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Breathing Your Way to a Better Band

Mike Lawson • Archives • August 14, 2007

“More…More…MORE!” How many times as music educators have we shouted this word out of frustration with air production? For the majority of us, the question is answered with a number somewhere around one million, give or take a couple hundred thousand. Perhaps the more important question to ask ourselves is, “How many times a week as music educators do we incorporate breathing exercises into our daily warm-up procedures?” My intuition tells me the number is not nearly as high as the answer to the first question. Regrettably, for bands and students alike, not enough time is spent on the one fundamental that can instantly transform both individual and band sound: breathing.

The Need for Breathing Warm-ups
In many school rehearsal situations, directors barely have time to do any type of playing warm-up. How can anyone rationalize even just two precious minutes for a breathing exercise? The main justification lies in the fact that a proper airstream, coupled with a good embouchure, is critical in achieving superior performance. By mastering control of their breathing, students will improve their individual tone qualities and contribute to the overall sound of the ensemble. With tone being inseparably linked to intonation, breathing exercises also help with pitch stabilization and the result is generally a more “in-tune” sound. Appropriate breath support also helps students execute crescendos and decrescendos without going out of tune and allows them more control in extreme dynamic registers. Finally, students are able to play longer phrases in fewer breaths, heightening the musicality level of the ensemble. The benefits reaped from breathing exercises affect all aspects of performance from beginning band through the collegiate and professional ranks.

If mastering correct breath control involved only taking big gulps of air before playing your part to get a better tone, directors would just need to be verbal “Post-It Notes” for their players, reminding them to take in more air for a richer sound. When habits are not formed early in the training of instrumentalists, students will respond to the litany of director outcries, but only for so long. Eventually the student, who once responded to the incessant begging and pleading, will dismiss these commands entirely.

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