Get Those Shoulders Back, Cupcake!

Isometric breathing exercises in the practice routine will benefit your trumpet playing.

This year’s winter weather really put a halt on my Claude Gordon certified, outdoor breathing-walking-jogging routine.  My body told me years ago that early morning is the best time for me to exercise.  If I wait until the afternoon or evening, it just won’t get done, or it will get done with less effort, thereby negating most of the benefits I am striving for.  My neighborhood isn’t well lit – no street lamps, only low output yard lamps – therefore it isn’t safe briskly walking or jogging the dark, icy sidewalks and streets at 6am.

Right after the ice melted I restarted my morning breathing exercise routine, and I reaffirmed to myself that they are a VITAL ingredient in my daily trumpet practice (hmmm – just like Claude Gordon and Herbert Clarke always said that they should be!).  The direct benefits in my trumpet playing are:

  • better, more comfortable posture
  • feeling of comfort and efficiency during inhalations (this REALLY helps during performances)
  • greater control over the squeezing muscles in the thoracic area, abdominals and lower back
  • relaxation in the non-squeezing muscles in the arms, neck, and shoulders

My present routine is 1 and 3/4 miles of 10 step breaths walking, and 1/4 mile 6 step breaths jogging (total time approximately 23 minutes).  If you aren’t familiar with the types of breathing exercises Claude Gordon advocated, check out this article on Jeff Purtle’s website (starting in the third paragraph).  These can also be found in Brass Playing Is No Harder Than Deep Breathing and Physical Approach To Elementary Brass Playing (Claude Gordon, author).

Here is what I am thinking about when I’m walking and jogging

  • Shoulders back – When I first started doing these I was thinking about keeping the chest up, as Claude Gordon says, but I really struggled trying to get the feel of this approach.  However, when I pull my shoulders back, my posture lines up very well, and my chest is right up there where it needs to be – most importantly, it stays there without falling at all.
  • Stay relaxed – after filling up, count out loud for a few steps.  If you’re tense, you’ll hear it.
  • Keep your throat open – it’s easier to hold a chest full of air when you use your tongue like a stopper to close off your throat – DON’T DO IT.  Use the thoracic muscles to stay full (these are the muscles you are trying to develop).  This applies to holding empty too – use your abdominal and low back muscles – not your tongue stopper – to keep your lungs deflated.
  • Don’t be afraid to cheat a little bit – you will have greater success staying relaxed if you cheat a little bit of air when you need it.  You don’t want to rely on the cheat, but when you really need it, take it.  If you keep your throat open, it will be easy to let just a little bit in so you can make it until the inhalation.
  • Stay aware of the muscle group working – this will pay big dividends for your trumpet playing, because the habits and muscle memory are being formed BEFORE you pick up the horn and start worrying about things like:  attacks, pitch, tone, volume, phrasing, etc.

You are practicing your breathing exercises – right?  Let me know what you’re doing.

The Systematic Approach: trumpet and brass players can naturally discover the knack of trumpet playing

“If we learn the basic elements that make the instrument work, apply them and develop their use, we will play easily.”— Claude Gordon

2 Responses to “Get Those Shoulders Back, Cupcake!”

  1. Jaime B. Michel June 11, 2010 at 8:30 pm #

    Hey… I was told that diaphragm is the secret for trumpet breathing, but i don’t understand the exhalation part. I can inhale from the bottom to the top, but i dont know how to release the air.

    Plz help… =S

    Thanks

    • David Roberts June 11, 2010 at 8:55 pm #

      Hi Jaime,

      Claude Gordon would often say, “air can only go into the lungs”. Don’t think about breathing from the diaphragm or stomach. Without the horn, hold your arms comfortably at your side with your palms facing forward. Push your shoulders back slightly and take a normal, deep breath – without moving your arms.

      Now, exhale completely without moving your arms or changing your posture. This will likely feel a little funny at first, but this is correct breathing according to Claude Gordon and Herbert Clarke. A normal, comfortable feeling during the exhalation will likely take time to develop. According to your physique, your lower back and abdominal muscles will contract during the squeeze. This did not feel ‘natural’ for me until I was doing the breathing exercises for about 6 months.

      Stick with it until this feels natural, and you will see a benefit in your playing. Good luck,

      David

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