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Breathing for Musicians.

Tips and exercises to help you develop excellent breathing.

Breathing is a natural thing to do. However, when we play a wind instrument or sing, we turn something natural into something unnatural. We need to learn how to take in a large amount of air in a short amount of time. When learning to breathe correctly for an instrument, experts agree the size of the instrument really does matter. The larger the instrument, the more air leaves the body right away. It is essential to realize how much air is actually needed for your specific instrument. Not all wind instruments are obviously the same. Woodwinds—clarinet, saxophone, oboe, and bassoon—are more resistant to air because of the reed, while brass instruments—trumpet, trombone, euphonium, horn, and tuba—allow players to move air faster and more freely. Instruments like the flute and piccolo require an enormous amount of air because the musician is blowing over a hole with only a small amount of air actually getting into the instrument.

The legendary tuba player Arnold Jacobs was a sought-after teacher to help students develop an excellent breathing technique. Students from all over the world would travel to Chicago to meet him for lessons.

Dr. Jim Bucker published some of Arnold Jacobs Breathing Exercises on The exercises are of real value to students who seek to relax their breathing and maximize their capacity. They are great exercises for any wind instrument player who is serious about breathing. I find it essential to note always to remember that breathing is the most natural thing to do, and tension or discomfort should be avoided at all times. Also, don't forget that a tuba requires more air movement than an oboe and therefore requires a different approach. My last point would be to mention that breath and phrasing in music go hand in hand. Instrumentalists who don't use breathing, like piano players, should think about this when they play, as it will help them with better phrasing.

Have fun with the excellent breathing exercises below!

Robert Boer

Director of

Arnold Jacobs' Breathing Exercises

It is beneficial for brass players to practice large volume air movements away from the instrument and music. By doing this, the body learns the correct processes much faster. Eventually, these processes will unconsciously transfer to their playing. These exercises will begin to produce results within a few weeks, but they must be practiced for six months or longer to move into the subconscious. At that point, they will replace old breathing habits. The player's breathing habits will be changed forever.

The body will be learning new skills. It would be best to remember that the goal is large volume movements of air, not large body movements. While doing these exercises, it is helpful

to exaggerate the physical phenomena to ensure that the body learns proper movement. It is also wise to establish motion independent of the air. This helps the body function and teaches the player that body movements alone will not guarantee proper airflow.

When the player goes to their instrument, these exercises must be forgotten. The player must get into art, not mechanics.

It will be helpful to the player to spend twenty minutes per day with increased awareness of function. During this time, the player should observe that a large breath is being taken and that it is flowing freely from the body. In time, these awarenesses should be forgotten -- they will have entered the subconscious level of the brain and will have become a natural part of the playing.

Exercise No. 1

1. Fill lungs to the count of 5 while raising arms above head

2. Drop arms on count 5

3. Retain the air with an open throat

4. Gradually exhale

5. Do this exercise in front of a mirror with 6 repetitions

6. After a week, do this exercise in 3 counts

7. After another week, do this exercise in 1 count

Exercise No. 2

1. This exercise is done while walking

2. Inhale through the nose for 5 steps – a slow, smooth inhalation of a large quantity

3. Exhale through the nose for 5 steps

4. After a week, perform the same exercise in 3 steps

Exercise No. 3

1. This exercise should not be done until Exercises No. 1 and No. 2 have been practiced for three weeks

2. Take a breath in thirds (partial breaths, not Yoga breaths)

3. Pause between each partial breath and observe how it feels

4. Exhale in thirds

5. Pause between each partial exhalation and observe how it feels

Exercise No. 4

1. This exercise may be done only after Exercise No. 3 has been mastered

2. Take in 2/3's of a breath and pause

3. Take in the last 1/3 of breath and pause

4. Exhale 2/3's of a breath and pause

5. Exhale last 1/3 of breath

Exercise No. 5

1. This exercise may be done only after Exercise No. 4 has been mastered

2. Inhale fully and pause

3. Exhale fully

4. This exercise must be done for three months

Exercise No. 6

1. After Exercise No. 5 has been completed, this exercise may be done

2. Inhale for 1 count – complete inhalation

3. Exhale for 3 counts – complete exhalation

Exercise No. 7

1. This exercise may be done only after Exercise No. 6 has been mastered

2. Inhale for 1/2 count – complete inhalation

3. Exhale for 3 and 1/2 counts – complete exhalation

Exercise No. 8

1. This exercise may be done only after Exercise No. 6 has been mastered

2. Repeat Exercise No. 7 with a faster tempo

Exercise No. 9

1. This exercise is for those who need help breathing from the diaphragm area

2. Put hands-on stomach with the middle fingertips on the navel

3. Spread fingers over the stomach

4. Push stomach out without breathing

5. Pull stomach in until "you touch your backbone"

6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 while breathing

7. Try to establish a range of motion

8. Do this quite a few times a day

9. The use of the hands is to ensure correct motions – nerve impulses alone from this region can be misleading

Exercise No. 10

1. This exercise is to help the player learn to develop air pressure without large muscle contractions

2. Inhale fully

3. Begin to exhale rapidly through partially closed lips

4. Continue to blow, but block lips with a finger held sideways

5. Do not change anything in blowing muscles

6. "Pop" finger away and continue to exhale

The following exercises are designed to help the player learn to use large quantities of air while remaining relaxed:

Exercise No. 11

1. Take a large breath

2. Count out loud, pausing after each number -- the throat must remain open during pauses

3. Use very little air while speaking

Exercise No. 12

1. Inhale

2. Exhale in the most unrelaxed manner possible

3. Inhale

4. Exhale as relaxed as possible

5. Transfer the quality of step 4 to the instrument

Exercise No. 13

1. Hold a book at arm's length

2. Blow the pages apart

Exercise No. 14

1. Hold a lit match at arm's length

2. Blow it out

Exercise No. 15

1. Imagine holding a drinking straw with a bean inside it

2. Blow the "bean" across the room

Anything that improves the vitality of the brass player will improve their playing and mental attitude. Activities such as running, swimming, etc., are excellent. It should be realized that activities like these contribute to the player's general health, but they do not transfer directly to the breathing skills needed by brass players. Only activities of the type listed above will do that. An excellent overall test to determine that breathing is correct and involves large volumes of air is to take three full breaths in close succession. If everything is correct, this will produce the first stage of hyperventilation.

If hyperventilation is encountered during these exercises, the player should breathe into some type of bag, recycling their air. This will enable the player to continue practicing them for a more extended period of time.


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