Breathing is Like a Bowling Swing

There are many analogies when it comes to describing the breathing process during trumpet playing, but one of my favorites is the bowling swing.  It appeals to me because it begins with a balanced, upright posture, where the arms are held near the face (just like holding the horn) as the bowler becomes centered and contemplates the target.  Thanks to gravity, the initial “dropping” of the ball is an act of relaxation (which coincides with the bowler’s inhale).  The inhale for the trumpeter should be just as relaxed, as the body’s natural rhythm and instinct to inhale provides all the necessary momentum to begin the process.  If needed, any additional energy must be applied at the right time, and in a way that does not interfere with the swing, all the while remaining relaxed and balanced.

Although there is a change in direction from backswing to forward swing (like the inhale and exhale), there can be no hesitation or stopping.  Any kind of pause would create tension and a loss of momentum, which can lead to problems with sound production, efficiency and accuracy.  Also, once the ball is released (when the note begins) there is a natural follow through initially driven by the natural rhythm of the swing.  The timing of the backswing (when the breathing process actually begins) is critical in order to have the first note begin in time.  By first envisioning the entire swing of the breath we can pick the backstroke that is perfect for the musical phrase.  Too little or too much backswing, or bad timing results again in tension and a loss of momentum as the body tries to regain balance and control.  

Mark Gould, seen as the teacher in this YouTube video, uses the analogy of archery (2:45) to illustrate the need to eliminate any hesitation between the inhale and exhale, and interestingly mentions how the release of tension will “get things swinging”  (1:06). See if you can notice when his talented student pauses before her exhale (2:10-2:26), and the resulting tension that follows.

After discussing this analogy, I have my students practice their breathing while swinging their arm.  They can try various backswings (with their matching forward swings), all the while coordinating the parallel swing of their breathing.  When everything is swinging freely it is relatively easy to make the outgoing breath hit at a very specific point in time (like the beginning of a note following a musical countoff).  Applying this skill set with the horn always produces markedly improved results…and more strikes!

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