From the very beginning of instruction, low brass instrumentalists are taught how good breathing techniques come into play when mastering their instrument. Breath support is a “game changer” when it comes to making those ledger lines rumble on stage or when projecting those high notes with perfect pitch. Effective breathing techniques are necessary in helping to develop better breath control, strengthening the diaphragm, properly using lung capacity, and improving tone quality.
Overview of Brass Instruments
Low brass instruments are an essential part of any orchestra. Each of these instruments have a different range and sound quality due to the length of tubing in their design. The longer the tube is, the lower the pitch will be. For example, the French horn has a mellow sound whereas the trumpet has a brighter sound. Additionally, each instrument has different techniques for producing sound such as slur and tongue articulations which give them their own unique sounds.
Extra physical effort is needed when playing a low brass instrument because of their size and weight. As a result, it is important for players to take special care when practicing breathing exercises to ensure they do not cause any damage to their bodies or equipment.
Posture and Support
Posture and support may be the most important place to begin, as they are necessary for proper air flow to achieve a strong, full sound. Your instructor can observe you while you are playing to give tips on any areas to help you improve. Proper posture is necessary to avoid fatigue that could inhibit good breath support.
Benefits of Practicing Breath Control
Breath control is the foundation of all successful instrument players, including low brass. Range and power hinge on it, and stamina and sound quality are impossible without it. Mastering breath control is the pathway for all low brass instrumentalists who wish to achieve that full, rich sound that stands out in an ensemble and especially in a solo performance.
Types of Breathing Exercises: Range Expansion Techniques
First, abdominal breathing is essential. Focus on the abdominal muscles while inhaling and exhaling. Allow them to relax and contract with each breath. Abdominal breathing will help to maximize oxygen intake while controlling the amount of air being released from the lungs.
Next is buzzing. Making a buzzing sound with the lips builds up lip strength and endurance. Both are needed for playing long amounts of time without tiring quickly. This helps with controlling air pressure and volume. Articulation skills will also find benefit from practicing buzzing.
There is also a technique called circular breathing that involves continuously inhaling and exhaling in a circular motion. The musician can maintain a steady airflow while playing long passages or fast runs without breathing in between phrases. Through much practice and dedication, this technique can improve overall performance when mastered correctly.
Techniques for Lower Notes: Long Tones
Long tones exercises are part of the building blocks of proper breath control. You can play any note of your choosing and hold it out as long as you can without tension. Pay attention to your breathing and use it to support the note. As you get comfortable with this, increase the length of the note until you can hold one tone for up to a minute or more.
Another helpful exercise is articulation. Articulation will help overall agility and technique while pushing through long passages of music. Use tongued articulations through a series of notes and focus on a clean and clear sound without slurring. Increase the speed over time, and soon you will be able to play fast passages with ease and clarity.
Lip slurs can improve intonations and evenly blend the sound across different registers of your instrument. Start with a low note, then slur up or down chromatically while sustaining the sound. Take care not to tongue or stop between notes.
Scales and Arpeggios
While scales may be considered tedious by most musicians, they are also one of the fundamentals to help you grow musically. Practicing scales as well as arpeggios will improve technique and range. Both make an excellent way to warm up before practice or before a performance.
Once you become confident with your major scales, chromatic scales are a great place to help improve note and tone. Begin with a comfortable note such as concert B flat, and ascend slowly through the twelve notes of the scale. If you find it difficult, play slowly enough to produce a quality tone on each note. Then, increase the speed as you are able.
Arpeggios should start by playing simple major triads ascending in pitch from the lowest note possible to the top of your range. Every note should have an even attack, but try to vary your dynamics to create contrast in sound. Slurring as you ascend and descend will develop good technical ability.
Overall, breathing exercises are essential for lower brass players who want to get the most out of their instrument. Each exercise helps to grow a specific area of your musical ability; therefore, all exercises are important to add to your practice sessions. Make time for these each day, and watch your range increase. You also will notice an increased level of endurance. With consistent practice, each of these small exercises will pay off with big musical dividends!
A native of Florida, Cindy grew up with a rich family history of music. Starting with piano at age 9, she added flute and other instruments to her repertoire in junior high. She made all-county band and played piano for her school’s jazz band and show choirs. Throughout her teen years, she also had opportunities to perform in her local community in churches, assisted living facilities, plays, and productions. While pursuing her college degree in education, she traveled as the pianist for a college-sponsored singing group in 48 states over five summers. She has now been teaching music, including instruments and voice, since 1995. She has instructed students of all ages and skill levels, and many of her students from decades past now are teaching their own music students.