Just breathe in and out…

There are many articles that talk about breathing and breathing technique that can easily be found via a simple search on the World Wide Web.  For example, on WindSong Press website (www.windsongpress.com) there are great articles written by Arnold Jacobs, and a series of exercises that you can download to look at.  Take a look at this link to WindSong Press for a free .pdf of breathing exercises:

WindSong Press Article on breathing

This blog approaches breathing from my own viewpoint and looks at the techniques I have used that have worked for me.  As a tuba player I have taken so much inspiration from the work of John Fletcher, Arnold Jacobs, Oysten Baadsvic, Sam Pilafian as well as John Miller and Alan Vizzutti, it would be completely impossible to claim any of these ideas as my own.  My advice would be to keep searching and looking for any further techniques or ideas and open your mind to new things.  The thing that has always served me well when looking for new ideas or advice is to keep what works, and just throw the rest away…

By Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustrator (Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustrator) [CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustrator

Breathing is circular.  You breathe in, and then you breathe out.  I have found it is necessary to always think of breathing in this way and avoid holding the air after you have taken a breath in.  This will allow the beginning of the note to start much more effectively, and avoids the problem of having an explosive start to the sound.

Shoulders should always stay down when you breathe in.  I have found that the breathing is deeper, warmer and much more effective when the shoulders are kept down and the diaphragm is just allowed to work as it should.  Please remember that the diaphragm is an involuntary muscle and it can definitely not be controlled.  You can consciously control when you breathe in or out, but not where your diaphragm is.

Breathe in to the sound ‘whooo’ to get good, warm air.  This tip was given to me by Nicholas Hitchen (ENO) whilst I was studying at university and has been fantastic advice.  To do this say the word ‘who’, keep the mouth shape exactly the same and then breathe in.  As you breathe in, allow your belly to lift, keep the shoulders down and you will find that you get a really big intake of air over the shortest possible time.  It also allows you to breathe more quietly and avoid any nasty inward hissing sound.

I will always remember being told that warm air equals warm sound and that has helped to develop a warm tone across the range of the instrument.model-41508_1280

Allow your rib cage to move freely and stop your elbows from getting in the way.  To be honest it is well worth getting the advice from an Alexander Technique specialist to gain good posture whilst playing.  I have been lucky enough to have been given very good advice regarding how to stand or sit properly so have avoided any nasty postural problems or RSI.  If you play for quite a long time over the day, or gig often, Alexander Technique could well be the thing that saves your playing career.

Practice breathing regularly, and build it in to your practice routine.  There are so many different exercises freely available to try both with the instrument and without that I am not going to cover any here!

Concentrate on the speed of the air, and avoid the trap of focusing on how hard or how much.  To play a note at any volume you will always need to use lots of air.  Air is what provides the tonal quality. As Arnold Jacobs is well known for saying, Wind = Song.  So when you are playing loud think of using lots of air at a fast speed.  To play quietly, use lots of air pushed slowly.

Using fast and slow air also avoids the danger of having a harsh or split sound when playing loudly and avoids a thin weak sound when playing quietly.  Always use lots of air whatever volume you play at.  Breathe just as much for soft notes as you do for loud notes.

What tips and techniques do you rely on for good breathing technique?  Please feel free to post your thoughts and views via the comments box below.

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