Posts Tagged Performance

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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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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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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Breathing Quotes

“The lungs do not fill up like a pitcher filling with water from the bottom up. Air goes to all sections of the lungs at the same time.”   Page 40 of Also Sprach Arnold Jacobs compiled by Bruce Nelson

“Our breathing reflects every emotional or physical effort and every disturbance.”   Page 37 of Awareness Through Movement by Moshe Feldenkrais

“To have a minimum of stress, and therefore of strain, within the body, not only must the structure as a whole be in balanced relation with the outside forces, but each part must be in balance with every other part within the system.”   Page 56 of The Thinking Body by Mabel Todd

“Like circulation and digestion, breathing is a natural function, and the only way it can be improved is to create the right conditions in the whole organism by changing unnecessary tension patterns within the body that interfere with it.”   Page 135 of Body Learning by Michael Gelb

“Breathe to expand, don’t expand to breathe.”   Page 44 of Also Sprach Arnold Jacobs compiled by Bruce Nelson

“The activity of both sets of muscles, the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles, varies reciprocally. Thus, during inspiration the tonus of the diaphragm increases while that of the abdominal muscles decreases, and vice-versa during expiration. Hence there exists between these two muscle groups a floating equilibrium constantly shifting in both directions.”   Page 143 of The Body Moveable by David Gorman

“In order to recognize small changes in effort, the effort itself must first be reduced. More delicate and improved control of movement is possible only through the increase of sensitivity, through a greater ability to sense differences.”   Page 59 of Awareness Through Movement by Moshe Feldenkrais

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Handling the Naysayers

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.

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Ribs and Arms

Your arms are not attached to your ribs, they are suspended above your ribs.

Why is this important? Because if your arms were attached to your ribs, they would inhibit the rib movement which is necessary for good breath support.

To breathe well, keep your elbows away from your ribs. Allow your ribs to move independent from your arms; with each inhale your ribs swing up and out and with each exhale they swing back down and in to thier neutral resting position. This motion must happen regardless of the position of your arms.

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Why this is so important

In May of 2002 I was diagnosed with embouchure dystonia, a neurological movement disorder which makes it impossible to play due to uncontrollable muscle spasms. Now that I have fully recovered, I can see very clearly that my breathing misunderstandings contributed to the development of dystonia in my playing.

Dystonia has no medical treatment so in order to reclaim my career, I had to re-learn how to play from a holistic, movement perspective. In the process of doing this, I discovered that there were many things about breathing that I thought were accurate, but turned out to be wrong. Some of these things are embedded in traditional pedagogy and some of them are things I managed to come up with on my own.

This blog is devoted to debunking some of the misunderstandings about breathing that many musicians believe – a sort of “mythbusters” for musicians. I encourage you to keep an open mind as you read because you will probably encounter some information that contradicts what you have been told. Everything on this blog is anatomically accurate – it is information based in fact, not necessarily tradition or metaphor.

The Breathing Blog is the reflection of what I learned from my recovery from dystonia. I hope, by sharing the information with others, that I can help those at risk avoid what I went through. Perhaps some of the information will improve your playing or, at the very least, clear up some nagging questions you’ve always had about breathing.

For more information about dystonia, visit my personal web page, listed under the resources section.

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