Posts Tagged pedagogy

Rangesongs

I’m back after a bit of a hiatus…I have been working on a new project called Rangesongs.

It occurred to me that many folks like to use the Bordogni Melodious Etudes to build range and endurance by playing them in tenor clef – this puts them up a perfect fifth. This works nicely until you run into one that goes unreasonably high or is too long or maybe doesn’t quite go high enough.

Thus was Rangsongs born. Rangesongs is a set of etudes designed to accomplish the endurance and range building described above, only in a more systematic (and, presumably, effective) way. Each song is one page in length and has a designated target note. The phrasing builds to the target note several times during the song but does not exceed it.

The first half of rangesongs explores the high register and the second half explores the low register. By alternating between high and low songs, you can learn a lot about how to move your air and you can build your range and endurance slowly over time, in a healthy way. Your tool is to use the target notes as goals and to think musically, following the indicated phrasing, as in this example, with the target note of g-flat:

I tried some of these with a student who came back after one week with an extra minor third at the top of his range (!)…I’m sure individual results vary but the early returns look quite promising! Click here for a few samples:

Rangesongs Samples

Click here to order:

Order Rangesongs

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The Importance of Rib Movement

Ribs are designed to move by virtue of their attachment to the sternum via the costal cartiledge and their attachment to the spine via joints. The costal cartiledge is spongy and flexible, allowing the ribs to swing up and out. In fact, when the ribs swing up and out upon inhalation, they twist the cartiledge, storing energy in the cartiledge. When we exhale, the energy is released, in a phenomenon known as elastic recoil.

It’s the ribs moving that causes the thoracic cavity to expand in volume and the air to rush in.

It’s not the air rushing in that causes the ribs to move – that’s backwards! Rib motion is a primary motion of breathing.

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Breathing and dystonia

Now that I have recovered from embouchure dystonia I can look back and reflect on what caused it. I believe that decades of playing with insufficient air flow contributed to the problem. This reduced air flow was caused by a misunderstanding of how breathing works and an insistent adherence to some traditional, yet flawed, breathing mantras.

Mantras such as “breathe low”…meaning that to breathe well, one must push out the abdomen, where the bellybutton is. To be clear: there is most certainly abdominal expansion when we breathe, but the abdominal expansion is not what causes air to come into the body. The abdominal expansion is the natural result of the diaphragm’s descent. As the diaphragm contracts (upon INHALATION), it pushes down on the contents of the abdominal cavity (the internal organs). The contents of the abdominal cavity move out in every direction (and down) as the natural result of the diaphragm’s descent.

The abdominal expansion should be allowed to happen – not made to happen.

Those who try to MAKE abdominal expansion happen create tension in the body and (ironically) reduce the air flow. I did this for many years and I believe the reduced air flow made the muscles of my embouchure work harder, thereby contributing to the development of dystonia.

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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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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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