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Trumpet Discussion Discuss Replacing old habits with new ones in the General forums; gentle sight readers, Okay, it's story time so settle in with a mug of hot cocoa and make yourselves comfy. ...
  1. #1
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    Sep 2004

    Replacing old habits with new ones

    gentle sight readers,

    Okay, it's story time so settle in with a mug of hot cocoa and make yourselves comfy.

    Patrick asked the question as to whether I've ever dealt with issues regarding my playing and the answer is "yes". When I was younger I suffered from asthma. Later the asthma was less of an issue and it became bouts with occasional bronchitis. The point is that my breathing was somewhat a hidden issue that I dealt with alongside the strength that accompanies youth. Young muscles have a way of "compensating" for other inefficiences.

    This all came to a head in the late eighties when I started to develop a double buzz that would float in and out of my playing and a dip in my endurance and high register was also present. No one noticed but me. I knew something was not right and I became the master of stupid little quick fixes but the real key was elusive. During this time I had recitals to play, solos to perform, all done with a great degree of anxiety I'd never known before. This was all occurring at about the time that I recorded Alpine Symphony and other Strauss works.

    Finally, I was on tour playing Mahler 5 and I had a crash and burn at Kennedy Center. I was very concerned so I called the personnel manager and said,
    "Something's wrong with me and I have to go see Arnold Jacobs." The management has a very good attitude about letting people off to work on concerns with playing so I called Arnold and described the symptoms to him. I told him about the rasp in my sound, the decrease in endurance... he listened and said "Yes, I know what it is. Just come on down this Tuesday if you can." Those words alone improved my playing almost instantly, to know that whatever it was something typical and easy to fix.

    When I visited with Arnold he checked my breathing patterns, put me on the spirometer and knew within seconds what I needed.

    "Your breathing is screwed up".

    What he so elegantly referred to was a pattern of stiffness that I was using where I was holding my belly stiff as I exhaled instead of allowing it to reduce in size naturally the way it does when you cough or sneeze or when you just breathing normally. I don't know exactly where that started but it could have just as easily begun after hearing a casual comment somebody made about "support" and keeping your stomach hard. I don't know but knowing how impressionable I was when I was younger I wouldn't be surprised if I started doing that just because I heard someone talk about it.

    At any rate, Arnold taught me the value of replicating normal body function when playing and tossing out the concept that trumpet playing needs to be about doing things differently merely because you're playing an instrument. He showed me that normal breathing patterns serve us very well in playing brass instruments. Now, there's breathing and there's breathing. He showed me that the super normal breathing that an athlete uses after running a distance is different from the breathing that you use when you're sitting quietly reading a book. You have to haul in a lot of air and waste it on the exhale instead of stiffening the stomach and letting it trickle out.

    The change was dramatic and instant. It took literally twenty minutes for my playing to return to what I was used to from so many years ago. Everything came back. I took to practicing to rebuild the supporting muscles in my face and my tone was as clear as it had ever been but it took the objective listening of a qualified teacher to analyze it from without rather than from within.

    Now, why had I not noticed it before? Because I hadn't been playing Monette trumpets up to that point. As the horns became heavier and more stable, the imperfections of my breathing patterns became more evident. I just didn't realize what was going on. After all the work with Jacobs was when I started to get very intersted in what Dave was learning about body use. The whole head over the spine, toes facing forward to open the hips fell right in line with what I had learned from Jacobs! Maximal body use to enhance maximal breathing! What I have learned is that as you get older you have to pay great attention to your breathing and body use. The little changes that occur are very slight and very innocuous but cumulative. Over the years it's easy to not notice that you're taking in less air and sitting or standing differently and getting tighter as time goes by.

    So, that's the story Patrick... I've had my issues and the great fortune of having learned people in my life that have been there to help me out. I mourned the loss of Arnold Jacobs when he died several years back but will be ever grateful that I was able to study with him. We became friends and I enjoyed calling him every couple of months to say hello and ask him pedagogical questions so I could help others with the same concerns.

    I can tell you that finding an answer to a problem is a very powerful thing. I remember a few years ago working with a singer who wasn't getting her full resonance and when I got her to do it she burst into tears at finding the sound that had been locked up in her for so long. I worked with a lead player who complained exactly as I did about his sound. I showed him what Arnold had taught me and I could see his eyes misting over with incredible relief. He called me about two weks later to say that everything was back and to thank me for helping him. I have taught that lesson over and over again to many different people. It's the one thing that plagues us brass players: dealing with so much mythology when it comes to breathing and body use. I read what some folks believe to be true when it comes it breathing and playing and I just have to shake my head.

    That's what it's all about, folks... learning what we can to help others even when we have to walk through a bit of fire to gain the knowledge. It's our obligation, no?

    Again, Patrick, thanks for the question.


  2. #2
    Utimate User trickg's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    Manny, THANKS! You answered the question with a fantastic lesson about breathing.
    Patrick Gleason

    "What we do in life echoes in eternity"
    "At my signal, unleash hell."
    - Maximus Decimus Meridius

  3. #3
    Mezzo Forte User JackD's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2003
    Manchester / London
    That was very interesting, cheers!

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