Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Practice: Dog Panting

At my last lesson my teacher asked me, "Do you [when not playing] think a lot about breathing?" I told him that yes, I do.

Ornamentation semantics

We talked for a while about the "breathing as ornamentation" idea expressed in that post. He both agreed and disagreed, the distinction being how you define "ornamentation." I could say that ornamentation means:

  1. Any conscious modification of a tune or deviation from the printed score.
  2. Any modification intended to call attention to itself in some way; a flourish or filigree.

My teacher feels that although you frequently drop notes while breathing that doesn't mean the gap has to be long or obvious. So it's an ornamentation in the sense that it's a change to the melody but not an ornamentation in the sense that it isn't really supposed to stand out. I can go along with that. But then again, I find that in general my favorite ornaments to listen to are the ones that don't really stand out.

Diaphragmatic breathing

As I learn to play tunes faster, I need to breathe faster, too. How can I learn that? My teacher wants me to focus on using my diaphragm.

Folks who have studied experiential anatomy (or maybe just classical flute) know that there are many different "methods" of breathing. You can breathe in by expaning your chest or contracting your diaphragm. The latter is advantageous for flute and whistle as you can move more air faster with your diaphragm than with your chest. Also, breathing this way won't move your shoulders, which interferes with how you hold your instrument.

We tried a couple of exercises to help me learn to focus on the diaphragm while breathing:

  • Put your hand on your diaphragm; it's just below your belly button. Breathe, and try to feel the muscle in action.
  • Pant like a dog, really quickly. You'll have to use your diaphragm, because it's the only way you can breathe that fast.
  • You can find more exercises on this page if the previous two are not enough.

I also found this old chiffboard post by David Migoya which concisely expresses something I've noticed while practicing the whistle:

Part of the key to good diaphram control is the use of the nose. Not only should you know how to take in breath through both the mouth and nose while you play, but you should know how to EXHALE through your nose WHILE you play. This gets rid of "stale" air and greatly increases the capacity of your body to take in fresh air for playing. I don't do this a lot on the flute, but I use it quite a bit on the whistle as I'm not using near as much breath.

I've found that if I'm not careful about regulating my breathing I can have too much air in my lungs and this makes articulation difficult. But I can breathe out through my nose while playing to get down to a more comfortable volume of air.

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