The most important factor in brass and woodwind performance is breathing. If you aren’t breathing well, it is very difficult to achieve a great sound on a wind instrument. The best instruments in the world won’t sound great unless you are breathing well!
Here is a short exercise that will enhance your awareness of your breathing:
Let’s start with finding your diaphragm. Your diaphragm is the muscle that controls your breathing. To find it, place your hand at the bottom of ribcage and inhale for a deep, relaxed breath. You will feel an expansion as your lungs will with air. Notice how your lungs fill from the bottom, this works just like when you fill a cup with water: from the bottom to the top. Next, exhale and feel your diaphragm compress and push the air out (think about fogging up a mirror rather than blowing out birthday candles). Perform this exercise repeatedly and become aware of your body’s motion
While performing this exercise, achieve an “O” shape with your mouth and create this open feeling all the way down to your diaphragm. This open shape allows the air to be almost tensionless! You never want to breathe like you’re breathing through a straw. In other words, avoid breathing in a way that restricts the free flow of air. In any wind instrument, tension and restriction never allow the sound to be as good as it could be.
Become aware of what your body is doing during the exercise. You should feel your body rise and fall. The motion should be as natural as possible. Don’t strain or force yourself to move. If your shoulders are being forced up, this is allowing tension to have a negative impact and on efficiency and relaxation.
Once you’ve mastered the basics of this exercise, perform it with counts: in for 4-out for 4, in for 6-out for 6, in for 8-out for 8, and etc. Mastering this exercise will strengthen your diaphragm and is a vital step in being in control of your air!
There are many other exercises you can develop from the exercise you just worked on. Experiment with different volumes, tempos, and different styles. For example, breathe in 4 quarter notes and out 4 quarter notes at fortissimo or breathe in for 2 counts and out for 4 counts. Always remember to remain tensionless, use warm air, and stay relaxed and open!