Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome
"The potential for the saxophone is unlimited." - Steve Lacy

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Art of Breathing 101

When playing the saxophone it is important for the performer to view breathing as a two-step process: inhalation and exhalation. It sounds like a no-brainer, but often times we place a lot of emphasis on the exhalation process and not so much on inhaling. I equate the wind player’s breath during the breathing process as being like the violinist’s bow during bowing. Instead of inhalation and exhalation, it's up-bow and down- bow, each having equal importance.  

One thing I’ve noticed is that when we practice longs tones, we take a quick breath, and then exhale slowly, holding a tone for as long as possible. But in order to fully reap the benefits from this practice, inhalation and exhalation must be treated with the same importance.

Below are some exercises that I’ve devised to help master the process. Now what’s unique about these exercises is that they require you to inhale and exhale in one-beat increments with the metronome; you’re either inhaling or exhaling puffs of air with every click of the metronome,

The exercise below is to be practiced without your instrument. Its purpose is to train you to fill your lungs with much more air than you would when breathing in the conventional way. As shown in the example below, you will inhale for four (4) counts and exhale for four (4) counts. To truly benefit from the exercise you must imagine that you’re filling the diaphragm with 100% of air, so the breath intake should be as follows:

Column 1: Inhalation process:
Beat 1: inhale 75% of air
Beat 2: inhale 5% more air
Beat 3: inhale 5% more air
Beat 4: inhale 5% more air

Column 2: Exhalation process:
Beat 1: exhale 75% of air
Beat 2: exhale 5% more air
Beat 3: exhale 5% more air
Beat 4: exhale 5% more air

Each time you repeat the exercise, try to fill the lungs with more and more air. Start by setting the metronome at a moderately slow M.M. such as quarter note = 70. As you become more comfortable with the process you can gradually decrease the tempo

Exercise 1: Inhaling and Exhaling Without Instrument

After you become better familiar with practicing the exercise without your instrument, try
with your instrument. It’s important to remember that when playing an actual note there is a lot more resistence when exhaling. Typically, I’ve found that the exhaled beats per minutes (EBPM) is double that of the inhaled beats per minute (IBPM).  For example, if you inhale for six beats per minutes or 6 IBPM, then you will most likely exhale for 12 beats per minute or 12 EBPM—again, due to the amount of resistance.

Exercise 2: Inhaling and Exhaling With Instrument

Below are five (5) breathing exercises using different IBPMs and EBPMs. The level of difficulty of each exercise is also labeled.

Things to remember:
  • ·      Practice exercises throughout the entire range of the instrument from Bb1 – F#3
  • ·      Practice exercises taking in different volumes of air
  • ·      Practice exercises at slower metronome markings as you become more comfortable with exercises

Exercise 1: (Very Easy)

Exercise 2: (Easy)

Exercise 3: (Moderately Easy)

Exercise 4: (Moderately Difficult)

Exercise 5: (Difficult, but not impossible)

Even though it would be impossible to breath this way during performance, the goal here is to train yourself to view breathing as a two-step process, giving you the breath control to play at many dynamic levels and speeds.

And just remember this: “If you don’t load up with enough fuel before embarking upon your journey, you might find yourself out of gas, stuck on the side of the road.”

Benefits of practicing these exercises:

Ø  Increased breath support
Ø  Improves intonation
Ø  Increased flexibility
Ø  Heightened oral cavity awareness
Ø  Strengthens embouchure

Ø  Increased endurance

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