I regularly tell my students in music that they are actually athletes – a comparison that often gets me more than a few double takes. The level of physical technique and muscular precision required to perform music at the peak of ability is nevertheless very similar to the expertise of hockey players or track athletes with their particular disciplines.
Just like any athletic activity, performing on wind instruments or voice requires a great deal of air. Not only the appropriate oxygenation of the blood to aid in stamina and muscle control, but the necessary amounts needing to be moved through vocal cords and the instrument itself to generate the tone.
Enter the ‘Breathing Gym’…
The video above is only a sample of the total exercises created for this system of stretches, trainers, and mental gymnastics which endeavors to turn any musician’s breathing patterns and capacity into a force to be reckoned with.
The first time that students watch this, there’s that general sense of “oh man, this is ridiculous”. And the videos can be a bit silly; the commitment to being happy and energetic is somewhat overdone by the presenters. Underneath all that cheese, however, is one of the most rigorous and demanding systems of breath development I’ve ever encountered.
If done correctly, the giggles will be replaced with exhaustion very quickly, as you struggle to keep taking in more and more air each breath without getting tense. At one point in one of their videos an overtraining exercise is done to make sure the musician can function in all situations. The presenters remind you to keep doing fast, full breaths, even as your body is trying to go into defense mode and using dizziness as a signaling method that you are breathing incredibly fast and full. Nevertheless, once you push through, it’s amazing how wonderful even normal breathing starts to feel.
Breathing is something that you don’t think about because it just happens: your body needs air, so your body takes in air, then gets rid of waste gases. Rinse and repeat. In terms of music, however, breathing may be the most important element for wind players and vocalists, and it’s critical that you train those heavy breathing muscles so you always are ready for the music.
If you are a wind player, vocalist, or teacher with students in any of those areas, check the Breathing Gym out! Ignore the silliness, and you’ll find a depth of knowledge worthy of a graduate thesis, and one you won’t regret studying.