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Controlled Air Release Exercises for Wind Players

Don Sumwalt, Woodwind & Brasswind

In teaching proper tone production on wind instruments, we always check on basic items: Proper mouthpiece, good reeds, proper formation of the embouchure, and of course, proper breath support. We teach students that breathing the proper is the way to produce good tone. However, are we teaching students the proper way to practice breathing? Directors often use the terms "Pushing the air", "Support the note from beginning to end" or the phrase often heard during my private lessons in college, "Tank up with air". Mind you, these terms are appropriate for describing what the student should be doing, but we also must teach the student how to practice breathing.

When working with my bands on tone production, I would always have student do a few basic breathing exercises to keep training them on how to take a full, deep breath. This was only the first half of how to teach breathing. I also worked with students on the fact that the tone production aspect of breathing involves the controlled release of air. The following information and basic exercises can be implemented during your ensembles beginning warm-up time of your rehearsal and can benefit the sound of the student and the ensemble as a whole.

Working the Diaphragm

The Diaphragm is the muscle that all breathing exercises are designed for. The diaphragm controls the amount of air that the lungs can fill with. This same muscle also controls how the air is released, or pushed, from the lungs. For proper breath support, this muscle must be trained to work as efficiently as possible.

Breathing Warm-up

  • With the students sitting up straight on the edge of their chair, have the students place both hands on their stomach.
  • Have the students keep a steady beat of quarter notes by tapping their foot.
  • Conduct a four beat pattern and then have the students take in a full deep breath for four (4) beats and then release the air in four (4) beats. When inhaling, you should hear an "Oh" sound. The students should be able to feel their stomach being pushed out against their hands when the diaphragm contracts to let the lungs fill to their full capacity with air.

Air Puffs

  • With the students sitting up straight on the edge of their chair, have the students place both hands on their stomach.
  • Have the students keep a steady beat of quarter notes by tapping their foot.
  • Conduct a four beat pattern and then have the students take in a full deep breath for four (4) beats, hold their breath for two (2) beats, and then release the air in short puffs. When inhaling, you should hear an "Oh" sound. The students should be able to feel their stomach being pushed out against their hands when the diaphragm contracts to let the lungs fill to their full capacity with air and when they push the air out in puffs.

Controlled Air Release

  • With the students sitting up straight on the edge of their chair, have the students place both hands on their stomach.
  • Have the students keep a steady beat of quarter notes by tapping their foot.
  • Conduct a four beat pattern and then have the students take in a full deep breath for four (4) beats, hold their breath for two (2) beats, and then release the air by "Hissing" through their mouth. The "hiss" simulates the air resistance of the instrument as they play. As in the first exercise, the students should be able to feel their stomach being pushed out against their hands when the diaphragm contracts to let the lungs fill to their full capacity with air.
  • As the students master this basic exercise in controlled air release, decrease the amount of beats they use taking in a breath.

Example: Breath in 4, Hold 2, Release
Breath in 3, Hold 2, Release
Breath in 2, Hold 2, Release
Breath in 1, Hold 2, Release
Breath "and" of 1 (1/2 beat), Hold 2, Release

Vary the amount of time for the release. Have the students release for 10, 15, or 20 counts. The basic goal of this exercise is to properly train the diaphragm to contract fully to allow the lung to fill with air in the shortest amount of time possible. The benefits of this exercise will become evident when students are playing long phrases with proper air support throughout the entire phrase.

The exercises listed above can also be incorporated in individual student evaluation for their grade. A sample evaluation sheet can be found at the end of this article. The controlled release of air the training of the diaphragm will aid the musical abilities of both the individual player and the entire ensemble. Happy Practicing!

Breathing Evaluation Sheet
One Point for each item listed

 

Posture:

  • Shoulders down and relaxed _____
  • Elbows out from the sides, even with the front of the stomach _____
  • Hands on stomach _____
  • Feet flat on the floor _____
  • Back straight _____

Expnsion:

  • "OH" sound _____
  • Full air intake _____

Resistance:

  • "Hiss" of air _____

Air Puffs:

  • Diaphragm moving in on puffs _____

Hold/Release:

  • Tank up with air _____
  • Diaphragm pushing out during breath in _____
  • Diaphragm pushing in during release of air _____
  • Releasing for desired number of counts _____

Releases:

  • In for 4, Hold 2, Release _____
  • In for 3, Hold 2, Release _____
  • In for 2, Hold 2, Release _____
  • In for 1, Hold 2, Release _____
  • In + of 1, Hold 2, Release _____

Points Correct:________

Student Name: ______________________

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