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Weird Phrasing/Air Issue

Postby ufonium2 » Sun Jul 08, 2018 7:17 pm

I have a student, a very good high school player, who has an issue that I've been trying forever to address, with no luck. When a phrase ends on a longish note, his sound gets weird at the end, right before he inhales for the next phrase. It gets brighter and louder, but the student absolutely cannot hear that it's happening and claims he can't feel a difference either. He's had lessons with two big name teachers, and they've both mentioned it, but both I guess assumed that bringing it to his attention was enough (not blaming them--it's a totally reasonable assumption). Last week in his lesson, I asked him what it is about the end of phrases that is different for him mentally, and he said he's trying to get rid of all of his air before he breathes again. :shock: I certainly never taught him that, and I have no idea where the idea came from (he's been taking lessons from me for 3 years, from a very good trumpet player before that, and his high school is very good so I doubt he learned it there) but it would explain what's going on.

So, this week I plan to explain to him that it's physically impossible to empty your lungs, there's no reason to try, etc. But this kid very much learns by doing, so I'm looking for ideas for exercises to break this (very ingrained) habit. I thought about taking a vocalise that he's done previously and doubling the number of breath marks, so that it's impossible for him to use "all of his air" (or even get close) in one phrase. He has Vining's breathing book and really likes it (more than the Breathing Gym, which I also have) so I'm wondering if Vining's flow studies might be good to try with him. Any other ideas?
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Re: Weird Phrasing/Air Issue

Postby thevillagetuba » Sun Jul 08, 2018 7:40 pm

I tell all of my students to think of their air as the same as the gas in their/their parents' cars. You usually don't push the car to "E" and beyond before you get gas and breathing works the same. To teach awareness of remaining air I have my students play a scale in quarter notes. They are then told to breath after every note to understand "playing full," and then more time before each breath to learn the feeling of being more and more "empty" to gauge where they feel is a comfortable "empty" amount (usually between 1/5-1/4 empty).

Hopefully all of that made sense and is helpful to you.
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Re: Weird Phrasing/Air Issue

Postby Ken Herrick » Sun Jul 08, 2018 8:31 pm

What has been posted above by village tuba is good.

If he doesn't realise what he is doing making a good quality recording which will pick up the change of volume and tone could prove helpful.

Having too much air would be a luxury for many!!! That sounds more like an oboe players problem.
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Re: Weird Phrasing/Air Issue

Postby ren » Mon Jul 09, 2018 1:57 am

ufonium2 wrote:I have a student, a very good high school player, who has an issue that I've been trying forever to address, with no luck. When a phrase ends on a longish note, his sound gets weird at the end, right before he inhales for the next phrase. It gets brighter and louder, but the student absolutely cannot hear that it's happening and claims he can't feel a difference either. He's had lessons with two big name teachers, and they've both mentioned it, but both I guess assumed that bringing it to his attention was enough (not blaming them--it's a totally reasonable assumption). Last week in his lesson, I asked him what it is about the end of phrases that is different for him mentally, and he said he's trying to get rid of all of his air before he breathes again. :shock: I certainly never taught him that, and I have no idea where the idea came from (he's been taking lessons from me for 3 years, from a very good trumpet player before that, and his high school is very good so I doubt he learned it there) but it would explain what's going on.

So, this week I plan to explain to him that it's physically impossible to empty your lungs, there's no reason to try, etc. But this kid very much learns by doing, so I'm looking for ideas for exercises to break this (very ingrained) habit. I thought about taking a vocalise that he's done previously and doubling the number of breath marks, so that it's impossible for him to use "all of his air" (or even get close) in one phrase. He has Vining's breathing book and really likes it (more than the Breathing Gym, which I also have) so I'm wondering if Vining's flow studies might be good to try with him. Any other ideas?



If he was hitting empty I wouldn’t expect the sound to get brighter and louder at the end unless he was doing some really unnatural squeezing. I would guess without hearing is that he’s got a lot of unused air and is unnaturally releasing it at the end of the phrase because he’s going to take another breathe. A good way to troubleshoot would be to have the student just hold a low bflat as long as he can. And then breathe and play it again. If it’s not a musical problem it should be the same problem on a long single note. If he’s taking in loads of air but not using it efficiently to play the note, at the end as he’s thinking about his next breathe the surplus might be forcing its way out as if he was holding his breathe.

Also if you can record it and play it back so the student can hear it. Once he hears the result, rather than doing breathing exercises I would just say now that you can hear it stop doing that.

Good luck
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Re: Weird Phrasing/Air Issue

Postby swillafew » Mon Jul 09, 2018 9:15 am

In one of the first lessons I had (I was 18) as young person, the teacher made a point of telling me that he recorded his own playing regularly. He said the recordings were his teacher, and he would scramble to correct what he heard as unacceptable sounds. He sounded great so I guess it worked for him.

I think I had a number of band directors telling the whole band to "shape" notes and compared the sound to the appearance of the note head. Reading left to right it has a little taper, and so too should the sound.
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Re: Weird Phrasing/Air Issue

Postby bloke » Mon Jul 09, 2018 9:38 am

Here's my totally-wrong guess:

Due to poor budgeting of air, student is actually running out of air, is squeezing, and cannot hear the change, because (due to the squeezing) the eustachian tubes are closing off.
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Re: Weird Phrasing/Air Issue

Postby roweenie » Mon Jul 09, 2018 11:44 am

bloke wrote:Here's my totally-wrong guess:

Due to poor budgeting of air, student is actually running out of air, is squeezing, and cannot hear the change, because (due to the squeezing) the eustachian tubes are closing off.


+1 (except for the "totally-wrong" part)


As a person with compromised lung capacity, I find it vital to take constant and numerous little tokes of air, whether needed or not, to keep the tank full at all times.

I learned that from Mr. Hanks, and I'll bet it's a good idea for folks with good lungs, as well.
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Re: Weird Phrasing/Air Issue

Postby happyroman » Tue Jul 10, 2018 10:17 am

ufonium2 wrote:I have a student, a very good high school player, who has an issue that I've been trying forever to address, with no luck. When a phrase ends on a longish note, his sound gets weird at the end, right before he inhales for the next phrase. It gets brighter and louder, but the student absolutely cannot hear that it's happening and claims he can't feel a difference either. He's had lessons with two big name teachers, and they've both mentioned it, but both I guess assumed that bringing it to his attention was enough (not blaming them--it's a totally reasonable assumption). Last week in his lesson, I asked him what it is about the end of phrases that is different for him mentally, and he said he's trying to get rid of all of his air before he breathes again. :shock: I certainly never taught him that, and I have no idea where the idea came from (he's been taking lessons from me for 3 years, from a very good trumpet player before that, and his high school is very good so I doubt he learned it there) but it would explain what's going on.

So, this week I plan to explain to him that it's physically impossible to empty your lungs, there's no reason to try, etc. But this kid very much learns by doing, so I'm looking for ideas for exercises to break this (very ingrained) habit. I thought about taking a vocalise that he's done previously and doubling the number of breath marks, so that it's impossible for him to use "all of his air" (or even get close) in one phrase. He has Vining's breathing book and really likes it (more than the Breathing Gym, which I also have) so I'm wondering if Vining's flow studies might be good to try with him. Any other ideas?


Jake discussed this regularly in his lessons and masterclasses, often showing the graphs made while students blow into his spirometer. As we blow the air out of our full lungs as fast as we can, we empty about 80% of our lung volume in about one second. He referred to this as fast air. The remaining 20% of the air can then take up to four (or more) seconds to be expelled from the lungs (in a healthy person). Jake referred to this as slow air, which he said was unsuitable for brass playing.

In addition, in order to get this last bit of air out of the lungs, we have to strongly contract the exhalation muscles. Then, when we want to take a breath, these contracted must be released in order for the inhalation muscles to work efficiently, and we often don't allow them to let go fully before we start taking in a replacement breath. This is where Jake used the phrase "Strength is my enemy, weakness is my friend." The strength refers to the isometric contractions of the inhalation and exhalation muscles working against each other. He would have one visualize a violin player trying to move the bow fast and fluidly while simultaneously contracting the arm muscles. It's not going to happen.

Therefore, using this last bit of air in the lungs is detrimental in two ways. First, the air is moving too slowly to support the tone, and second, it makes it harder to take a full replacement breath. The solution is to start with a comfortably full breath, and when we get down to 1/3 to 1/4 left in the tank, take the replacement breath at that time. This is an issue that Jake said he saw all the time with his students. They would fill up to the half way point and play to empty. He would suggest to them that if they filled up to 3/4 of a tank, and then replaced the breath when they had 1/4 left, they would still only be using half a tank, but would be much more comfortable in their playing.

Finally, Jake discussed the concept of follow through. In any type of physical activity, whether it is throwing a ball, or swinging a golf club, you want a good follow through. In brass playing, Jake said that the follow through aspect comes from starting with comfortably full lungs, which allows you to use the fast air.
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Re: Weird Phrasing/Air Issue

Postby ren » Tue Jul 10, 2018 10:41 am

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Re: Weird Phrasing/Air Issue

Postby swillafew » Wed Jul 11, 2018 10:50 am

He referred to this as fast air.


I am new to this term, however: I play my tuba until I need to put it down to recover from blowing. I play my trombone until my chops are tired. I wonder if I am alone in this.
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Re: Weird Phrasing/Air Issue

Postby TheTuba » Wed Jul 11, 2018 11:00 am

swillafew wrote:
He referred to this as fast air.


I am new to this term, however: I play my tuba until I need to put it down to recover from blowing. I play my trombone until my chops are tired. I wonder if I am alone in this.


I personally find that type of practice wrong. Blowing until I'm tired is subjective, as you can be building muscles, or hurting them.
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Re: Weird Phrasing/Air Issue

Postby Leland » Thu Jul 12, 2018 5:59 pm

happyroman wrote:Jake discussed this regularly in his lessons and masterclasses, often showing the graphs made while students blow into his spirometer.
.....

Would upvote for best answer. It's that attempt to squeeze the last few ounces of air that makes the player sound tight.

And a huge +1 for recording. You don't even need super-fidelity gear. Use a smartphone if that's all you've got (if the volume is peaking the mic, put the phone on the far side of the room).

ufonium2, you mentioned Breathing Gym. Remember that double-exhale exercise? It's meant for muscle strength (I think), not adding to usable airflow. Your student shouldn't be trying to use that particular exhalation when playing.

I'll add another idea: Add breath marks to his music for musical phrases, not his physical limits. After that, if the phrases between marks still feel too long to play in single breaths, make them shorter.

Also, who can he watch to see how often we breathe? Can he also watch videos where you can tell when the player(s) is taking a breath?
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Re: Weird Phrasing/Air Issue

Postby pauvog1 » Thu Jul 12, 2018 6:31 pm

bloke wrote:Here's my totally-wrong guess:

Due to poor budgeting of air, student is actually running out of air, is squeezing, and cannot hear the change, because (due to the squeezing) the eustachian tubes are closing off.


This would be my guess. If the student doesnt hear/feel it, record a chunk of the lesson and play it back to them. A quick video might be eye opening for them.
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