Oxygen. We all need it, we all know how important it is, and it is particularly vital to musicians (if you’re a string player or percussionist you can tune out now, though proper breathing is good for your health in general). As music teachers we preach about the importance of proper breathing and air support, but are we really teaching it?
Every brass player needs air to make their horn work. Every woodwind instrument needs air to make their horn work too. And guess what, every singer needs air to make their instrument work just as much as the brass and winds. Now voices work a little differently than instruments, but many of these principles will still apply.
First and foremost we need to get “skinny breathing” out of kids heads, especially the girls. I call it this because kids feel pressure to look good and being “skinny” is one of the ways kids feel they can look good, girls especially struggle with this thinking. “Skinny breathing” is the shallow breathing that only utilizes the top part of the lungs and moves the shoulders when you breathe. Give it a try, Think about how you take a breath and pay attention to the parts of your anatomy that move when you do so. If your shoulders and upper chest are the primary movers you are “skinny breathing,” if your abdomen expands, followed by your chest you are breathing much deeper, using more of your lung capacity, and causing your diaphragm to move. This is a much better way to breathe. Breathing this way fills the lungs, supplies more oxygen to the brain and the blood stream, and provides significantly more air for playing an instrument or singing. Watch a baby breathe, this is how they do it. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way we forget how to breathe this way, or maybe it is taught to us, either way it is a shame.
Good breathing can not only improve instrumental playing and singing, but health as well. Proper breathing has been found to decrease stress and anxiety, improve brain function, balance, digestion, and so much more. 1
So how do we teach this to our students? It’s simple… breathing exercises.
Teaching breathing exercises can provide necessary movement for kinesthetic learners, improve student playing (singing), provide “brain breaks” for tired or disengaged students, and cross-curriculum teaching opportunities (P.E./health). There are so many resources for breathing exercises, but one of my all-time favorites is Breathing Gym. There is a book and DVD set available on amazon or through many other sources, but you can also find videos for Breathing Gym on YouTube (like the one below).
Stick around over the next few weeks for more on breathing, breathing exercises, and suggestions for how to incorporate this into your teaching.