Later this month I am taking part in a Brass Day at Impington Village College, Cambridge. One of the most important things I'll be discussing is the art of the breath. Breathing in, and more importantly, out. The simple act of breathing out before we breathe in has several beneficial effects. Firstly it focuses the mind on what we are about to do i.e. play something. Secondly, and more importantly, the act of breathing out acts as a tension release. Try it now. Make a sigh. Then breathe in. You should find that you can take a more relaxed, deeper breath.
When one is stressed, or struggling with something, the general advice is to 'relax and take a deep breath'. Hmm. Just try that now, take a deep breath. The 'relaxing' part of a deep breath is in the exhale, when any tension that has accrued is released. When related to playing a brass instrument it can help to centre our physical and mental states when we are in performance mode, and help to bring our heart rate down. Which can only be beneficial when we are in stress inducing situations, a competition for instance.
'The Breathing Gym' is a book by two American tubists, Sam Pilafian and Patrick Sheridan. It is a fantastic resource and their related video takes the player through various breathing exercises designed to increase capacity on the one hand and also improve on the efficiency of the exhale. The short video on YouTube (below) can be used individually, or before a band rehearsal. It really is a great video, and the routines they use are practical and relatively short, and so can be done at the start of a practise session without eating up too much time.
Good breathing becomes a habit and it can only be useful to practise it, so take 5 minutes a day to breathe. There are many apps available these days that promote mindfulness and meditation. These apps utilise focussing on the breath to calm the mind and get one into a receptive state. The Apple Watch has an app called 'Breathe' which sets a rate of 7 in and out breaths per minute. There are many more resources available, so breathe out, then breathe in and start your journey to better playing.