I have posted some of this information on the various forums which proliferate the internet. The responses to my postings have run the gamut from gratitude to vehement disagreement (to put it nicely!).
Few things in music are objective; rhythm comes to mind – either the phrase is in time or it’s not. The mechanics of breathing are also in this category; either you are moving well and breathing well or you are not. How one moves to breathe is not a matter of opinion, it is science.
The subjective part of breathing comes from how we choose to teach it and what we choose to think in order to do it well. Some teachers say “breathe like you are filling up a glass of water” as a metaphorical way of teaching breathing. This phrase is debunked elsewhere on this blog, but for now, I wanted to delve into the motivation for saying such a thing.
The moment the student hears the phrase, they are obligated to move in the way that it suggests. They will literally try to move their bodies as though the air travels to the bottom first and then upward a little at a time. If this motion were not really what the teacher intended then why did the teacher say this? Once the phrase is introduced, the motion is dictated.
“But I didn’t mean to take the phrase quite so literally…” rebuts the teacher. OK…then why did you say it? Once the phrase is introduced, the student will move in that way. If the student is not supposed to move in that way, then why introduce the phrase? It is a Mobius Strip of cause and effect which is unavoidable.
Don’t perpetuate myths that could not possibly be true. Let’s reserve subjective metaphors for subjective musical variables such as phrasing or vibrato. Breathing belongs in the objective category along with rhythm and intonation.