How A Water Bottle Can Improve Your Breathing

Taking in a sufficient amount of air before playing trumpet is a very simple yet confusing action. Some say that “you take air in as if you are coming up for the last time when drowning”. I never did understand that one. Some say “lift your shoulders and fill your lungs from the bottom up”. Still others tell their students to “breath low”. I wish I had a dollar for every time I have heard that one. Some encourage the player to “take a long, slow breath through the nose”. That person must have very large nostrils and a long time to take a breath. It is true that we need to inhale properly in order to perform well on our instrument but the following trick may improve your inhalation without creating additional problems as do the examples mentioned above do.

Instructions on how to breathe deeply before playing a note on your instrument-

1. Empty a plastic soft drink bottle.
2. Cut the bottle as illustrated in the picture.
3. Remove the cap and clean out the neck end of the bottle.
4. Place the neck of the bottle between your lips and teeth.
5. Exhale completely.
6. Inhale quickly.

Notice how much air has entered your lungs in a very short amount of time. This is the feeling you should have when you take a deep breath before playing your instrument.

How simple!

The reason behind this exercise is to illustrate how the back of your throat should be positioned before inhaling. Notice the back of your throat is open and your tongue is located at the bottom of your mouth. In this position, you are able to take in a great amount of air in a very short amount of time; as you should do when playing trumpet.

I would like to give credit to the persons responsible for this trick and I think I heard it from a couple of my colleagues who had studied with Arnold Jacobs, tubist with the Chicago Symphony. If it works and helps brass players breathe correctly, it must have originated with Jacobs.

Instructions on how to use this device-

Before you begin practicing your instrument, take about two minutes to breathe normally through the device. Feel the openness and the free flowing air stream as you breathe. Be sure to guard yourself from hyperventilating as you do this exercise for you will be exchanging more air than your lungs are used to.

After this exercise, place your mouthpiece on your lips in a buzzing position and try to duplicate the openness you experienced while breathing through the device. Buzz a few minutes on only your mouthpiece. Then place the mouthpiece in your horn and play a few minutes while still trying to duplicate the open throat and air passageway.

After a few days practicing this routine, you will become accustom to the feeling of openness in your throat and the lack of restriction in your air passageway.

In our next post we will continue with another simple trick which will improve the function and muscles used to properly support a good sound.

Bruce was a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, School of Music in Cedar Falls from 1969 until his retirement in 1999. He has performed with many well-known entertainers such as Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Anita Bryant, Carman Cavalara, Victor Borgie, the Four Freshman, Blackstone the Magician, Bobby Vinton and John Davidson.

One thought on “How A Water Bottle Can Improve Your Breathing

  1. Estela Aragon

    Bruce, I really like this post. This is the same method as the PVC pipe. Works exactly the same. I’ve had great success doing this with my students. I would like to say, however, that phrases like ““you take air in as if you are coming up for the last time when drowning” and “breath low” are both very valid ways to get a child to understand their breathing. It HAS worked with my students. I’ve only used the drowning one once, with a student who would not for the life of me breathe. I even used the PVC pipe and they continued to breathe too slowly for say, a quarter rest. So I said “well how would you breathe if you had to take one big breath before going to the bottom of a pool for a while and only had a second to breathe!” and tahdah! She finally took a big quick breath. Although the breath was much to “hectic”, she did notice how much air went in a short period of time, and after that it was easy for her to do the same in a more relaxed manner. The “breathe low” is something I have also used with students who take high pitched, closed throat breaths. It works well when I’ve said “listen to the pitch of your breath, and breathe low.” They figure out that a low breathe is impossible on a closed throat, clenched teeth or a tight aperture.

    Well, regardless, I still really like this post. I believe it’s not so much about the phrases we use, but eh method in which we apply them. Now the “raise your lungs” and “smile to play high” is something I will NEVER understand!

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