To play a horn, you need to know how to control your breath. It isn't necessary to have a lot of air. The important thing is to be able to blow a constant, even stream of air, and then to control the speed of that stream of air. There is much more to these simple words than meets the eye. It is important to feel how your body controls what comes in and what goes out. This is one of the reasons why breathing is such a powerful medium for self-realization. When it comes to being technical, the art of singing, speaking, or playing a horn instrument, depends on your ability to control your breath. The best way to do that is to learn how to use the largest muscle in your body—the diaphragm. With all the exercises given thus far, you should have been able to learn where your diaphragm muscle is and how to strengthen it. If you arrived here without reading the Breath series from the beginning, I suggest you return to the first page in this series. In the image above, Ellekari Larsson, only 4 years old at the time, was already learning how to use her breathing muscles. You can see how focused she is here. Children love to learn how to play music and how to breathe properly. She was learning how to blow into a soprano trombone. Interestingly, she became a professional singer and now teaches voice and has her own very successful band, The Tiny. Her father, Sven Larsson, is a highly regarded musician in Sweden (bass trombone, tuba), who is also a remarkable teacher. Here's what he said when I asked what he teaches his students (all of the following has been translated from Swedish to English): “I always show images of the body's respiratory musculature to eliminate common misunderstandings that are so prevalent. Once a student fully comprehends this, it is easier to teach powerful breath techniques. However, I believe that proper breathing techniques are usually the result of physical practice more than a knowledge about the body's functions. It is more about feeling than science. Learn the basics first and then go with what is happening within you. “If you want to sound better, THINK a better sound and breathe with a more relaxed air flow! Follow your instincts once you have the technical knowledge behind you. “The combination of Hatha Yoga and the Complete Yoga Breath is one of the best ways to learn how to blow a horn properly. I teach each student how to work with the postures that help to strengthen the mid-region of their body. “Many students have been told to never lift their shoulders when they inhale, which often causes them to tense their shoulders trying to keep them down. The natural response to a deep breath is how the shoulders naturally follow the rising of the upper body with the collarbone, effortlessly (as shown in the Complete Yoga Breath on this site).
- Lie on your back as relaxed as possible. Inhale, exhale. This is the easiest way to see how the stomach rises naturally with inhalation and sinks with exhalation. You can even feel this with your hands. Just that stream of air that you inhale causes your abdomen to rise like a balloon. Inhale and hold your breath for a moment (without tension and without closing the airways, which should be open all the way from the lips to the lungs).
- One can gradually expand the volume of the breath by doing rhythmic breathing (inhale 2 3 4, exhale 2 3 4). When you do this, you will notice that there is a soft pressure put on the small of your back with inhalation. This can also be done with rhythmic breathing (inhale to the count of 2 3 4, hold to the count of 2 3 4 5 6 7 8, exhale to the count of 2 3 4, hold it to the count of 2 3 4 5 6 7 8). Relax after 3 repetitions.
- Stand straight with the small of your back slightly pressed in (the way it is naturally with good posture). The weight of your body is on the soles of your feet (grounded). Your arms point straight down next to your body. Inhale slowly to the count of 8 with an even rhythm as you lift your arms and stretch them out to the sides as far as you can. Note: When your arms are stretched out sideways like a cross, your lungs are half full of air.
- As you continue to inhale, raise your arms high up above your head and press the palms of your hands together. Your elbows are now straight and your arms are stretched up, all fingers pointing to the ceiling. Get the feeling that you are trying to reach the ceiling with your fingers. Feel the stretch in your upper body. Now you have completed 8 counts. Now your lungs are filled with air and expanded.
- While you hold this position, count to 8, but remain relaxed. Then count to 8 as you exhale and lower your arms until they are back pointing down next to your body. Hold this for 8 counts, without inhaling, but still with an open throat. This is one cycle. Three cycles in a row is enough.
- Traditionally, breathing occurs through the nose, but musicians inhale and get the most power through the corners of their mouth. The following exercise should be done through the mouth, just as if you were actually blowing in a horn. This can take time to learn. Start by standing straight again and exhale. Now through your mouth:
- Inhale to the count of 8, exhale to the count of 8. Repeat.
- Inhale to the count of 7, exhale to the count of 9. Repeat.
- Inhale to the count of 6, exhale to the count of 10. Repeat.
- Inhale to the count of 5, exhale to the count of 11. Repeat.
- Inhale to the count of 4, exhale to the count of 12. Repeat.
- Inhale to the count of 3, exhale to the count of 13. Repeat.
- Inhale to the count of 2, exhale to the count of 14. Repeat.
- Inhale to the count of 1, exhale to the count of 15. RELAX!
Metronome“Use a metronome in the beginning (60 beats per minute). Practicing long tones on a horn is a great way to learn how to breathe properly. It is important to have good posture with the soles of your feet grounded and the knees slightly bent. Start with the easiest tone on the horn and get a rhythm going. When you have become accustomed to the metronome and counting the beats, it will no longer be necessary to use it. “Blow three whole notes. Start the first note with just your breath, the second with your tongue in a D consonant placement, and the third with a T placement. The next inhalation will be the 4th beat in the next period of 4 bars with 4 beats to the bar. From here you move up a half note higher and repeat the same exercise. Repeat until you have completed 6 chromatic intervals. Do 3 cycles. “If you keep the beat with your foot, you might want to sit down. It is all right to sit as long as you maintain good posture. Remember to think: Stand when you sit. “Play ballads and strive to maintain a melodic character in your sound and phrasing. Above all, listen for the sound that you hear within you. Let the flow of your breath carry the sound to your audience. The sound is inside your head, in your mind. That is where your creativity is.” This is a very shortened version of what Sven teaches his students. If you live around Stockholm and you want to learn how to play a brass instrument, you are in luck. Contact Sven Larsson via his e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Sven Larsson has been a very successful teacher for more than 30 years. His specialized teaching method is derived from many years of studying the physiology of the respiratory system, the acoustics of instruments and the development of “the inner ear.” His mastery of classical and jazz trombone, as well as contemporary and renaissance music, adds to his ability to teach professional brass musicians from very different music backgrounds. He teaches private classes, and also works at Stockholm's Music Pedagogy Institute (SMI), and The Royal College of Music. Web site: www.wela.nu