use only one arm?

I still don't agree that those are "muscles" of any strength or practical use.  The olympic weightlifters are using arms and legs (strong muscles like the abdomen).  They would not benefit by using weak (or insignificant muscles).  My point is, that the toothpaste tube itself (chest cavity) does not expel toothpaste (nor is it filled with toothpaste) of its own volition
and power.  It is simply a vessel, which is filled and emptied by some external means.  For breathing the chest cavity, like the walls of the toothpaste tube, is passive not active in the process.  The strength and control comes from the abdominal muiscles.

>> I use a toothpaste tube analogy -- keep the toothpaste at the top of the
>> tube by rolling it up from the bottom.  If you squeeze from the top
>> (lower the chest), you are not getting the energized relaxation -- or
>> you are simply collapsing, like in a "woe-is-me" type of sigh, not an
>> elation type.  Either way, you cannot use as much air or as efficiently.
>  No, you use at least as much air, if not more, and you have more
>potential power with it.  By keeping your chest up, you are preventing
>the upper part of your lungs from expelling their air.  By the time you
>get around to moving them, you haven't the support left in the lower part
>of your lungs to push the air outwards.

So you can squeeze the top of the toothpaste tube and get all of the toothpaste out of it?  I'd like to see you do that!  Your chest is passive - -- it will fall WHEN IT IS EMPTY (or getting close to it), unless you are consciously squeezing from the top.  The expulsion of air comes from below. Squeezing causes tension without moving anything but the uppermost air.

>> >DON'T consciously contract the chest muscles!  That's a very different
>> >thing, and usually leads to extra (unwanted) tension.  Think about
>> >lowering them back to where they were before we inhaled.
>> Lowering is an "active" response, and it would be difficult not to
>> consciously contract etc.  "Letting" it fall (when it finally is nearly
>> empty of air) is a "passive" response.
>  I propose that one lowers one's chest consciously, in opposition to
>contracting one's chest.  Thinking `contraction' leads to tension, at
>least for me.
>> >Keep yourself relaxed, and your breathing should be as easy as, well,
>> >breathing!
>> Watch a sleeping baby in a crib -- can't get much more natural than that --
>> the little tummy is going out and in when he/she is breathing in and out
>> repectively.  My analogy for this is "BELLOWS."
>  Yes, but it's involuntary.  The cute little baby's tummy (they ARE cute,
>aren't they?) isn't consciously moving in and out, it's doing it
>naturally, and if we attempt to force ourselves to move our abdomen in
>some predetermined way, disaster will naturally follow.  The only time we
>should, IMHO, be concerned about the abdomen is if it's being forced to
>move in any direction, whether inwards or outwards, at any time
>whatsoever.  People breath naturally, and telling them "breath this way"
>only hurts.

To play the trumpet we must move our breathing from the SUBconscious level to the CONSCIOUS, and this means enhancing those NATURAL movements that you admit the baby exhibits -- but remember, it is taking in only enough
(subconsciously) to "live".  We need to move MORE air, both in, and out (albeit slowly and warmly) to play the trumpet.  You are saying that we must do something consciously, but you are suggesting it be an UNnatural physical
act -- lowering the chest -- rather than the natural one (moving the tummy out & in).  If the natural way is better, why are you suggesting we consciously go against that?

>Kyle R. Hofmann <>   Fight bulk email:

With WARM holiday wishes,

        Henry Meredith   <>