Breathing Exercises & Breath Control

Breathing Exercises Diaphragm Breathing

 

Good breathing and breath control when playing the saxophone is important for two reasons:

  1. Playing extended phrases without running out of breath
  2. Having good breath support from your lungs

The second of these is probably the most important as it can actually help your tone. It is a well established technique to keep your throat open while playing (an open throat is what happens when you yawn, as opposed to a closed throat which happens when you cough). This is important for singers as well as wind players as a large part of what shapes the sound is the physical dimensions of the inside of your mouth, throat and possibly lungs and nasal cavities. But being able to control the pressure of air in your lungs, while keeping your throat open, is not something people do naturally. Normally the air just rushes out unless you close your throat to stop that happening. The trick is to use a muscle underneath your lungs to control that natural tendency for the lungs to contract and expel the air all at once. This is the diaphragm.

 

Basic Breathing Exercises

Introduction to Deep Breathing

Before we look more seriously into the concept of using the diaphragm, a very simple preliminary exercise is to practise deep breathing. You can do this any time, while working, walking, even during meals and other activities.

All that is required for deep breathing is that you exhale for longer than you inhale. You can try counting to four while inhaling, and counting for longer (up to double the amount) while exhaling. You will find your own comfortable duration that stretches you slightly without any undue strain. While doing this preliminary exercise, try to be aware which part of the lungs you are using:

  • Are you breathing solely into the top part of your lungs?
  • Are you raising your shoulders while inhaling?

As soon as possible we will address these issues and start to look at using the lower part of the lungs more effectively.

Yoga Breathing (Complete Yogic Respiration)

This is easiest to do lying down on your back, but can also be done standing or sitting with your back straight. It consists of three phases in and three phases out, each phase should flow gradually from one to the next

  1. Expand the abdomen while breathing into the lower part of your lungs. While expanding the abdomen, imagine the diaphragm under your lungs expanding downwards into your pelvic regions. Do not worry at this stage about tensing the abdomen muscles too much
  2. Expand the rib cage around your chest, remember to keep the throat as open as possible
  3. Expand the very top part of your ribs and shoulders upwards and outwards.

Hold this for a second or two without closing your throat, it should be your diaphragm, abdomen and rib muscles gently tensed that stop the air rushing out. Next breathe out in the same order, abdomen, chest and shoulders and hold for a second or two without closing your throat. Of course, you are not actually breathing into your abdomen, but it can be useful to think that as your abdomen muscles expand outwards, air is flowing into it. In fact the lower part of your lungs is expanding downwards to fill the place left when your abdomen moves forwards.

 

Three Best Breathing Exercises for Saxophone

Each of these will help develop and expand a different part of your lungs and ribcage.

1. Frontal Expansion (Vertical)

  1. Stand up with a straight back, arms pointing down by your side
  2. Keeping the arms straight, raise them smoothly forwards while breathing in, until they are vertically above your head.
  3. Hold your breath for a second or two without closing your throat
  4. Still keeping the arms straight, lower them smoothly while exhaling until they are back by your sides


2. Frontal Expansion (Horizontal)

  1. Stand up with a straight back, arms straight out in front of you
  2. Keeping the arms straight, move them smoothly apart while breathing in, until they are fully stretched out sideways
  3. Hold your breath for a second or two without closing your throat
  4. Bring the arms back together and in front of you while exhaling


3. Sideways Expansion

  1. Stand up with a straight back, arms down by your side
  2. Keeping the arms straight, move them smoothly outwards (sideways) and upwards until they are fully stretched out above your head
  3. Hold your breath for a second or two without closing your throat
  4. Lower the arms smoothly sideways and downwards while exhaling until they are back by your sides


You can combine this with the yoga breathing exercise, expanding the abdomen, chest and shoulders in that order. More exercises in Taming The Saxophone Vol 1 – Tone Without Tears

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