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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Category: Breathing

Starting the day off right

Andrew Hitz

This x 100!

Marty Hackleman once told me he doesn’t like to call it a warm-up. He calls it his daily routine and the byproduct of that routine is that he is warmed up, both physically and mentally.

I have encountered many students who use their warm-up to ease into the mental aspects of their musical day, but I don’t believe this is necessary if you walk into the practice room with the proper mentality in place.

This is one reason why I am an enormous proponent of doing breathing exercises before playing. I’m not a slave to them and don’t always do them, but whenever I do I make sure I am fully committed mentally to the exercise as a way of engaging my mind on a very specific task, which in turn helps my first notes of the day sound great.

This is also why I like to do things like wind patterns during my breathing exercises. “Be musical with your air” is a phrase I’ve uttered thousands of times to various concert bands and marching bands. “Playing” Jingle Bells with your air is a great way to get dynamics, phrasing, articulation, style and everything else going in the brain.

Once you activate all of those things, the physical side of playing really just comes along for the ride.

Finally, I find it can be difficult to truly concentrate on breathing exercises when I do the exact same ones in the same order ever day. That’s why I like to use sequences (like are found in The Breathing Gym Daily Workouts DVD.) There are many ways to get the air (and the brain) moving and mixing up what is done and the order they are done in is really beneficial, even for professionals.

Regardless of how you begin your day or what you do for a daily routine, a simple decision can be made that your first notes will not be of poor quality. If you make that commitment, you’ll be amazed at the results.

Staying in the Middle Third

Andrew Hitz

This observation by Arnold Jacobs is why I find breathing exercises out of The Breathing Gym so beneficial for students. Getting them to experience the sensation of taking in a large amount of air without having the horn in their hands is invaluable and gives them something concrete to model when they do pick up the instrument.

Doing exercises with long inhales like 6-7-8-9-10 or any variation of In for 8 > Hold for 8 > Out for 8 (also 8>16>8, 12>12>12 or even 16>32>16) are great for feeling the sensation of moving a lot of air.

And as always, Mr. Jacobs was dead on with this observation. So often, mediocre brass players never get close to full and never get close to empty. Getting them to experience this is a great way to encourage them to eventually do it on their own.

The Arnold Jacobs Straw Exercise

Andrew Hitz

This is a great exercise for two reasons:

  1. Students feel the sensation of air movement which is a much better thing to focus on than any body movements or where the air is headed
  2. This lets the student experience firsthand the difference in efficiency when they inhale with a good oral shape

Combine this with the "EE to Oh" exercise out of the brass gym and you can fix a whole lot of breathing issues without ever addressing them. And in teaching, using fewer words means less chance for confusion and getting to the actual doing of the activity being addressed faster.