Posts Tagged trombone

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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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 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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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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