Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Full of Hot Air

When I teach lessons, the images I use to get students to do something musically usually fade into the air after the lesson is over, but this one I would like to share. A nine-year-old student was working on "Long Long Ago" at her lesson yesterday. When she got to the half notes she simply "checked out," and her attention returned when it was time to play the quarter notes and eighth notes. I told her that the personality of a violinist was "all about" what goes on during the half notes, and I told her that she could breathe in while playing them. Then I got the idea that half notes could be like balloons filled with air, floating upward. She was pretty amazed with the results, and she was able to actually use her breath to control her bow arm.

The breathing in thing always works for me. It is something I noticed years ago when listening to Heifetz play transcriptions of songs. During long notes a singer is unable to breathe because the singer's air is obviously the thing making the sound. When we listen to singers, or to any musicians for that matter, we listen with our bodies, so we react physically to what the musician is doing. What strikes me as interesting when listening to Heifetz's transcriptions, is that music I am used to hearing in one way--with the singer's air creating the sound of sustained notes--I hear a new way, and that way involves breathing during long notes. When Heifetz breathes, I do too, but the sustained note continues and even expands.

The act of breathing deeply causes our bodies to relax. The act of breathing feeds oxygen to every part of our bodies, including our brains.

As a flutist I relied (I guess I still rely on it when I'm practicing the recorder) on breath support for everything, including playing "technical passages." As a string player I use breath support all the time, unless I forget--and then I wonder why things aren't working.

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