Musicians who require the use of their air to perform will benefit from “Starting Breathing Exercises to Encourage Air Capacity Growth.” Whether you are a brass, woodwind or even a vocalist musician, breathing, and effective airflow, is an absolute necessity to perform. In addition, increasing your knowledgebase is a great way to improve your tone, endurance and overall dynamic capability.
In this article, I am providing a sample of one breathing exercise and from my newly self-published mini-book, “Breathing Exercises for Band.” In this book, I sought to collect a series of breathing exercises that were appropriate for various levels of student musicians. Like, most educators, I am not okay with doing the same type of exercise with my students over and over again. To clarify, not only does this become incredibly boring for you and your students, but it also limits your the flexibility of your skills sets. Never fret, volume 2 is bound to have new and varied exercises for you and your students.
Most importantly, many great musicians and authors have spent countless hours on the subject of breathing. There is a variety of sources on the web that provide free or paid services on the subject. I highly encourage you to seek out credible resources and experient with any and all of the recommended exercises.
In this publication, I have collected what works for my students. In other words, if having a quality tone, being able to minimize unnecessary tension and being able to effectively breathe to capacity is your goal then take a moment reflect on what is possible.
Breathing is a natural aspect of living. It enables us to perform at the highest levels by providing oxygen rich blood to our brains, lungs and muscles. Musicians from the members of the London Philharmonic to The President’s Own have personalized strategies to use air to its fullest. Without quality air control, these individuals would not be able to set the bar and dominate in their field of expertise.
In contrast, proper breathing also calms us and allows us to completely relax. Just the mere idea of listening and focusing on our breathing pattern melts unwanted and unnecessary tension from our bodies.
Breathing With Beginners
Firstly, it is important to truly recognize the fact that daily breathing exercises help students, both psychologically and kinesthetically. They need to understand how to use their air efficiently. These exercises should be a prioritized component of your music rehearsals. Also, these exercises not only help with tone production, and general musical development, but also increase the “SMART” coefficient.
Do you remember the part about when increased levels oxygen reach a musician’s brain – when they use air efficiently? It is great. I love it when students can intelligently contribute to the rehearsal and I am sure you do too.
Starting, or perhaps even refocusing your breathing practices with students, comes in with many shades of capacity, capabilities and challenges. Let’s start at the beginning with students new to their instrument. I recommend that you start slowly while focusing on the basic elements of the breathing process.
Start simple. Get students properly inhaling, exhaling and developing a properly moving stream of air. To start:
- Establish clear and proper posture. I would recommend that this is done in the manner a student performs. If it is a flute player, use sitting posture, if it is a percussionist (yes, I said percussionist) practice doing this standing.
- Next, instruct students to relax their upper body and breathe in through their mouth. Emphasize an open throat, a lowered tongue and a cavern sounding inhalation. Now, release with a relaxed exhalation.
- Create a visual that students should think about. For example, do this by instructing students to breathe all the way down to the bottom of the chair.
- Clarify that when students breathe the air should continuously flow in and out. This should be accomplished without holding stagnant air within the body. The air should be supported (exhaling with warm air.)
- Next, have students extend their arm with their palm facing them. They should envision their hand as a target and their air stream hitting the center of their palm. They should continue to envision the air coming back to them like a yo-yo, (back into their lungs.) Students should reflect on what the air stream is doing. As a result, this aids in the students’ ability to visualize playing through phrases and notational barriers.
- As an introduction into breathing exercises, try using this activity to a variety of counts and tempos daily for at least three weeks. Encourage students to take full breaths and turn the air around quickly on the exhale.
Stretch and Breathe
Now that your students have a basic understanding of what is involved in the simple mechanics of breathing, it is also important to do some type of stretching before any extensive breathing exercises take place. The purpose of stretching includes:
- Prepare for and release extraneous body tension
- Better flexibility
- To get the blood flowing throughout the body
- Stretch the required muscles used in musical performance
- Twisting the trunk of your body
- Flop over (loosen the arms neck and upper body)
- Wrist Grab
- Neck rolls
I recommend that you follow-up stretches with two or three extension breathing capacity exercises. These breathing exercise stretches warm-up the students’ respiratory mechanisms as well as increase airflow and amplify lung capacity. Remember that stretching is worth your time since it will help minimize the chance of injury.
Insist that students inhale in a relaxing manner. Most importantly, students need to always focus on creating a characteristic sound that results from moment of the exhalation.
When practicing breathing exercises remember to start simple and expand into something more complex. For example
Inhale 4, Exhale 4 (8 times)
In 4 Out 4 8 X
Inhale 8, Exhale 8 (8 times)
In 8 Out 8 8 X
In conclusion, music is always evolving and is an ever flowing and living artform. The quality of your music program’s depth is subject to the quality of its sound and willingness to improve. Just like the construction of music, the performance of it is subject to periods of tension and release. To find our most inner resonant qualities we must practice free flowing breathing on a regular basis to increase necessary capacity.
Only when you and your students have found a suitable balance between artistry and kinesthetic body control will you truly create aesthetically pleasing masterpieces. Once again, I encourage you to continue your learning. Thank you for your readership and good luck in your educational journey.