A Trick for Faster Breathing

I was obligated to attend a band rehearsal on Friday night and Saturday. The two day rehearsal was a cheaper alternative to the band camp they had last year but which I dodged in favour of music teaching and then an Xterra half marathon. The goal of the rehearsals are to polish up the music for the Wind Band Festival being held later in the year.

This time round I dodged the second half the Friday evening rehearsal for some salsa dancing (it was so cold on the way home that the frost indicator came on on the Triumph) and then the Saturday morning for music teaching. I had no excuses for Saturday from 3:30pm till 9pm.

That being said, it was a worthwhile rehearsal from an ensemble point of view. I didn’t personally gain much musically and I’ll admit that I was fairly resentful having to use up my Saturday solely for music (and delaying progress on my software side project). However, there was one thing, strangely, that was intriguing and it came from an unlikely source.

We had a chorale tutorial.

That’s right, the band had a crash course in choir singing with the North Shore Chorale’s musical director because someone had the bright idea for the band to sing a portion of Satoshi Yagisawa’s Hymn to the Sun with the Beat of the Mother Earth in 4-part harmony.

It was educational, despite me not being fussed on choir singing, but there was one gem of info about breathing that especially stood out; something that explained what I’ve struggled to teach (or at least demonstrate) to my students.

Try this:

  • Start with your lungs at a neutral air capacity by doing a normal exhale.
  • Push out all the air from your lungs until you have next to zero air left in them (go SSSsssssss if you want).
  • Hold your lungs at that complete vacuum-sucked-state for a bit.
  • Hold it…
  • Hold it…
  • Release!

The result should be a sudden expansion of the lungs as air fills the vacuum.

Here’s the thing, you never actually took a breath, you merely used the elastic energy of your lungs to do all the work for you. This is how an advanced wind player breathes so much faster than a student; they’ve pushed out so much air while playing a phrase that the lungs naturally (and quite rapidly) suck in the  air for the next phrase. There’s never a ‘breath’.

A beginner student will often take a breath so that they take their lungs from a neutral lung expansion to an even greater expansion. What they should be aiming to do is training themselves to get used to using up the air already in their lungs and then let their next ‘breath’ really just fill their lungs back up to the neutral position. Physically this can be an odd concept that doesn’t come naturally to them.

I’ve been explaining the lungs’ elasticity for breathing for a long time. What I didn’t have was a prescriptive way of getting the student to try out the concept themselves in such a way that they’d truly get it. This was a great tip.

It just goes to show that wind players are just singers with an instrument suck in their mouths.



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