I have studied the work of Arnold Jacobs and fully agree with his thinking and teaching regarding wind=song. Breathing technique is important for all brass players and can allow for musical phrasing, tonal control and greater confidence with expression.
When breathing in it is important to breathe noiselessly, quickly and use warm air. Breathe in using the sound ‘WHO’, keeping your shoulders down and allowing space for your rib cage and stomach to expand. Keeping your shoulders down is important as it allows your diaphragm to move without restriction. Do remember that the diaphragm is an involuntary muscle and cannot be controlled. It is possible to control the way in which you use the air that you breathe and the way in which you breathe, and it is better to focus on the use and control of air than a particular muscle.
Here are some exercises that I have used to develop my breathing technique:
1) Start with relaxation. Stress, muscle tension and restriction cause issues when breathing properly.
- Lift both shoulders up towards your ears and hold for 5 seconds and then allow them to drop gently.
- Roll shoulders forward slowly and fully 5 times.
- Roll shoulders backwards slowly and fully 5 times.
2) Do two big yawns, allowing the jaw to move freely but not overstretching.
3) Set a metronome to 60 bpm and follow these steps:
i. Breathe in for 4 full beats, hold for 4 beats and exhale for 8 beats.
ii. Breathe in for 3 full beats and exhale for 12 beats.
iii. Breathe in for 2 full beats and exhale for 24 beats.
iv. Breathe in for 1 full beat and exhale for 32 beats.
v. Breathe in for ½ a beat and exhale for 48 beats.
4) Take a full deep breath, and then take in 6 additional sips of air.
5) Hold a book at arms length and try to blow apart the pages.
6) Light a candle and try to blow the air in a controlled way so that the flame bends in one direction but does not blow out.
7) Hold a lit match at arms length, and blow it out.
8) Long note practice. Set a metronome to 60bpm and work on long notes in the middle register at a comfortable volume and focus on tonal quality at the beginning and end of the note as well as the middle.
To improve breathing technique it is important to continue to work on them regularly. If possible it is good to aim to try these exercises on a daily basis. With regular work it will be possible to notice a big difference in breath control within a relatively short space of time. As Joe Alessi points out, it is important to “blow through the notes, not at them”. (Attributed to his father Joe Alessi Snr)