Month: November 2014

Air — Getting It — 2


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Some more here for you wind instrument players. Continuing on the subject of Getting Air. I have discovered THREE WAYS of getting the air into the lungs, so that it can be blown forth through your instrument. 1. “normal” breathing  2. “sniffing” between notes while playing   3. cyclical, or, circular breathing.

1. “Normal” Breathing Please read recent FB article entitled AIR — GETTING IT — 1.  This is the usual method of obtaining air. You will breathe this way, because it is automatic. Now, let’s go to

2. Sniffing Between Notes     Bill Bell used to talk about ‘sniffing.’ I am sure that he employed this technique in his playing. He knew these things. He was good. ( also he was from Iowa — my home state — now there is some real air to sniff! ) In my experience, I have found it to be invaluable, primarily used while playing moderately moving, or even rapidly moving eighth notes. Rather than leaving a note out, here and there, ALL the notes can be played. Also this technique can be used to minimize the length of space between moderate-length notes, e.g., a series of quarter notes, or half notes. For example, when the conductor requests “no space between notes on the tuba soli in the Dies Irae, in Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique, those tuba players who are not able to employ cyclical, or circular breathing, can still produce the requested effect with a partial-filling between each note — accomplished by a quick sniff, then repeated after the next note, and so forth. One is never completely filled, yet always has enough air to play each note, which another rapid sniff following each note. Each note is sustained ‘full-length’ and has a small space, to avoid making one large space after four or so notes are played. In a good hall, with some helpful reverberation, the effect presented to the listener “our there,” is no space at all between notes. Only the tuba player knows…..

How is sniffing accomplished? In this way: 1. the mouthpiece is not removed from the embouchure, nor is the “playing” position or playing pressure reduced, while taking the breath. 2. air is obtained by an action of ‘tummy’ muscles, diaphragm — the pulling in of the air takes place down there, with no movement whatsoever above that area. The mouthpiece remains IN PLAYING POSITION, with PLAYING PRESSURE, and nothing changes in the embouchure area. There does takes place a very quick ‘sniff’ through the nose, and playing just continues. It is NOSE, not MOUTH. To an observer, there is no change to be seen, except, perhaps, in the tummy region, or a slight dilation of the nostrils. To the listener, it is a ‘wonderment’ as to how the tuba player is doing it….
I have observed that there are very few wind instrument performers who employ this wonderful technique. I suggest that every serious player learn this…….it is simple…….and perfect it.  Are you really serious? 🙂

How does one perfect sniffing?…….the same way so much of the learning process succeeds…… it, get it right, and repeat it. When that is done, then, SPEED IT UP, all the while being certain that you’re still doing it properly. Practically, take an easy note, an “open” pitch, or any other easily produced pitch, begin by playing an eighth note – nose-breathe – eighth note – nose-breathe – etc., then speed it up. You will note that after a while you will feel a pleasant “achy-ness” in the tummy area. This is good news. It means that there are muscles which are finally being made to work, and they are just a bit “tired,” but are beginning to develop. These abdominal muscles, with the diaphragm, will take those “sniffs” more and more easily and quickly. Eventually, you may be able to breathe between 16th notes. It is amazing to what degree of development this method of breathing can attain! Additionally, this breathing technique will eventually almost seem to be “automatic,” used without any thought beforehand.

Once, in the Boston Symphony rehearsing a contemporary piece, we in the back row were required to play moderately moving eighth notes, very loudly, for about 45 seconds. Sort of a musically muscular “jackhammer” effect. The trombonists consulted as to where each of them would breathe so that no notes were left unplayed. I sniffed my way through the tuba part–fortissimo.   After playing through this passage at rehearsal a couple of times, bass trombonist Doug Yeo asked me, “How do you play that without leaving out any notes?” So I told him, and with his customary innate alacrity he grabbed this, and it has been a part of his playing and teaching since, I believe…notably in the bass trombone solo in Haydn’s The Creation.

And there might be some of you who will get curious and begin experimenting with it, as well. It is easy.

There is much to be said about the third method of GETTING AIR, cyclical/curcular breathing — too much to include in this short article. But it is GOOD! It will not only be added to “normal breathing,” but will be presented as a partner, working in conjunction with “normal breathing.” Stay tuned. I pray that God will bless the music-making of those of you who ask Him. If you don’t know God, it is possible…….in fact, so, so, so easy. His Name is JESUS. Call out to Him.

Mstislav Rostropovich…… Masterful Musician

During my formative years I listened to classical music day and night. It was the love of my life back then.  Among my favorite performers I had a “Special Three”, whose recordings I collected and enjoyed over and over.  I think their music got into my head and influenced me a great deal.  One of them was the Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, whose recordings during my college days were done on the other side of the Iron Curtain, the sound quality of which was inferior to recordings made in the west.  Sound quality notwithstanding, the wonderful artistry of Rostropovich shown through to me.  When I heard him play ‘live,’ his sound was really special.  I have never heard such a high level of musicianship on the cello.

I did not know then that my career would include recordings and performances with the maestro, and even the opportunity to spend time with him — even some special time alone  one afternoon with him and my two cello-playing children, Sarah and Jonathan!

This photo was taken the summer of 2001 after a Tanglewood concert during which we had again performed Richard Strauss‘ Don Quixote,  in which I played the tenor tuba part.

Air — Getting It — 1


OK. Here are some of my thoughts on the subject of AIR. There are two things we should know about air, if we are to use it to make music, either by playing a wind instrument or by singing:

1. How to get it, and, 2. How to use it.

At this point, let us focus on the How to get it.

Each of you, with few exceptions, are already expert in the process of breathing, and already are doing it perfectly. The way you are breathing, at this very moment, is precisely the way you should breathe when performing. That is because your breathing at this present moment is that God-given, perfect, and automatic, life-sustaining process. You are either inhaling through your nose only, or through both your nose and mouth.

Now, to employ your breathing apparatus properly while involved in the act of playing a wind instrument, or while singing– you would simply continue breathing this way, but with MORE of it.  It is as simple as that.

My observations during the past 50 years of professional playing and teaching, however, have shown me that proper breathing is all too uncommon. Because it is so simple, it should be easy. What would cause the performer to breathe in a less-than-proper manner just because they are performing?

There are troublesome things, called variables. These are things or thoughts which can cause a player to alter the breathing process and to depart from this “automatic” and PROPER method of getting air. Let’s not dwell on these for now, but just mention them: 1. Holding the instrument, 2. Requiring a larger quantity of air, even though not ‘winded,’ or ‘short-of-breath.’ 3. And may I mention one other, one which is more subtle, but I have often observed it…..the attitude of being an Artist, to the extent that it produces wrong responses.  I hope to enlarge upon each of these variables in future articles.

Can we now conclude this brief commentary by describing the proper procedure of GETTING AIR? You have been breathing Perfectly… take your instrument…..and, although you are an Artist, and folks may be listening and watching, you inhale Exactly The Same Way you presently are inhaling, as you are reading this…..only MORE of it, to some degree……..1. USING YOUR NOSE ONLY, or USING BOTH YOUR NOSE AND MOUTH………2. without dropping your jaw during the inhalation…….3. without changing from the relaxed ‘aaahhh,’ to a ‘hoooo,’ fuuuuu,’ or some other syllabically-inspired formation  of your oral cavity/throat area………. 4. without ‘hardening’ anything up, in the abdominal region, and…….5. without arching your back during the inhalation, raising your shoulders, or doing anything which is different than what you are doing while reading this.

Briefly, simply inhale, always using your nose (you get more air, more easily, using the nose), and often adding the mouth, keeping shoulders DOWN, and your torso in a relaxed position. It’s easy.

Much to say yet about the other two methods of obtaining air — notably Cyclical Breathing and Sniffing Between Notes —  Also on delivery of air, posture, and various mental concepts. Has this helped anyone? Let me know.

By the way, have you ever considered What makes your lungs go in and out?  I Look forward to hearing from you…

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