Musical ways of improving breathing

Flow Studies are a natural outgrowth of learning about breathing. They are very simple ways of encouraging the generous flow of air through the phrase. This very simple concept actually provides a compelling musical reason to breathe well and support the tone.

It’s pretty simple: If you can’t make the phrase, take a bigger breath.

Flow Studies are also good for learning how to manage your air. If you spend too much air at the beginning of the phrase, you won’t make it all the way to the end. This seemingly simple concept is one of the keys to phrasing. Heighten your awareness of how much is left, how high or low the phrase goes and the shape of the phrase relative to the amount of air you have to work with. Often, we are required to make these very subtle decisions on the fly. We don’t always have time to mark in every breath, though some younger players have yet to learn this skill.

You can use any music that has obvious phrasing to cultivate excellent breathing by working on your phrasing. Flow Studies are intentionally written to be obvious in terms of phrasing; they not only help you apply your breathing knowledge but also encourage excellent breathing with a musical incentive.


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Flow Studies

Flow Studies promote the movement of air thorough the phrases. They help players cultivate the very important skill of connecting the notes through a variety of patterns and keys.

There is a suggested Etude Rotation in the front of the book that I find very useful. If you follow this sequence, you will spend about 10 minutes a day playing flow studies and you will get a very effective bridge between working out of the Breathing Book and transitioning to your solos, etudes and excerpts.

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More ways to use The Breathing Book

I like to “cross-train” when I practice. It’s engaging, fun and effective to mix up your activities in a variety of ways – a sort of stream of consciousness exploration. In this spirit, you can…

Intersperse Breathing Book activities within your daily routine…

Follow the “Etude Rotation” in the Flow Studies book, separating each set with a Breathing Book activity…

Lay on the floor for constructive rest and then play chapter 6: The Truth About the Diaphragm…

Speaking of #6, try lengthening the rests during which you hold empty. Instead of 2 measures, make it 3, then 4…

Try 9a: Breathe All Over, Low Range when you are fatigued late in a practice session…

Here is a link to the Table of Contents and a few sample pages:

Breathing Book Sample


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How does breathing information fit into my performing?

Learning about breathing is like learning music theory. It is part of your foundation of knowledge that helps you play your best, even though it may not be at the forefront of your thoughts as you perform. Understanding what a secondary dominant is allows you shape the music and phrasing accordingly; understanding the role of the pelvic floor in breathing allows you to support the tone accordingly.

When you walk on stage to perform, secondary dominants aren’t foremost in your mind, nor should the pelvic floor be (or any other singular part of the breathing mechanism)!

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How to Use The Breathing Book

The Breathing Book by David Vining

The Breathing Book, by David Vining, is available in editions for Trumpet, Tenor Trombone, Bass Trombone, Euphonium (BC and TC), and Tuba. It can be used as a group tutorial in studio classes, as a method book to have students practice individual chapters, as a resource to learn facts about the breathing mechanism or like this:

A student is having trouble playing with a full and resonant tone quality without tension – say on a loud excerpt like Tannhauser. Open The Breathing Book to Chapter 6 – The Truth About the Diaphragm and have the student try the first phrase out of the book. Directly after doing this, try about 8 bars of Tannhauser; then take a little rest. Next, do the second phrase out of the book followed by the next 8 bars of Tannhauser. Continue working your way through the book and excerpt in this way until the student is playing the excerpt with the same freedom as the book.

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Embouchure Problems

From: Frederiksen, Brian, edited by John Taylor.  Arnold Jacobs: Song and Wind. Windsong Press, 1996.

A quote from Arnold Jacobs (Page 122):

“The most common problems I have seen over the last 60-odd years I have been teaching are with respiration and the tongue.  Surprisingly enough, I rarely find problems with the embouchure.  That might sound strange because people come to see me because of problems with their embouchure, but frequently it is the embouchure reacting to a bad set of circumstances and failing – it is simply cause and effect.  If we change the cause of the factor, it is easy to clear up the embouchure.  The embouchure is not breaking down, it is trying to work under impossible conditions.  When you are starving the embouchure for air volume, giving it all sorts of air pressure but not quantity, it cannot work.  Very quickly you will be struggling to produce your tone.  Just increase your volume of air not by blowing hard, but by blowing a much thicker quality of air.  Very frequently the air column is just too thin.”

So the air flow is key to a healthy embouchure. The lips and the air should have a symbiotic relationship; they depend upon one another.

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Give it a try…

Are you unsure of all this breathing information? Does some of it conflict with what you have been taught?

I encourage you to keep an open mind and give it a try. When I came to the information it was out of desperation because I couldn’t play at all; my incentive was simply to get better.

Perhaps your incentive is simply curiosity or a desire to improve upon what you can already do. Either way, give it a chance and genuinely learn the breathing information. You might be pleasantly surprised!

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