Updated: Aug 30, 2019
Breathing Builders for Brass and Woodwinds, part 1. By guest writer and brass/woodwind instructor Faith Broom
Air support is vital tool of wind instrument performance. Typically, young students use too little air, which creates issues with their intonation, embouchure (the position of muscles in the face that control pitch in a mouthpiece), and, most importantly, their timbre (the characteristic sound of the instrument).
Today, I will give you a couple of exercises that you can do anywhere. These will help you make gains in your ability to use your air more efficiently.
1: The basics
Start by opening your mouth, dropping your jaw into the shape that you would say “OH” with. Using this syllable will cause your throat to relax. Next, relax your shoulders. If your shoulders are tense, you will be unable to bring in the maximum amount of air into your lungs because of the tension it causes in the rest of your body. Now, begin taking in air trying your best to not make a sound at all. Any sound means that there is resistance present. Try your best to take in as much air as possible, even to the point of discomfort initially, forcing air down to your belly button. Now let go of all of the air by pushing your belly button to your spine.
Mastering this progression start you in the direction of success. Now for the fun stuff!
2) Blowing bubbles
Blowing bubbles can be a fantastic way to better your air control. It forces you to have correct air direction (which is imperative to success) and allows you to visually see your air flow. Start by trying to create a steady stream of bubbles. Find a relaxed airflow that you can keep consistent. One way to do this is to find a spot on your hand, take a deep breath (like the one described in basics), and then, using the syllable “ooo” push your air out of your body. Ask yourself if felt the same pressure all the way through that out-breath, as well as, whether or not the air strayed from the spot on your hand. This is the out-breath that is needed for this exercise.
Go back to your bubbles. Blow a steady stream. After doing this, begin experimenting with making smaller bubbles and larger bubbles making sure to get rid of all of the air in your body with each bubble stream. It takes faster air to make smaller bubbles and, conversely, slower air to make smaller bubbles.
Practicing these two exercises will set you up for more complex breathing exercises that will come in part two of this breathing how-to.
Faith is the brass and woodwind instructor here at Bold City Music Co. She is a band director in Brunswick, Ga and has been teaching instrumental music for 10 years. Faith has worked across the southeast in many diverse band programs and attended the University of Southern Mississippi for music education. She is also a poet and an active member of the Jax poetry scene.