Best Breathing Techniques for Wind Musicians

shutterstock_2256763297“Air is free!”
This is one of my favorite catchphrases from a former teacher of mine. He always used this phrase to impart unto our wind ensemble the importance of taking in as much air as possible when playing any wind instrument. As cellists create their signature sound by using their bow to create beautiful music, wind instrumentalists draw upon air to create their best sound. In order to make the best of your woodwind lessons in Seattle, be sure to follow the tips below to ensure that you’re using proper technique when taking air in and that you’re using your air in the best way.

What Not to Do When Breathing – Avoiding Bad Air

It’s important to begin with an understanding of what makes air “bad.” What makes air bad is how one’s lungs capture it. There are three important things to note here for woodwind students in Seattle: the shape of your mouth when breathing, where the air is going, and the temperature of the air.
First, if you notice that your mouth is barely opening when you take a breath, you have no chance of getting great air. This also constricts your airways, leading to an even smaller amount of that air being sent to your lungs.
Second, if you go to take a breath before you play, notice where the air is going. Which part of your body fills up? If you notice the air filling up in your shoulders, that’s not what we want. This only brings in a fraction of the air you need, creates extra tension in your body, and this air will not create a great sound as it will be colder air.
Third, we must be mindful of the temperature of the air that we breathe. As I alluded to above, we do not want cold air. Cold air will vibrate the instrument and create sound, but the resulting sound quality of the instrument will be more shrill and unpleasant.

What TO Do When Breathing – Tips for Receiving Great Air

Mouth Shape: As a Seattle woodwind teacher, I like to tell my students to use the syllable “ome” as in “home” when breathing. This prepares the airways in your body to accept larger quantities of high quality air. Another trick I like to do is to yawn, which also creates the same mouth shape and opens the airways. The benefit of this technique is that your body will start to relax as well, which is what musicians strive for. The more relaxed you can be while breathing, the easier it will be to get the best air possible!
Where Your Air is Going: As mentioned earlier, we don’t want it to feel as if our air is going to the upper half of our torso. I encourage my students in woodwind and brass lessons in Seattle to think about sending their air to the very bottom of their stomachs. If done properly, the air will fill up your stomach then proceed to fill the top half of the torso, sending the most air volume possible to your lungs.
Air Temperature: To practice producing the warmest air you can, think about it being extremely cold outside. Now, exhale in such a way that makes your air visible. Put your hand in front of your mouth as you exhale. This air should feel incredibly warm. Now, try blowing colder air by pursing your lips. This is how to create cold air. I use this technique often in my woodwind and brass lessons in Seattle, as I encourage students to frequently remind themselves what it feels like for their mouths to produce warm or cold air. We should always strive to create the warmest air possible when playing wind instruments, as this results in the most pleasant, beautiful tone quality.

How to Practice Using Great Air

Now that you know the theory of creating great air, let’s practice! Here are three great ways you can practice getting the best air in preparation for your woodwind lessons in Seattle.

  1. Lie down. Your body will naturally send air to the right place as you are lying down. Use this technique often to remind your body where your air should be going as you breathe. When you return to sitting or standing, seek to recall that exact feeling when you breathe.
  2. One of the most revolutionary ideas in wind instrument teaching is Sam Pilafian and Patrick Sheridan’s Breathing Gym. They created a set of exercises designed to increase the strength of your lungs, while encouraging proper breathing technique.
  3. Try researching and practicing with more proper wind breathing techniques.

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By Brian Schappals

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