I try to have every breathing exercise develop one of two skills: the quantity of air we can inhale, or the speed at which we can inhale that quantity. This simple criteria allows me to eliminate exercises that be a detriment to my playing.
My daily breathing routine consists of three parts; a breathing tube, a breathing tube with resistance, and finally a breathing bag. This time of my day is spent learning how to properly get the air INTO my lungs. I do not focus on the exhalation at the point…I save that for buzzing. Occasionally, I will cycle in a few different exercises for a few days at a time. Please check out the “Helpful Tools” page for more detailed information about the equipment I’m using.
Step 1 – Mindless Breathing
Place the breathing tube in your mouth. I hold the end of the tube between my teeth and use my corners to form a seal around the outside of the tube. You can see why I prefer the smaller tube. I just breathe normally through the tube. I use this time to check my email, make a fresh pot of coffee, give the dogs water…anything that allows me to not focus on the breathing and just allows my body to acclimate to the tube. I’ve found that this “mindless” exercise allows breathing through the tube to become a natural sensation. After a while of this (maybe 5 minutes), I take a short break and move on to Step 2.
Step 2 – Mindful Breathing
Again, I use the tube and place it between my teeth. This time, I try to focus on moving the column of air through the tube just like a vacuum. Unless we exert a force on the air column to consciously force air into the lungs, our lungs will only fill up on their own until they match the air pressure of the air outside the body. This is why I use the vacuum analogy, I am trying to create a suction that moves the air into my lungs as quickly as possible. I spend another 5 minutes or so doing this continuously.
Step 3 – Increasing the Resistance
This is where I switch to my Ultrabreathe. I have no resistance on the exhalation, but I gradually increase the resistance of the inhalation. Some people say that tension is always bad, I believe that the small bit of tension that the resistance creates helps to develop the inhalation muscles. If we can move a large amount of air with slight resistance and engagement of muscles, then when we are breathing while playing and encounter no resistance, we should be able to move that same amount of air into our lungs at a faster rate.
If you do not want to purchase the Ultrabreathe, you can mimic the resistance by covering a small amount of the back of the tube when inhaling and remove your finger while exhaling. This method of adding resistance can be a bit hap-hazard because you can never guarantee that you are placing you finger in the exact same spot every time.
Step 4 – Breathing Bag
For this step you will need your metronome and a sheet of paper, or a memo app on your phone. We are going to track how quickly we can move a set quantity of air. Before we make strides in our breathing, we must first find our current ability.
– Set the metronome at 60 BPM
– Empty the breathing bag, and take as full of a breath as possible
– Exhale INTO the breathing bag for 4 counts, and then breathe in for 1 count. Repeat this a few times continuously, this will give you body a chance to adapt to the new exercise.
If you were able to completely empty the bag (you should feel the bag “slapping” against itself), move the metronome up a few clicks and repeat until you find a tempo that you are not able to fully deflate the bag. One you find that tempo, back up a few clicks and make a note of the new tempo. If you were not able to completely empty the bag, slow the metronome down until you can do this successfully. Make a note of the new tempo. Now that you have found your base tempo, take a short break an continue below.
The exercise is that same as above, except it is for an extended period of time, and we gradually increase the tempo on each repetition of the exercise.
– Set the metronome at your base tempo
– Empty the bag, and fill up lungs
– Exhale into the bag for 4 counts, and then inhale for 1 count.
– Repeat for 60 seconds or as long as you can go while maintaining proper form.
At this point, I take a short break with some long slow breaths. Then I start again and increase the tempo, usually by 5 clicks. Keep track of these new tempos and stay with them for a week (or until they become easy), and then increase it by a little more. I do this exercise at 3 tempos every day. The first is a super comfortable tempo, where I can easily achieve the proper and desired results. The second is a tempo that requires me to work a little harder, but I can still achieve the results. The third is the maximum tempo that I can fully deflate the bag in 1 count. You always want to start the exercise from a tempo that you know you can be successful. This allows you to expand upon a process that is achievable.